Kyle Busch outduels Kyle Larson in last lap battle to win Overtons 400

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Overton's 400

Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Red White & Blue Toyota, takes the checkered flag to win the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Overton’s 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on July 1, 2018 in Joliet, Illinois. Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

JOLIET, Ill. — At the beginning of the race the talk was all about the weather — how hot it was and whether all the laps would be completed before storms rolled in. But by the checkered flag, everyone had forgotten all about the weather.

After chasing down Kyle Busch in the closing laps, Kyle Larson was able to get underneath Busch heading into turn one on the last lap. Busch battled back on the outside and Larson slid high, getting into the left rear of Busch. Busch rubbed the wall and Larson took the lead down the backstretch. However, going into three, Busch drove it in hard, getting into the back of Larson, causing him to spin. Busch got back around and took the checkered flag.

“Larson tried to pull a slider but didn’t quite complete it,” Busch said in victory lane. “He slid up into me and use me, and then I kind of used him a little bit in turn three to come back for the victory.”

Busch said after the race that once Larson got into him, all gloves were off.

“At that point, i was like, ‘OK, all games are off. All bets are off,’” Busch said. “Going into turn three it was all about following him in there. I drove in there as far as I could.”

When Larson spun, Busch’s car pushed up the track and got into the wall.

“After that I was just trying to get back to the start-finish line,” he said.

Larson said after the race he knew going into the first turn that he wasn’t going to get by Busch.

“I would have had to slow down so much to not hit the wall,” Larson said. “I didn’t initially go in there planning to run into the side of him.”

But once he started the move, he realized there was only one way to complete it.

“I kind of made the plan to try to squeeze into him to bog him down, and it worked,” Larson said. “He was able to get back to my back bumper into three.”

Larson said he had no issue with Busch spinning him after the pass.

“I hit him first,” Larson said. “I roughed him up. He roughed me up. That’s racing.”

He said he went to victory lane to congratulate Busch after the race.

“I just went down and talked to him and said, ‘That was a lot of fun,’” Larson said. “I have a lot of respect for Kyle Busch and he has a lot of respect for me.”

Crew Chief Adam Stevens said the team struggled with the car all weekend, not unloading well and never being able to get back ahead of it. Busch echoed that, saying he struggled throughout the day.

“It was a handful, that’s for sure,” Busch said. “I don’t know what we had going on early in the race. Clean air was certainly helpful, but we watched the 78 drive up through there a few times today.”

Busch said while the win was exciting, he’d rather win a race without rubbing fenders.

“I enjoy winning races more cleanly than having to rough people up,” he said. “But when you’re the guy who gets roughed up, it’s fair game. It was a good day and a great finish. An exciting one at that, at a mile and a half. People don’t usually see those anymore. You have to be pumped about that. It’s really cool.”

Larson still ended up with a second-place finish, while Kevin Harvick came home in third.

“Our car was just off all weekend,” said Harvick, who led six times for 39 laps during the event. “We had a tough time making the front end turn and then we would wind up way too tight all the way through the corner or way too loose all the way through the corner. The guys did a good job and kept us in the game all day. We had a chance. We just wound up on the wrong side of it in the end.”

In a season that has seen most battles come down to what has been coined “the Big Three,” Harvick, Busch and Martin Truex Jr., there were plenty of other players at the front at Chicagoland as well. The dominant car on the day was Aric Almirola, who led four times for 70 laps. However, Almirola had to pit twice during the race for loose wheels.

“Our car was super fast, especially out in clean air,” Almirola said. “It was incredibly fast. We just have to execute. We have to put a whole race together. That is the difference between being good and being great.”

“We are capable of winning,” Almirola siad. “We showed it today. We have speed. We are bringing incredible race cars to the race track and we just have to put a whole day together.”

Early in the race it looked like it was going to be a Stewart Haas Racing kind of day, as Clint Bowyer battled his way to the front as well. However, during green flag stops, Bowyer sped on pit road, and then sped again while serving his drive-through penalty. Per NASCAR’s rules, if you speed while serving your penalty, you must make a stop-and-go. Bowyer served the second penalty without stopping, forcing him to have to come down pit road another time, putting him three laps down.

He was able to battle back to a fifth-place finish.

