Crew chief trade for Danica Patrick, Kurt Busch begins this weekend

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In most professional sports, if a team can’t break out of a funk or struggles, it’s usually the manager or head coach that pays the ultimate price with the loss of his job.

But this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway, two teams within the same organization that have struggled at times will attempt somewhat of a bold experiment when crew chiefs are swapped, but the teams themselves will remain the same.

Tony Gibson, who has shepherded Danica Patrick’s nearly two-year foray into Sprint Cup, and who recently resigned to remain with Stewart-Haas Racing for the next few years, will take over the pit box for 2004 Sprint Cup champ Kurt Busch.

In turn, Daniel Knost, who hasn’t even completed his first season with Kurt Busch, will swap to become Patrick’s crew chief.

With three races remaining, team co-owners Gene Haas and driver Tony Stewart, as well as others high up in the SHR administration want to see if new blood and new strategy atop the pit box will make a significant difference for Patrick and/or Busch.

“With NASCAR changing some rules and letting us know at this point what they are going to be for next year, we know that we are not going to get a lot of on-track time before next season,” Patrick said in a team media release. “So if the team wants changes made or has ideas, it’s probably in everybody’s best interest to make moves now so that things can start off on the right foot for 2015 instead of starting from scratch and trying to develop an accurate dialogue and relationship on the radio. … I’m definitely open minded and looking forward to the opportunity to see how it will go with him.”

But it shouldn’t be that much of a difference for Gibson and Knost. When you’re a crew chief, one car is like another car. The biggest thing both men will have to guard against is going to the wrong hauler in the infield or the wrong car and pit stall on pit road.

Besides, a lot of familiarity remains with both teams.


While the crew chiefs are changing teams, the pit crews for both Busch and Patrick will remain the same. But it’s not a stretch to think that once the final three races of the season are over, that there may be further evaluation and potential switching of crew members between both teams.

Busch will be the seventh different driver that Gibson has served as crew chief with in his career, having previous been atop the pit box for Steve Park, Michael Waltrip, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin, Ryan Newman and Patrick.

Prior to becoming a crew chief, Gibson also served as car chief for Alan Kulwicki’s championship-winning team in 1992 and also in the same role on Jeff Gordon’s championship teams in 1998 and 2001.

“I think that we click about communicating the things that are felt in the racecar and then conveyed over the radio and the changes that are made in relationship to that,” Patrick said. “If that takes a fast course in a good direction, and we seem to click well and make progress throughout the weekend, then I think that will be a really positive sign.

“I think that is always a challenge. If that is good, then that is, I feel like, a good sign for the future. I know I already get along with him as a person. As I’ve said, I’ve worked with him before (team engineer in 2012) and I’ve seen him plenty of times in the shop. We’ve chatted plenty of times. I know I get along with him. Now it’s time to see if we get along in a competitive atmosphere where it becomes more technical than just friendship.”

Knost knows he’ll be placed more in the spotlight now with Patrick as his driver, but he’s ready for the challenge.

“I always tell people that whatever is the highest position we run all day, that’s where I want to finish,” Knost said. “In general, we want to run as well as we can, make good decisions in practice on setups and improve the speed of the car.

“We want to make good decisions during the race as far as strategy and we want to just build the rapport between us and make sure we understand each other and how we communicate.

“We got along really well (when they worked together in 2012) and I think she has evolved a lot as a racecar driver and, hopefully, I’ve evolved a lot as an engineer and a crew chief. Even though we know each other, it will kind of be a new experience for both of us.”

Knost led Busch to a win at Martinsville this past spring, as well as a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup (even though Busch was subsequently eliminated after the first round).

Knost also was team engineer when former SHR driver Ryan Newman won the 2013 Brickyard 400 and also qualified for that year’s Chase.

Gibson, meanwhile, will take the reins as Busch’s crew chief for the three remaining races, with the potential of that becoming a permanent move in 2015.

“There won’t be a question of respect or lack of confidence with Tony Gibson because I know he’s been around to do it and knows exactly what has to happen at each type of track,” Busch said. “Until now, I’ve felt like I’ve worn a mentor hat or wore a hat of helping (Knost) understand the pitfalls he was going to experience this year. I’ve enjoyed it.

“I was hoping to build a consistency, and that’s what we didn’t get done. Winning a race and getting in the Chase, that wasn’t all that the 41 car was here to do. It’s to be competitive week-in and week-out and have consistent shots at winning. I’d consider the year a success, but there are certain areas we can look at that we did what we wanted to, and there are certain areas that we looked at that we know we can do a better job.”

While Busch likes racing at Texas, where he has one Sprint Cup victory, this Sunday’s race will be more about learning and communicating with his new pit box boss.

“We’ll have to be patient with things,” Busch said. “We’ll have to look at each of the sessions that we’re out on the racetrack and really move forward as a group with those first few steps being important, and not trying to go for that all-out win on the first weekend out of the box together. I’m looking forward to using what has been a good track for me toward working with a new team.

