Kurt Busch will have his first taste of a Grand Prix weekend watching his NASCAR team owner’s, Gene Haas, Haas F1 Team Formula 1 operation next week at the European Grand Prix in Baku, Azerbaijan.
It’s a rare off weekend for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, and the 2004 series champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 rookie-of-the-year will spend it – naturally – at a race track.
Busch confirmed this would happen during his media availability at Michigan International Speedway on Friday morning.
“Next week, we have an off-week from our NASCAR circuit and I’m headed over to the Middle East to watch our Formula 1 team at Baku, (Azerbaijan),” Busch told assembled reporters at his morning availability.
“I can’t wait to hang out with (Romain) Grosjean and (Esteban) Gutierrez and have the opportunity to sit next to a Formula 1 driver and see his tools that he uses; whether it’s simulation, whether it’s mapping. I’m hoping that I can discover things that I’ll be able to ask Gene. ‘Hey Gene, why don’t we have that? Let’s bring that back over to the North Carolina side and use it for the Sprint Cup teams.’
For Busch, who got on the win scoreboard earlier this week at Pocono Raceway, it’ll be a chance to see how the F1 world works at a track where no one has an advantage. The Baku race is new to the F1 schedule and will put everyone on level footing.
“It’s just an exciting time for Gene, all the way around, with the success that he had early on in F1,” Busch said.
“But now to settle-in as the season is going on and for us to deliver a win, it’s really a neat time with Gene Haas. He’s having a lot of fun in motorsports and he’s pushing harder and harder and harder.
“And I hope that there is something that I can bring back and cross-pollenate with our Sprint Cup team from the F1.”
Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.
Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.
On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.
One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.
After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.
The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.
Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.
“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”
Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.
“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”
But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.
“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.
“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”
Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.
“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.
“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”
The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.