“You have to push everything,” Bowyer said. “Certainly pit road is a big part of that. You are splitting hairs out there on the race track down to the tenths of a second and you can gain seconds on pit road. Obviously our pit road speed was just a little too fast. We practiced it yesterday and the guys even made some adjustments, but that tight section down there was just too fast. The first time you second guess yourself. You come down the second time and you are cautious and you speed again so now you know you’ve got a problem. Then it was just confusion on my part. I wasn’t listening and made a mistake and cost us a third time down. We got good at pitting today, unfortunately.”

The win was Busch’s 48th career victory and his fifth of the season. It is his second win at Chicagoland Speedway. He led 59 laps, the second most of the day.

Busch’s win makes 2018 only the fourth season in Cup Series history to have two drivers with five or more wins in the first 17 races. Busch and Harvick have each won five this year. In 2010, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson both hit that mark, and Richard Petty and Cale Yarborough did it in 1977 and 1974.

There were 24 lead changes among 10 drivers, and five cautions for 23 laps.

According to NASCAR, the top five cars cleared the post-race at-track inspection, and NASCAR will take the 18 and 42 cars to the R&D center. Brad Keselowski’s car had one right rear lug nut not safely secured after the race, and Denny Hamlin’s car had one left rear lug nut not safely secured.

Truex, Hamlin, Johnson among drivers to have times disallowed in Cup qualifying at Chicago

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JOLIET, Ill. — Four drivers will start at the back of the field for Sunday’s Overtons 400 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race after having times disallowed due to failing post-qualifying inspection.

Because of the weekend’s “enhanced schedule,” NASCAR did not require drivers to go through pre-qualifying inspection at Chicagoland Speedway Saturday. Teams could voluntarily go through, however.

NASCAR announced that drivers who failed post-qualifying inspection would have their times disallowed and further penalties depending on how many times they failed inspection.

Four cars failed post-qualifying tech Saturday evening. Those include Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Chris Buescher. All four will start from 36th through 39th in the field of 39 cars.

The cars of Paul Menard and Ryan Blaney, who qualified on the front row, did pass inspection, so they will retain their starting positions. It was Menard’s first pole in almost 10 years. Chase Elliott, Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer will round out the top five when they come to the green flag Sunday at Chicagoland.

NASCAR also announced that the team of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. made unapproved adjustments after qualifying, so he will go to the rear as well. However, Stenhouse will retain his starting position, he will just have to fall to the back before the green flag.

NASCAR has also elected to move up the start of the race approximately 14 minutes due to the threat of possible rain in the afternoon at Chicagoland. Sunday’s forecast for Joliet calls for a high of 90 degrees and a 60 percent chance of rain and thunderstorms. The hourly forecast calls for a 30 percent chance of rain at 3 p.m. ET, increasing to 55 percent around 7 p.m. ET.

Sunday’s green flag is now scheduled to be at 1:32 p.m. CT, 2:32 p.m. ET, with driver intros starting at 1:45 p.m. ET.

Scannable Document on Jul 1, 2018 at 9_24_05 AM

Menard gets his first pole in 10 years at Chicagoland

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Paul Menard makes a lap during practice at Chicagoland Speedway Saturday. Menard will sit on the pole for Sunday’s Overtons 400. Eric Young/The SuperSpeedway

JOLIET, Ill. — Paul Menard won the Busch Pole for Sunday’s Overtons 400 at Chicagoland Speedway, his first pole in 10 years.

Menard has one other pole to his credit in the Cup Series, which came at Daytona in 2008.

Menard turned a speed of 180.012 mph to capture the pole late in the final round, beating out quasi-teammate Ryan Blaney, who posted second. Menard runs for the Wood Brothers with support from Team Penske.

Menard said he was happy about his laps across all three rounds of qualifying.

“All three of them were solid,” he said. “I couldn’t make a lap in practice in qualifying trim, I was so loose. The first round, I drove it in like I wanted to drive it in. … I drove it in and it stuck. Got to the gas and it stuck.”

When asked about it being 10 years since his last pole, Menard said he’d lost track of time.

“It’s been 10 years?” he asked.

He was then told it would be 10 years next weekend at Daytona.

“So it’s been nine years, and 51 weeks,” Menard said. “I’ve never been a really good qualifier in these cars, I have a couple poles in Xfinity. I don’t put a real big emphasis on it.”

Menard was coming off an eighth-place finish in the Xfinity Series just prior to qualifying, one in which several drivers had issues due to the extreme heat. Menard said he was OK, but had to change his clothes a few times.

