Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – NASHVILLE, TN – His second Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship now in the record books, it was a relaxed and droll Kyle Busch who took questions from reporters on Wednesday afternoon at the Music City Center.
Aside from seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson, Busch is the only active driver with more than one title, and he took the opportunity in his post-championship trip to New York to display both trophies, with the Empire State Building as a backdrop.
“I remembered seeing Jimmie having all of his trophies laid out on the race track when he won seven at Homestead and thought that was really cool and really special,” Busch said. “I asked all the NASCAR folks, ‘So did you guys bring all the replicas down here for that?’ And they were like, ‘No, Jimmie brought all those himself, because they were all his.
“I was like, ‘Damn, the boy believed in himself, I guess.’”
But Busch wasn’t about to tempt fate by bringing the trophy he won in 2015 to Homestead before the final race.
“I was like, I did not bring the Sprint Cup trophy to Homestead, because I am not removing it from wherever the hell it is to bring it and be… I’m not saying Jimmie Johnson is conceited, but, yeah, I would be that. But it was the first time I was able to grab the other trophy and take it with, and New York was our first stop.”
On Tuesday night, Busch dropped the first puck at a Nashville Predators game, one night after not only attending but also participating in WWE Monday Night Raw at Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena. There, with the aid of some subterfuge from Michael Waltrip, Busch took the 24/7 championship belt from wrestler/rapper R-Truth.
“They heard we were coming and set us up and said, ‘Hey. Do you want to be part of the show?’” said Busch. “Well, all right, sure. What have you got in mind?”
Busch pinned R-Truth on the concrete outside the ring and grabbed the belt. Asked whether he had ever tried the move on brother Kurt Busch, Kyle quipped, “If I could get through (Joey) Logano’s crew, I could do it on him.”
KYLE LARSON EMPHATIC ABOUT HIS ENJOYMENT OF NASCAR RACING
Fresh from a dominant performance in USAC Midget Racing, having swept three main events in California, Kyle Larson scoffed at the notion that Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series racing isn’t just as much fun to him.
“If it was work, I wouldn’t do it,” Larson said. “I tell people all the time, yeah, the money’s great, but if I wasn’t having fun, I wouldn’t be doing this. I would have gotten out of this a long time ago. I enjoy the travel. I enjoy the race cars. I enjoy the rules changes.
“I enjoy the competition—just the lifestyle. I enjoy everything about NASCAR. People probably think, because I go back and race dirt cars, that I do it because I don’t love NASCAR, and I need to get away and do something fun, but I have fun every single weekend.”
Clearly at the top of the game on dirt, Larson hasn’t won in stock cars with the same frequency he has achieved in open-wheel cars.
But there’s a good reason for that—more variables.
“I think it’s just more situational in NASCAR,” Larson said. “There are a lot of other factors that lead into how you finish. In dirt, when you’re out there, you’re not worried about a pit stop or a double-file restart or a 500-lap race. It’s just 30 laps, and there’s a lot less stuff that can happen to affect your race, because it is so much shorter.
“You can control your own destiny a little bit better… I feel like I’ve got everything it takes to win in the Cup series. We did it in 2017. Our race cars were really good then. Our pit crew was on it. So it’s just more situational, I guess.”
STEWART-HAAS DRIVERS ADDRESS CREW CHIEF CHANGES
Champion’s Week brought news of a crew chief shakeup at Stewart-Haas Racing. Johnny Klausmeier will move from Aric Almirola’s No. 10 Ford to Clint Bowyer’s No. 14, as Mike Bugarewicz moves from Bowyer’s car to Almiorla’s.
With Mike Shiplett moving up with rookie driver Cole Custer from the NASCAR Xfinity Series to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, Billy Scott, Daniel Suarez’s crew chief this year, is the odd man out at SHR. Suarez is still seeking a ride for the 2020 season.
Both Almirola and Bowyer qualified for the Playoffs this year, but neither driver won a race during the season.
“Well, I think it really just goes back to trying to be better, just trying to make the whole organization better… quite honestly, to get everybody to step up to the level of that No. 4 (Kevin Harvick) team within our four walls,” Almirola said of the personnel changes.
“They (SHR management) felt like it would be a good move to shake things up between the 14 and the 10 teams—create a new dynamic and see if that sparks some better performance.”
Bowyer agreed that goal of the moves is to find a spark.
“Success is in the people,” Bowyer said. “It’s still hard to find that chemistry. As long as I’ve been doing it, it’s all about chemistry and finding the right people and the right match to find the success on a consistent basis.
“Sometimes we’re too much the same. When I get fired up, he’s fired up. You need a little bit of that ‘opposites attract’ deal. It’s like a marriage. If you’re the same, usually sparks will fly. Eventually, one thing will lead to another and one of you is headed out.
“It never got to that,” Bowyer added, but neither team got to Victory Lane either.
KYLE BUSCH, NO. 18 JGR TEAM HEADLINE NASCAR INDUSTRY AWARDS
More than anything else—appropriately enough—Wednesday’s NASCAR Industry Awards Reception at Blake Shelton’s Ole Red was a celebration of the accomplishments of 2019 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch and his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing team.
Busch won the Sunoco Diamond Performance Award as well as the coveted Goodyear Gold Car Award, presented annually to the champion of NASCAR’s top division.
Busch won his second title and joins seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson as the only other active multiple championship winner.
“It was just a matter of time,” opined Stu Grant, Goodyear’s general manager of global racing.
Adam Stevens of the No. 18 team was honored with the Champion Crew Chief Award, also his second.
“The Playoffs came, and we never took our eyes off the prize,” Stevens said.
In addition, the No. 18 JGR pit crew was recognized with the Mechanix Wear Most Valuable Pit Crew Award, and Mars Inc. claimed the Champion Sponsor Award.
Chris Gabehart, crew chief for JGR teammate Denny Hamlin, earned the MOOG Problem Solver of the Year Crew Chief Award.
“My rookie year has just been phenomenal, with Joe Gibbs Racing, Denny and (sponsor) Fed-Ex,” said Gabehart, who guided Hamlin to six victories and a Championship 4 appearance this season.
Denis McGlynn, president and CEO of Dover Motorsports, received the prestigious Buddy Shuman Award, which recognizes individuals and organizations that have played vital roles in ensuring the continued growth and popularity of stock car racing.
Kevin Harvick, six times the top qualifier in 2019, took home the Busch Pole Award. His sponsor, Busch Beer, was honored with the Marketing Achievement Award.
“Having Busch beer, with everything they’ve done with our car and our program, is something you don’t see a lot of,” Harvick said. “It’s always fun to win your sponsor’s award, so it’s great to keep it in the family.”
“If you can get Kevin Harvick to drive a millennial car, eat avocado toast and wear plaid in the same year, you’ve got a pretty good marketing campaign,” added Jill Gregory, NASCAR executive vice president and chief marketing officer, in introducing the marketing award.
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year Daniel Hemric described his season-long battle against Ryan Preece as “a grind—and it wasn’t flashy. Neither one of us could put four or five straight weeks together.”
JGR driver Martin Truex Jr., who finished second to Busch in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, claimed the American Ethanol Green Flag Restart Award.
“To be able to make passes and moves on restarts is critical, and fortunately, we were able to make some good ones this year,” Truex said.