Kurt Busch interested in racing Dakar Rally: ‘Reminds me of home’ in the Vegas desert

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After dabbling in IndyCar and drag racing, Kurt Busch says the desert of the Dakar Rally could be next.

In an interview with NBC Sports’ Parker Kligerman (video above), Busch said the prestigious off-road raid event is “on the list for sure,” and that he’s talked to Monster Energy, the sponsor of his No. 1 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Cup Series, about Dakar. Monster also is a Dakar sponsor, backing U.S. dirt bike riders Ricky Brabec (the first American to win the Dakar Rally) and former Supercross star Andrew Short.

“It’s always a matter of just finding the right timing, doing your research,” Busch told Kligerman. “I need to do something a bit smaller like work around a race in the desert Southwest here in the United States first.”

The Chip Ganassi Racing driver said racing in the Baja 500 or Baja 1000 appeals to him, but the November events usually have conflicted with the NASCAR schedule, which will end this year Nov. 7 at Phoenix Raceway.

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“Date-wise, it never worked out to do that yet, but I sometimes go straight to the top and worry about it later,” Busch said. “That’s what I did with the Indy 500 a few years ago.”

Racing for Andretti Autosport, Busch finished sixth as a rookie in the 2014 Indianapolis 500. In 2011, he made the elimination rounds of an NHRA Pro Stock event.

He’s among many drivers from NASCAR’s premier series seeking to expand their racing horizons recently. After running the Snowball Derby last month, Chase Elliott is scheduled to make his debut next week in the Chili Bowl, which also will include Christopher Bell, Ryan Newman and Kyle Larson. At the end of the month, Elliott will make his debut in the Rolex 24, which also will feature Jimmie Johnson and Austin Dillon.

Since the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, NASCAR severely curtailed practice and qualifying sessions, and Busch said the extra time is having a beneficial impact for moonlighting Cup drivers.

“I think this is a big trend that you’re going to start to see,” he said. “It’s just the time and the new era of motorsports, especially with NASCAR going to just race day. We don’t have practice sessions anymore hardly. That opens up the schedule. We’ve had more time by ourselves. And everybody is looking on the Internet and talking and researching what is out there and what can they can get their hands on and what seat can they get in, so I’m digging this.

“This is something I’ve done my whole life. Whatever I can research to find a race. Heck if it’s even a monster truck. I want to go drive a monster truck and crush cars. Everything is wide open right now.”

Busch said the 2021 Dakar Rally is appealing because of its backdrop in Saudi Arabia, which is the host country for the second consecutive year.

“I love the off-road world,” he said. “The intrigue for me is that it reminds me of home and the desert right outside Vegas. And then the sand dunes section in Stage 4. That is so brutal, especially for the bikes.

“I just love the scenery, I love the competition, and it’s just great to see motorsports on TV already.”

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds