The Can-Am Duels at Daytona did not disappoint this year. Throughout the majority of both races, there was action packed racing, two and even three-wide at some points. Like always, there were some cars that stood out and others that finished better than what they ran. That’s restrictor plate racing.
In the opening Duel race, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. proved that he will have one of the cars to beat on Sunday in the 58th Annual Daytona 500.
It didn’t take long for the restrictor plate veteran to prove that he had the best car in the first Can-Am Duel. It took him just two laps to take the top spot away from Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Chase Elliott. He held the lead until his pit stop until Lap 40.
The No. 88 car dominated the first Duel as he led 43 of the races 60 laps, but had to overcome adversity in the late stages. With just a handful of laps to go, Earnhardt was shuffled back to sixth while Denny Hamlin as on point.
With just over one lap to go, Earnhardt had to hold off a charging Joey Logano will help from Ryan Blaney from the Wood Brothers, an affiliate of Team Penske. Even with the two drivers pairing up they were unable to pass the No. 88 team.
In his post-race press conference Earnhardt eluded to his car as special and knowing that he has one of the cars to beat.
“That was crazy,” Earnhardt said on the race. “I was so nervous today about tearing the car up because I know how good it is versus what we have. What we have is a capable car in the trailer, but this thing is special. So I’m really excited.”
The defending Daytona 500 winner, Logano, finished second after getting shuffled back after his green flag pit stop. The No. 22 car was aggressive and made dicey moves in-and-out of traffic, much like his teammate Brad Keselowski who finished in a disappointing 13th.
Blaney is headlining into his second career Daytona 500, and as a rookie he stated his case as to why teams should work with him in the actual race. Last season the No. 21 car had one top-five finish coming at Talladega, the other plate track.
“We had a really fast racecar,” Blaney said. “We had a couple of problems early in the race which got us a lap down. Luckily we got a caution at the right point that got us on the lead lap so we could go racing for it.”
One lap prior to the halfway point, Blaney had a loose left-rear tire that the team accidently left loose prior to the 150-mile event. Evidently, the team overcame the bad luck and got a top-five finish.
Kevin Harvick finished fourth after starting in the rear and had a real shot the win while running second with four laps to go. The Sprint Unlimited winner Hamlin rounded out the top five and led 13 laps in the process.
With Blaney finishing in third and a 13th-place finish Michael McDowell came out on top in the race within the race, the race just to make the Daytona 500. On Lap 42, Cole Whitt had a big run on the No. 95 car that when he went to make a move to pass McDowell he overcorrected and spun out, ending his chance at competing in the Great American Race.
The other driver that McDowell had to beat was Josh Wise and he finished in 17th.
“It’s definitely a big thing for our team, Circle Sport-Levin Family Racing, we’re going to have two cars in the Daytona 500 especially for a small team” McDowell said on making the Daytona 500. “To really start out the year well, it’s very important. This is such a huge race.”
The latter of the two 150-mile races was very tame until the last couple of laps. As Kyle Busch went on to dominate the event, a multi-car pileup on the last lap cost many of top drivers’ valuable starting positions for the Daytona 500.
It all started to go downhill with two laps to go when Casey Mears was running the second position and ran out of gas. The No. 13 car had just been placed into the second position and then ran out of gas, while trying to make a move on Busch.
As the lead pack of 11 cars darted in to Turn 1 on the last lap, Jamie McMurray made a move to try and win the race when he looked to the inside of the No. 18 car. While coming back up the track he clipped the front end of Jimmie Johnson’s Chevrolet, causing a five car crash, including Matt Kenseth who was scheduled to start on the outside of Row 1 on Sunday.
Also getting in the crash were A.J. Allmendinger, Danica Patrick and Martin Truex Jr.
With Kenseth likely going to a backup car, it will move Busch to the outside of the front row, alongside 20-year-old rookie Chase Elliott.
“I think I get to start on the front row,” Busch said. “I didn’t win this race to qualify myself for the fourth starting position, but with our teammate having trouble there at the end of the race, they’ll have to go a backup car, it looks. Well get the chance to start on the front row. That’s pretty cool.”