“I think I’m on my fourth or fifth pair of underwear. My third firesuit,” he said. “I went back to my hauler and drank some pickle juice.”

When asked about the benefits of pickle juice, Menard said it replenishes the body’s salt.

“I haven’t drank pickle juice in a while, but I thought today was a good day to do it,” he said.

Chase Elliott qualified third, Denny Hamlin fourth and Kurt Busch fifth.

There was still one unknown Saturday though after qualifying was completed, and that involved tech inspection. Because of the enhanced weekend schedule this weekend at Chicagoland, NASCAR did not require teams to pass through pre-qualifying inspection, though teams were allowed to go through voluntarily. Instead, all teams will have to pass a post-qualifying tech inspection. Penalties will be issued each time a team does not pass inspection, according to NASCAR.

Of what many have coined “the big three,” Martin Truex Jr. will have the best starting spot after qualifying 12th. Kevin Harvick was bumped out of the final round at the very last second and will start 13th, while Kyle Busch qualified 18th. Kyle Larson, who won Saturday’s Xfinity race, qualified 20th.

Larson comes from the rear to win Xfinity race at Chicagoland

NASCAR Xfinity Series Overton's 300

Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 ENEOS Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Overton’s 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on June 30, 2018 in Joliet, Illinois. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

CHICAGO, Ill. — It was an eventful Saturday in the Xfinity Series for Cup Series regular Kyle Larson — he won the pole for Saturday’s Overtons 300 at Chicagoland. His team then had to change tires before the race, sending him to the back of the field. But Larson was able to work his way through the field to take the win Saturday.

“We had a right front tire going down at the end of qualifying,” Larson said after the race. “Goodyear gave us one fresh tire on the right front, and that made us really lose on the first run. I took my time getting to the front. I thought I would get there a little quicker than I did, but even when I ran the top it was really sketchy.”

“We got in the wall just barely a few times,” Larson said, adding that team owner Chip Ganassi gets “anxiety” when he runs the car on the top line like that. “We were able to keep the right side somewhat clean.”

Larson said the long run was key to the victory.

“Once we got a long run in and we got to the top I knew I’d eat them up,” he said. “I’m surprised they didn’t fight me very hard. But it was nice to not have to race hard and make a mistake or anything.”

Larson was able to work his way through the field to finish the first stage in sixth place. He then won the second stage. On the last restart with 84 laps to go, Kevin Harvick jumped out to the lead. But Larson, who had a better long-run car all day, was able to jump out to the lead.

After green flag pit stops and an attempt by Brandon Jones to stretch the fuel in hopes of a caution, Larson reassumed the lead where he stayed until the checkered flag, finishing eight seconds ahead of Harvick in second. Cole Custer finished third, Daniel Suarez in fourth and Daniel Hemric in fifth.

The win was Larson’s 10th in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and his second for the season.

Harvick acknowledged after the race that his car was better on the shorter run.

“The handling was great on the last stop, probably better than it was the stop before,” Harvick said. “We were just a 1-25 (lap car), and not a 25-50.”

Suarez, drinking a Coca-Cola after the race, wouldn’t go so far as to complain about the heat, while several other drivers were headed to the infield care center for IVs.

“It was warm,” Suarez said. “It was warm for sure.”

Larson said he wasn’t concerned about dealing with the heat again Sunday in the Cup race, saying he tends to struggle more on Saturdays with the heat than on Sundays.

“Even if Sunday’s hotter than Saturday, I always seem to be fine in the Cup race,” he said.

He said he feels like the driver cooling system in the Cup car works better than in the Xfinity car, and he even questioned today whether the one in his car was working.

“I felt like it wasn’t working today,” he said. “I did turn it off once to see if it was working and it was working, it just wasn’t working very well.”

He said he might consider getting an IV tonight to prepare for Sunday’s Cup race, but that he’s not a big fan of needles, so he’ll have to think about it.

Whether he will be able to sneak a win Sunday and sweep the Xfinity and Cup races, Larson said it will depend how the day plays out.

“I mean, I think there’s a decent opportunity,” he said. “Cup races are so hard to win. I feel like this race will be won around the bottom. The Xfinity cars are easier to run around the top.”

He said he feels like the preferred line Sunday will be around the bottom of the track on both ends, which is where Martin Truex Jr. and Kevin Harvick run so well.

