Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – FORT WORTH, TX – Kurt Busch will be driving for Chip Ganassi Racing for at least two more years, with Monster Energy as his primary sponsor.
Busch and team owner Chip Ganassi announced the multiyear extension of Busch’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series contract on Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, but not before Busch teased reporters with an impending retirement gag, amplified by the gift of a rocking chair from TMS president Eddie Gossage.
The specific terms of the driver and sponsor contracts weren’t revealed, other than that both were multiyear commitments.
“It’s been a good career, it’s been fun, and it’s been tough at the same time to see how things have changed and how things have gone,” deadpanned Busch, the 2004 series champion who advanced to the Playoffs this year on the strength of his win at Kentucky Speedway. “Wait! Eddie, really? A rocking chair? It’s not time for a rocking chair. This old guy’s got some kick left.”
With that, Busch and accompanying Monster girls popped a spray of confetti out of champagne bottles to announce the new contract.
Ganassi had high praise for the 41-year-old driver, crediting him with elevating the performance of not only the No. 1 Chevrolet but also with helping teammate Kyle Larson’s effort in the No. 2 Chevy.
“With his driving this year, he’s sparked the No. 1 car, taken it to a place it’s never been before,” Ganassi said. “That was the first time a Chevrolet won at Kentucky, so we were pretty pleased with that. And, obviously, having Monster as a great partner has been a real shot in the arm for our team…
“As Kurt will tell you, he and Kyle Larson have had a great time becoming teammates, and I think it’s made Larson a better driver… So this guy brings a lot more than just what’s on the track. He brought a lot of guys on that 1 team their first Cup win, and I think you saw that in the exuberance at Kentucky. So I’m proud to keep him as part of this team for the foreseeable future.”
A multiyear deal for Busch is an anomaly. His recent contracts—and Monster’s accompanying commitments—have been for one year each.
“To have a multiyear deal, it’s comforting that I won’t have to answer the questions weekly about being a 41-year-old veteran in a sport where there’s a young push,” Busch said. “To have that done, that’ll be refreshing, because the focus should be on track.
“It should be the on-track product, what happens out there racing, what happens during the week with different promotional things and continuing to build this sport that’s given me so much—those are some of the big reasons why I signed on again to keep going, smile out there and go for the trophy.”
CHASE ELLIOTT NEEDS MORE MAGIC TO KEEP PLAYOFF HOPES ALIVE
The 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs have been a repeating story of disaster and recovery for driver Chase Elliott.
After crashing his No. 9 Chevrolet nose-first into the Turn 1 tire barrier at the Charlotte Road Course, Elliott recovered to win the first elimination race of the Playoffs.
But Elliott’s engine expired eight laps into the opening Round of 12 race at Dover. He finished dead last in a field of 38 and scored one point.
Two weeks later, facing elimination at Kansas Speedway, Elliott faced a 20-point deficit to Brad Keselowski entering the race. In an overtime restart, Elliott charged to second place as Keselowski faded. The net difference was just enough for Elliott to grab the final berth in the Round of 8.
The opening race in the Round 8 at Martinsville, however, brought more catastrophe. A broken axle relegated Elliott to a 36th-place finish, 55 laps down. Consequently, Elliott must pull another rabbit out of his hat in the next two races.
Currently 44 points below the cut line for the Championship 4, Elliott almost certainly must win either at Texas or ISM Raceway in Phoenix.
“For us, just trying to keep our season alive,” Elliott said of his approach to Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at TMS (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). “You want to be able to go to Homestead and race for a championship. There’s only going to be four guys that have that opportunity, right?
“So, for us, we’re in a tough spot from a points standpoint that we’ve pretty much got to go win, either here or Phoenix or both or something spectacular happen for us to move on. So, that’s the cards we dealt ourselves after last week and we’ll see how it plays out.”
KYLE LARSON NEEDS TWO EXCELLENT RACES—OR ONE WIN—TO ADVANCE
The thesis has always been that, if rim-rider Kyle Larson ever advances to Homestead-Miami Speedway as one of the Championship 4, he’d have to be considered a favorite for the title, given his unmatched prowess at running the wall at the 1.5-mile speedway.
The problem has been getting there, and approaching Sunday’s AAA Texas 500, Larson is 24 points behind fourth-place Joey Logano in the race for a Playoff berth in the season finale. Accordingly, Larson has no margin for error—and he knows it.
“Obviously, we have to have a really good day,” Larson said. “Twenty-four points out, if I can’t win, I need to do a really good job in each stage and probably finish in the top-three. Hopefully, I can go win, and that would make next week (at Phoenix) easy. I know I have to have a really good day.”
Fortunately for Larson, his average finish of 20.4 at Texas belies the speed he typically has in his No. 2 Chevrolets.
“We’re always really fast here at Texas, especially since the repave (after the November 2016 race),” Larson said. “I’ve just had a crash and two blown right-front tires. I’ve always ran really well here. If you just look at a piece of paper, you would think that I don’t run well here. But we’re always really fast. We just have to keep the right-front holding air.”