NASCAR: Kyle Busch sets himself up for rowdy playoff push


By George Diaz - Orlando Sentinel



Great stories always involve a battle between the forces of nature: Good vs. Evil; Heroes and Villains.

Kyle Busch isn’t called “Rowdy” because he parties till dawn. He rocks and rolls to a different universe, often contentious and unfiltered. If that makes him “evil,” so be it. But the bottom line is that he is good for a sport whose participants have become a bit homogenized over the years.

So consider it a good thing that Busch won at Texas this past weekend, his 44th NASCAR Cup victory overall.

It sets up a nice narrative for the playoffs down the road when he tangles with long-time rival Kevin Harvick, another prickly pear, among others.

Bring it, boys.

It had been a bittersweet season for Busch before Texas after finishing second in three of the previous four races with veteran crew chief Adam Stevens.

The tempestuous kind, Busch had an excellent filter of perspective from owner Joe Gibbs.

“Those are long weeks,” Gibbs said in Texas. “He’s upset afterward. During the week, we have our competition meeting. … Kyle’s got a lot of confidence in Adam and our team, but it is frustrating when you feel like — second sometimes, you know, it’s so hard.

“Then when you have several of those, you just kind of feel like it kind of builds up.”

It can, and it did.

The frustration spilled over to Twitter a few weeks ago after Busch was criticized for apparently blowing off the Fox Sports post-race crew after finishing third. In reality, the Fox team missed its window of opportunity to interview Busch, and it wasn’t incumbent on him to stick around and wait.

It turned into a contentious sparring session in cyberspace.

“Enjoy @KyleBusch engaging the haters along with his fans on twitter. Regardless of your opinion on him, he is great for @NASCAR,” tweeted Dale Earnhardt Jr. “Never boring. Makes my new job easier.”

It makes everyone’s job easier in NASCAR except for the drivers trying to keep up. Busch already has one Cup title from 2015 and is definitely in the mix for another early in the season.

He goes to Bristol this week as the points leader, with a rowdy round of momentum.

“As much as I love to win and hate to lose, it obviously feels a heck of a lot better when you can be in this (media) room talking about a win rather than a second or third, something like that, like we have been the past six weeks,” Busch said.

No worries anymore. See you in the playoffs, and bring your contentious party hat.

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We will start with the standard disclaimer: Stick to driving, kids!

That said, it was a pretty cool experience for a number of Ford team NASCAR drivers to play flag football at Dallas Cowboys’ indoor practice facility.

The pickup crew included Clint Bowyer, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski, Trevor Bayne, Aric Almirola, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Paul Menard, Joey Logano, Matt DiBenedetto, Michael McDowell, David Ragan and Kurt Busch.

“They opened it to us a lot,” Blaney said. “Ford and the Cowboys made that happen. Played flag football. I never played flag football as a kid. I think that was 7-on-7. It’s good that there were 11 players on each side. It’s a big field. That’s a lot of ground to cover. We were huffing and puffing. It was a good time. Nobody got hurt. Clint didn’t throw up.”

Consider that a win, kids.

Now go back to driving, please.

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It was another thumbs-down week for seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, still looking for his competitive mojo this season.

Johnson was involved in a multi-car crash on Lap 176 at Texas and finished 35th. Johnson dropped to 21st in the standings.

“Yeah, by the time I saw what went on the No. 11 (Denny Hamlin) was backwards and smoking the tires coming up the track,” Johnson said. “I knew where his arc was taking him and I knew that I was in trouble in the outside lane and going to get into him some.

“And then the crash just kind of continued from there. … We will get back to our winning ways soon.”

Truth or wishful thinking?

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Keep an eye on Daniel Suarez this weekend as he deals with a thumb injury that could impact his performance.

Suarez was involved in a multi-car wreck last weekend. Suarez posted a video after the race showing his left hand wrapped in a splint. He was scheduled to have it looked at more closely by a doctor this week.

“The impact on Lap 2 hurt my thumb a little bit,” Suarez said in the video. “I just left the care center at the track. Should be good, but I think they’ll look at it later in the week and see what we’ve got going on.”

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Monster Energy will remain the title sponsor of the Cup Series through next year based on an extension announced Tuesday. After that, according to Associated Press, NASCAR intends to re-evaluate how it sells its sponsorship. The Monster contract is estimated to be worth $20 million annually.

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By George Diaz

Orlando Sentinel