NASCAR: Top drivers of 2014 – No. 12 Kurt Busch

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Kurt Busch

Season finish: 12th

2014 Season Stats: 1 wins, 6 top-5, 11 top-10, 0 Poles.

What went right: The 2004 Sprint Cup champ started off the season right when he wound up back with a major team when Gene Haas signed him. Busch won his first Sprint Cup win race since 2011 when he triumphed in the spring at Martinsville. He also drew global attention when he was the first driver to do “The Double,” finishing sixth in the Indianapolis 500, but wound up 40th and failed to finish the Coca-Cola 600 due to engine problems.

What went wrong: Busch started the Chase with an eighth place finish, but a 36th place finish at Loudon and 18th at Dover sealed his fate and he was among the first four drivers eliminated from advancement following the first round of the Chase. While he did have some strong finishes in the latter stages of the Chase at Talladega (7th), Texas (8th) and Phoenix (7th), the best he was able to finish in the final standings was 12th. Interestingly, Busch competed the last three races with a new crew chief, when veteran and old-school pit boss Tony Gibson replaced Daniel Knost, and had three of his better finishes of the season, finishing 8th, 7th and 11th.

2015 Prospectus: With Gibson for a full season as his crew chief, Busch should see improvement on the racetrack. Plus, Gibson is bringing a number of his long-time crew members with him. For whatever reason, Busch seems to work better with older veteran crew chiefs than younger ones. Example: he won the first Chase championship in 2004 with old-school crew chief Jimmy Fennig. If things go better, Busch could wind up having a big comeback season in 2015.

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Penske Acura duo of Ricky Taylor, Helio Castroneves win third straight

Ricky Taylor Helio Castroneves
IMSA
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Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves made it three consecutive victories in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, winning Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to close in on the points lead in the DPi class.

After Castroneves started on the pole position in No. 7 Acura, Taylor took the checkered flag by 0.607 seconds ahead of Felipe Nasr’s No. 31 Cadillac.

Aside from being three victories in a row for Castroneves and Taylor (who also won at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta), it was the third consecutive victory for Team Penske at Mid-Ohio, which is the home racetrack for Acura.

Penske is in its final season with Acura, which announced this week that it’ll field DPi cars with Wayne Taylor Racing and Meyer Shank Racing next season.

“I’m just proud,” Taylor told NBC Sports reporter Dillon Welch. “Helio did an amazing job at the start, kept his cool. It’s not easy starting on the outside, but he settled in, picked people off and put us in a position to jump the 31 on a stop.

“Then I felt like we were the strongest car on track when we had new tires. It was a real team effort.”

Helio Castroneves picked up Ricky Taylor and carried him several yards down the pit lane in celebration.

Helio Castroneves carries Ricky Taylor away from their No. 7 Acura while celebrating their victory at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course (IMSA).

“This guy, I’m so proud of him,” said Castroneves, who will be returning to the NTT IndyCar Series next weekend. “The entire Team Penske, Acura, it’s a team, and today it was all about being cool.

“Last year, I had a little issue and lost my cool at the start of the race, and we threw the race away, so this time, if something happens, I know we’re going to come back, and here we are in victory circle.”

With three races remaining this season for the premier class, Castroneves and Taylor have moved to third in the standings, five points behind Renger van der Zande and Ryan Briscoe, who finished third in the No. 10 Cadillac at Mid-Ohio.

Ranked three points behind in second is Pipo Derani, who is Nasr’s teammate.

The championship race could have been tighter as Acura Penske driver Juan Pablo Montoya passed van der Zande for third after the cars banged together a few times with 10 minutes remaining.

But Montoya spun off course a few minutes later in Turn 1 and handed a podium finish back to the Wayne Taylor Racing car.

“Bashy, bashy right there,” van der Zande said. “Old school NASCAR racing, I guess. I’m not so used to that. He was very aggressive but also very very fast. It was a fantastic race for us.”

The final three races will be held at Road Atlanta, Laguna Seca and Sebring.

“It was a great third place with a lot of pressure from Montoya and Mazda and everyone really,” Briscoe said. “We’ll take the points and keep pushing. It’s so close. Can’t think too far ahead, but we’d love to get another win or two to finish out the season. There’s some really big races coming up, and this team tends to excel in the long races, so we’re looking forward to it.”

In other divisions at Mid-Ohio:

–Corvette Racing scored its first victory at the track in eight years as the No. 3 Corvette C8.R of Jordan Taylor and Antonio Garcia won from the pole position. Teammates Oliver Gavin and Tommy Milner finished second in a class that featured only four cars because of the pullout of Porsche.

It was the fourth victory this season for the No. 3 and the fifth for Corvette, which also is 1-2 in the points standings with the No. 3 ahead by 17 points.

“It was a perfect weekend for our Corvette,” Taylor told NBC Sports’ Parker Kligerman. “The car rolled off the truck really well. This was one of the tracks where we never tested at, so the preparation by the team really set us up well. … We’ve been so strong on pace and reliability.”

Said Garcia: “It’s a shame that Porsche is not here as we want them back for sure. It was a brilliant job by everyone. Jordan did a fantastic job all day long, getting on pole and then getting a solid lead even if there were a ton of yellows. The C8.R worked perfectly again today.”

–The No. 14 Lexus of AIM Vasser Sullivan won in the GTD class, moving drivers Aaron Telitz and Jack Hawksworth to the points lead. With four races remaining, Telitz trails the No. 86 Acura by two points, and Hawksworth is four points behind.