The accident looked to be the cause of all drivers going for it and getting the best starting position that they could. However, the end result was that three of the 500 favorites will now start in the rear.
“I was behind it to see it so I couldn’t really tell why the No. 48 went up the racetrack,” Kenseth said. “I was actually just in the process to get out of there and go to the back. I thought we had the best car and we led a lot of laps.”
Kenseth mentioned that this will be the No. 20 team’s third car of Speedweeks as he also crashed in the Sprint Unlimited last Saturday.
In this Duel it was Robert Richardson, Jr. who was able to fall back on his qualifying speed from last Sunday as his teammate Matt DiBenedetto finished the highest out of the cars that needed to race their way in. David Gilliland and Reed Sorenson will miss the 500-mile spectacle.
“Two weeks ago when I got the call to run this race, I was mowing the hay pastures,” Richardson said. “I’m just very blessed to be here.”
There are three practice sessions for teams to tune up their primary or backup cars to try and win the biggest race in motorsports. The team that is able to adapt to the conditions of the race and keep up with the pace being set will find themselves the winner of the Daytona 500.
2015 was the year of Joe Gibbs Racing. The team was able to take the checkered flag 14 times over the span of the 36-race season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, evidently winning the championship with Kyle Busch. The Gibbs organization will look to keep up its dominance in 2016.
At the end of 2015, JGR announced that there would be crew chief changes beginning at the Daytona 500. Mike Wheeler was announced as the new crew chief for Denny Hamlin, replacing Dave Rogers. Rogers, formerly the crew chief for Denny Hamlin, is moving over to lead the No. 19 team with Carl Edwards, replacing Darian Grubb, who was left without a job before returning to Hendrick Motorsports.
Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens would remain intact after a championship-winning season. Matt Kenseth and Jason Ratcliff are coming off an impressive five-win season and will continue to work together for the fourth consecutive season.
Team owner Joe Gibbs believed that it was in everyone’s best interest to make changes even after having one of the best seasons in team history. The organization is coming off of a season where it tallied 45 top-five finishes and racked up 71 top 10s. Gibbs thinks that the current driver lineup is one of the best that the team has ever had. However, he was hesitant to say that his team is the best in the garage.
“I know in pro sports that one thing doesn’t guarantee anything for the next year,” Gibbs said on Tuesday at the NASCAR Media Tour. “I do feel good about our guys and our crew chiefs. Professional sports are hard. In 2013, we had one of our best years, but in 2014 we had our worst year. In professional sports, it can go south in a hurry.”
Busch will have the same exact team as he did last year, and will be one of the favorites for the championship heading into the new season. After recording five victories in just 25 races in 2015, Busch is looking to build on his success in 2016.
The reigning Cup champion will continue to bounce ideas off of his teammates in order for the team to be successful.
“I feel like we are one of the top teams, if not the top team in NASCAR Sprint Cup competition,” Busch said. “With the drivers and crew chiefs we have, I feel like everything could go down the path that it did last year with strong runs, race wins and competing for championships. We almost put two of our cars in the championship race if Carl [Edwards] had a few more points at Phoenix to be able to move on through. We have a lot of good things coming up.”
Like Busch, the No. 20 team will also have the same crew as they did in 2015. Kenseth won five times last season after going winless in 2014. The 43-year-old driver believes that his team will be just as good, if not better than they were in 2015.
He led 927 laps in 2015, the most out of all four drivers at Joe Gibbs Racing. He had a stretch of races in August and September where he won four out of eight races, but during the second round of the Chase, his championship hopes ended. Coming off of the season where he was suspended for two races for intentionally wrecking Joey Logano at Martinsville, Kenseth is looking to lean off his teammates and taking the next step as an organization.
“I feel like obviously I’ve got great teammates,” Kenseth said. “I think it’s what you don’t see that makes is so successful. They all put in the time, work and the effort and give good feedback. Those guys are good and they work really hard at it.”
