Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – DAYTONA BEACH, FL – Christopher Bell and Kyle Busch may be teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing, but there is certain to be an intense competition between the two drivers next year.
Both Bell and Busch want to be the first driver to get a victory in the new Toyota Supra, which will make its debut in the NASCAR Xfinity Series next year.
Busch already has a number of milestones to his credit. In 2007, his victory at Bristol Motor Speedway was the first in NASCAR’s Car of Tomorrow, which has since given way to the current race car. A year later, in his first season with JGR, Busch won at Atlanta to give Toyota its first win in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
Busch can boast a series-record 92 Xfinity victories to Bell’s two, but Bell will have an advantage in sheer numbers next year, given rules limiting full-time Cup drivers to seven starts in the junior series. Busch’s first Xfinity start of 2018 came in the third event of the year, at Las Vegas.
In all probability, Bell will have opportunities to take a checkered flag in the Supra before Busch runs his first race in 2019. And that suits Bell just fine.
“It’s just really cool,” Bell said on Thursday at the announcement of the Supra’s debut. “You don’t have an opportunity to become a first-time winner very often, and I remember when Jason Leffler won the first race—I think it was at IRP—for the Camry (in the Xfinity Series).
“And then, obviously, Kyle won the first Cup race at Atlanta, so it would be pretty, pretty special if I could be the first driver to win in a Supra.”
Bell will get his first chance on Feb. 16, 2019 at Daytona International Speedway.
LATE TO THE PARTY IN AN OLD CAR, KAZ GRALA RUNS FIFTH AT DAYTONA
Decade-old hand-me-downs certainly aren’t the norm on the race track, but the Fury Race Cars team that fields cars for Kaz Grala had to scramble after securing sponsorship for Friday night’s Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Daytona International Speedway.
The No. 61 Ford Grala drove to a fifth-place finish at the 2.5-mile track was one of the last cars built by NASCAR Hall of Famer Ray Evernham during his stint as a car owner. The car then went to Richard Petty Motorsports, the successor to Gillette Evernham Motorsports.
Biagi DenBeste bought the car four years ago and ownership transferred to Stewart-Haas Racing, which was set to turn the car, and had served as a backup but never raced, into a show car. But circumstances gave the Ford a chance on the race track on Friday night, and Grala made the most of it.
“We just acquired this car on Thursday of last week, this superspeedway car,” Grala said. “I wish (team co-owner and former Dale Earnhardt Jr. crew chief) Tony (Eury Jr.) had gotten more time with it, but I feel like he’s used the time he had with it wisely.”
Indeed, the car only enhanced its credentials as a survivor by carrying Grala to the fifth-place finish. But sponsorship is an ongoing issue for the team, and future races are still in limbo.
KURT BUSCH STILL WAITING TO TALK 2019 CONTRACT WITH STEWART-HAAS
Contract negotiations have a history of complications for Kurt Busch.
Last year, Stewart-Haas declined to pick up his option but later re-signed the 2004 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.
This year, though SHR has expressed a desire to retain all four drivers in its stable—Busch, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer and Aric Almirola—Busch has yet to talk turkey with team principals.
Busch, 39, is in his fourth season with SHR, having been hired initially by team co-owner Gene Haas. Busch is currently seventh in the series standings, but he hasn’t won a race since the 2017 Daytona 500. Both the driver and crew chief Billy Scott, who called the shots for Danica Patrick last year know they have to pick up their performance.
“We have to ramp up to that next step, and you do that with teamwork and a lot a research behind the scenes to look at numbers and predict better patterns for the races,” Busch said. “We were a competitive car at Chicago (last Sunday). We almost won Stage 2. Then, the second half of the race, the car went awful tight.
“If we really jump into the numbers on things, Billy was with Danica last year, and some of their race day notes aren’t as solid as they needed to be when you’re trying to compete against guys like Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. That’s the level we’ve got to get to the second half of this year.”
If that happens, Busch’s contract might just take care of itself.