“I think we have a top-five car,” Larson said.

Chase Elliott went to the care center after the race for fluids and was treated and released.

“I feel a lot better now,” Elliott said. “Those IVs make you feel like a million bucks. Just really hot this afternoon. Those cars always seem a bit hotter than the Cup cars.”

Kyle Larson grabs pole for Chicagoland Xfinity race

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Kyle Larson turns a lap during final practice for the NASCAR Xfinity Series race Friday evening at Chicagoland Speedway. Larson qualified on the pole for Saturday’s Xfinity Series race. Eric Young/TheSuperSpeedway

JOLIET, Ill. — Kyle Larson set the fastest time in the final round of qualifying at Chicagoland Speedway Saturday to take the pole for the Overtons 300 NASCAR Xfinity Series race.

Larson set a fast time of 31.071 for a speed of 173.796 mph to capture the pole position. It was only Larson’s fourth pole in the Xfinity series.

Tyler Reddick made a late run in the final round to jump to second place with a speed of 173.438 to join Larson on the front row. Austin Cindric, Daniel Suarez and Paul Menard close out the top five.

Cole Custer made it to the final round of qualifying, but after a tire went flat during the break NASCAR announced he would have to start at the rear of the field after changing the tire before the race.

The Overtons 300 is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m. central time, 3:30 p.m. eastern, Saturday afternoon.

Moffitt wins at Chicagoland as Nemechek runs out of gas on last lap

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Overton's 225

Brett Moffitt, driver of the #16 Fr8Auctions.com Toyota, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Overton’s 225 at Chicagoland Speedway on June 29, 2018 in Joliet, Illinois. Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

CHICAGO, Ill. — Tuesday Brett Moffitt wasn’t sure he would be racing at Chicagoland Speedway. Tonight he was in victory lane.

Moffitt made a last-lap pass on John Hunter Nemechek when Nemechek ran out of gas in turn one on the last lap, taking the checkered flag and earning his third victory of the season and the fourth of his career.

“I don’t see a weakness in our team at all,” Moffitt said after the race. “Everyone is so motivated. Everyone has had to deal with what’s been a little bit of a distraction, I think once we fix that part we’re only going to get better to better.

Moffitt said there are currently three races the team is working to secure sponsorship at, including Bristol and Eldora. Crew Chief Scott Zipadelli said the team considered coming to Chicago and starting and parking if sponsorship couldn’t be secured, since Moffitt has qualified for the playoffs with what was two wins, now three after tonight.

“We have discussed many scenarios,” he said. “That was probably the least favorable one. At the end of the day, we probably would.”

“Gratefully, we didn’t have to make the decision because Fr8Auctions came on late Tuesday afternoon,” he continued. “I hope we don’t have to have that conversation again.”

So does the team have what it takes to win the title this season?

“Hell yeah,” Moffit said.

Hattori Racing is not one of the highest-funded teams in the garage, and Moffit said it is definitely coming to the track with a chip on its shoulder as it competes with the higher-funded entries.

“We’re a little team,” he said. “We don’t have the most stuff. We are the lone JGR Mark Conquest engine, so we’re the only true Toyota out there. To go out there week in and week out, I think there was maybe one race this season that I felt we didn’t have a race-winning truck.”

“I think we work together very, very well,” Moffitt said. “We do have a chip on our shoulder and we’re trying to prove something, and I think we’re going to.”

Nemechek coasted across the finish line for a seventh-place finish. He led a race-high 64 laps. Moffit led five times for 17 laps. Noah Gragson, who wound up fourth place, led 42 laps on the day, and Dalton Sargeant led 24.

Johnny Sauter came home with a third-place finish, extending his points lead to 65 points over Gragson.

Sauter said his truck was good on the short run, and he thought he’d have a good chance to make a run in the last run when the caution came out on lap 122. But Sauter’s jack broke on the pitstop, miring him back in traffic and forcing him to race back through the field for the third-place finish.

“The last pit stop the jack broke so we lost track position,” Sauter said. “We were good on short runs. I was looking forward to the last run.”

Sauter said despite his four wins so far this season, his GMS racing team has not changed its strategy much.

“Right now we just continue to go to the race track like we would,” he said. “Maybe we had a little different stuff in the back that we probably wouldn’t have run if it was the Playoffs.”