“With the testing ban that’s being imposed for 2015, it makes sense for us to make this change now and get ahead of that. While there will be numerous rule changes that will change many facets of the package that we’ll have to race with next season, making this change now gives myself and Danica a couple of weeks to get a baseline established with our new teams.

“Making this move beginning at Texas will help myself and Tony Gibson establish a good sense of communication – for me to be able to communicate to him what I need out of my racecar, and for him to be able to anticipate the direction to go with changes.”

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Kyle Larson wins third consecutive High Limit Sprint race at Eagle Raceway, Rico Abreu second again

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It took four attempts for Kyle Larson to win his first High Limit Sprint Car Series race in the series he co-owns with brother-in-law Brad Sweet, but once he found victory lane, he has been undefeated with his win at Eagle (Nebraska) Raceway. For the second week, Abreu led early only to fall prey to Larson.

The win was Larson’s third straight victory and the fifth consecutive top-five, giving him a perfect sweep of the season after finishing 10th in last year’s inaugural race at Lincoln Park Speedway in Putnamville, Indiana.

Larson started third behind Abreu and Brent Marks but was embroiled in a fierce battle with Anthony Macri for third during the first dozen laps. Larson slipped by Macri in traffic until a red flag waved for a flip by Lachlan McHugh.

Meanwhile at the front of the pack, Marks retook the lead from Abreu on Lap 18. Larson followed one lap later and then caution waved again. Tyler Courtney lost power and fell to 24th after starting eighth.

Marks scooted away on the restart but tragedy struck in Lap 26. Leading the race, Marks hit a pothole in Turn 1, bicycled and then flipped, handing the lead to Larson.

Abreu caught Larson again during the final laps and in a reprise of their battle at Tri-City Speedway, the two threw sliders at one another for several laps until Larson built some separation and ran away to the checkers.

“I didn’t feel like my pace in [Turns] 1 & 2 slowed down a ton,” Larson said from victory lane. “I missed it once there and then I saw his nose in 3 & 4. I didn’t know if he nailed the bottom that well behind me and I think he might have slid me in the next corner, so he was definitely on the top.

“I was nervous to move up there because my car was really pogoing up in the entry of 1. I got up just in time, made a few mistakes and he threw a couple more sliders at me but he was just a little too far back and I was able to squirt around him. Then I really had to commit to hitting my marks – back my effort down a bit to avoid mistakes.”

After leading early, Abreu fell back as far as sixth, but faith in his car kept hope alive.

“I just needed to do a few things a few laps before I did and fix some angles, then my car got a whole lot better,” Abreu said. “I’m thankful for this team; they do an amazing job. They don’t give up on me. I know my car is going to be there right at the end of these races, so it’s just the discipline of being patient.”

For Abreu, it was his third near-miss this season. He was leading at Lakeside in the 2023 opener until a tire went flat in the closing laps and he lost the lead to Larson late in the Tri-City Speedway race. Abreu has finished sixth or better in his last three High Limit races with each result being progressively better until his pair of runner-up results.

Third-place finisher Scelzi was the hard charger, advancing from 17th.

“I had a very specific plan; don’t go near [the hole in Turn 1],” Scelzi said. “It worked out. No one wanted to start on the top. I think I gained a couple of rows there on the choose cone and ran the middle, which seemed to be better than right around the bottom.”

Michael “Buddy” Kofoid in fourth and Macri rounded out the top five.

World of Outlaws star and former NASCAR driver Kasey Kahne was one of 41 entrants, but he was not among the 26 starters. He failed to advance to the Main after finishing eighth in the B Main and seventh in his heat.

Feature Results

A Feature (40 Laps): 1. 57-Kyle Larson[4]; 2. 24-Rico Abreu[1]; 3. 18-Giovanni Scelzi[17]; 4. 71-Michael Kofoid[5]; 5. 39M-Anthony Macri[3]; 6. 9-Chase Randall[9]; 7. 26-Zeb Wise[14]; 8. 1X-Jake Bubak[15]; 9. 8-Aaron Reutzel[10]; 10. 14D-Corey Day[18]; 11. 11-Cory Eliason[12]; 12. 5T-Ryan Timms[11]; 13. 88-Austin McCarl[13]; 14. 21H-Brady Bacon[22]; 15. 48-Danny Dietrich[16]; 16. 7S-Robbie Price[19]; 17. 21-Brian Brown[23]; 18. 22-Riley Goodno[26]; 19. 52-Blake Hahn[25]; 20. 15H-Sam Hafertepe Jr[21]; 21. 3J-Dusty Zomer[6]; 22. 14-Cole Macedo[7]; 23. 19-Brent Marks[2]; 24. 7BC-Tyler Courtney[8]; 25. 25-Lachlan McHugh[20]; 26. 53-Jack Dover[24]

2023 High Limit Sprint Car Series

Race 1: Giovanni Scelzi wins at Lakeside Speedway
Race2: Anthony Macri wins at 34 Raceway
Race 3: Kyle Larson wins at Wayne County Speedway
Race 4: Kyle Larson wins at Tri-City Speedway