There were 17 lead changes among six drivers in the race, and six cautions for 29 laps.

Scannable Document on Jun 29, 2018 at 11_00_03 PM

Gragson captures pole for trucks at Chicago

JOLIET, Ill. — Noah Gragson captured the pole for the 10th annual Overtons 225 at Chicagoland Speedway Friday.

Gragson piloted his number 18 Safelite Toyota to a lap of 30.834 seconds for an average speed of 175.131 miles per hour.

It was Gragson’s sixth pole of his career and the third of the season. It was his first pole at Chicagoland Speedway.

Dalton Sargeant took the top spot with the second-to-last run in the final round of qualifying, just seconds before Gragson knocked him to second. Sargeant will start outside the front row, his fourth top-10 starting position of the year and first at Chicagoland.

John Hunter Nemechek, Todd Gilliland and Stewart Friesen rounded out the top five.

The Overtons 225 is scheduled for 8 p.m. local time, 9 p.m. Eastern time, Friday night.

Scannable Document on Jun 29, 2018 at 5_51_48 PM

Fun outweighs the danger for Larson and Bell racing sprint cars

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Fox Sports’ Vince Welch speaks to the media with Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell Friday at Chicagoland Speedway. Eric Young/The SuperSpeedway

Last Sunday morning the racing world mourned the death of World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Cars driver Jason Johnson, who died from injuries suffered in a crash at an event the night before in Wisconsin.

This weekend, NASCAR drivers Kyle Larson and Christopher Bell appeared in the Chicagoland Speedway media center with Fox Sports’ Vince Welch to talk to the media about being involved in the upcoming Fox broadcast of the Eldora Dirt Derby. Both drivers spend much of their off time racing sprint cars around the country, and they were asked why they still do it despite the recent injuries and fatalities that have come from the sport.

“I think bottom line is just because we love it,” Bell said. “You know, you could get hit by a car walking down the sidewalk, you know? It’s just unfortunate.”

Bell pointed out that racing is dangerous no matter the series.

“We’re race car drivers,” he said. “Racing’s not a safe sport, unfortunately. NASCAR has done a great job making it a lot safer and so have sprint cars — they’ve come a long way too, and you know, if you think about the pure numbers of what’s going on, you have 36 Cup races a year, and in the sprint car world you would have 90 Outlaw races a year. You have 60 All-Star races a year and hundreds and hundreds of local races a year, so there’s just a lot more sprint car racing going on. But I think the bottom line is just we love it.”

Larson agreed that the love of racing sprint cars trumped any inherent danger involved in racing the cars. He added that he puts it out of his mind when he gets behind the wheel.

“I don’t think about the bad stuff that could happen when I’m strapping into a race car,” he said. “I just love sprint car racing so much. I love racing so much. It’s just a drug and I don’t think about the negative things. I just enjoy doing it and think if you were to ever think about the negatives, that is where stuff can go wrong.”

Larson said one place NASCAR has really helped in the safety department is with the tracks that the top three series race on.

“I think that comes down to the series, whether it’s the World of Outlaws or All Stars or USAC or whatever could do a better job of not necessarily demanding that the tracks become safer, but I feel like sprint cars a lot of times people look at them being unsafe race cars,” Larson said. “But NASCAR stuff, they have made the tracks a lot safer, which has made the race cars seem a lot safer, which the race cars are a lot safer than they were a decade and a half ago. I think they have made just as many improvements to the race tracks as they have the race cars.”

“Where I think, sprint cars, we have continued to somewhat make the race cars safer with tethers and straps and safety bars and stuff like that, but I don’t really feel like we have done a whole lot to make the track safer,” Larson continued. “The tracks that have become safer, I feel like, are the tracks where they’ve had issues at. I think you look at Volusia, cars flipping into the crowd, and then you come back a year later and they’ve got an amazing catch fence. I just wish the tracks would be a little more proactive or the series to be more proactive in making sure that the facilities they are going to are safer.”

Sprint car racing is on the docket in Chicago this weekend too, as Tony Stewart’s Arctic Cat All Star Circuit of Champions sprint cars will race at the neighboring Dirt Oval at Route 66. Stewart is scheduled to race in the event.

Both Larson and Bell said they will do something special for Johnson this weekend. Larson will run the commemorative logo that the World of Outlaws sent out last week. Bell said he will do something as well.