Edwards on the other hand experienced an adjustment period for the first half of 2015 with his new team. In the first half of the season, the No. 19 team only found the top-10 three times. It was in the second half of the season that Grubb and he began to find consistency and made a run that had them fall just short of making it to the championship race at Homestead.
Statistically speaking, the move to JGR was very similar as 2014 when Edwards drove for Roush Fenway Racing. He finished the season with seven top-five finishes and rallied to have 15 top 10’s. There were many challenges that the team faced in the first season, but it is about the people for the Missouri native. The people are the reason that he jumped over to drive a Toyota and attempt to win his first career Cup championship.
“I’ve never worked with a better group of drivers,” Edwards said of his teammates. “This group right here is just spectacular. I would put these guys up against anyone in the garage. Every week, I’m motivated and pushed by these guys. I would say that we’re going to have a pretty good year if we can just do the things that we’ve been doing. It’s going to be great.”
If it wasn’t for a roof-flap that came loose at Talladega, there is a good chance that Hamlin would have been competing for his first Cup title. Unfortunately for the No. 11 team, bad luck has haunted them at the most inopportune time throughout Hamlin’s stint as the driver. Back in 2011, he had a 15-point lead heading into the season finale, but ultimately lost the championship to Jimmie Johnson.
2016 will look to be a different story for the Virginia native. Coming off of a season where he finished with 14 top fives, more than he had total in 2013 and 2014, he believes that this season could be the season that JGR elevates to the top race season in NASCAR.
“I think we can repeat what we did last year,” Hamlin said. “There is no reason why we can’t win half of the races and win the championship, especially with the group of drivers and crew chiefs that we have to work with. There is no reason why we can’t have success, especially knowing that we were successful with this low-downforce package last year.”
All four of the JGR drivers will be among the favorites for the championship. If the drivers can continue to work closely together there is no telling where JGR can go, and possibly establish the organization as the best team in NASCAR.
No one has ever questioned Kyle Busch’s demeanor on how to drive a racecar. No one ever questioned his talent, nor did they question how successful he has become. However, it is all beginning to come full circle for the 30-year-old driver as he has made the transition from teenager to young man.
Rick Hendrick was so excited to grab Busch following the 2003 season that he had to wait because of the age limit to drive a car in NASCAR competition until he was 18. Back when he raced part-time for Roush Fenway Racing in the Camping World Truck Series, Busch could only drive at certain tracks because of his age, such as the rule is today after disappearing for nearly a decade.
Since then, that rule has changed. Drivers are getting into high-quality racecars at a younger age. For Busch, the wait was worth it and now he is soaking in the glory as the 2015 Sprint Cup Series champion.
He has always been successful, acquiring 34 Cup Series wins, 76 Xfinity Series triumphs and 44 Truck Series victories. He has been able to write his name in the history books as one of the best pure racers in the history of NASCAR as he will race whatever it is, car, truck, dirt car or even a Late Model.
When Busch took over the No. 18 ride back in 2008, he was a young 22-year-old kid, exceeding expectations. He went on to win eight times that season, but once the Chase started, the No. 1 seed fell like a rock, as did much of his career in the Chase.
Until Nov. 22 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Busch had never won a race while being a part of the Chase. He could win countless races throughout his career, but could never stamp his name into contention for the title until 2015.
Busch faced as much adversity in one season as many drivers do in the entirety of their careers. After a vicious crash in the Xfinity Series at Daytona in February, he was forced to miss the biggest race of the season, the Daytona 500.
The driver broke both his leg and foot in the process. He was unable to move from a Daytona Beach hospital for the first 10 days after having surgery. He then went to rehab, and it was a game. This game was a mental game between him and his mind to get through the rehab and see how fast he could get back in the racecar.
“I guess you’re a lot tougher than you really realize whether it’s physically or mentally,” Busch said of overcoming his injury. “I had to put everything I had into rehab and everything I had into being able to walk and to get through everything that I was going through. Going through the rehab, it was hard. It was really, really hard."
He missed the first 11 races of the season, including watching the Daytona 500 from a hospital bed at the Halifax Medical Center. While undergoing rehab, his wife, Samantha was six months pregnant.
The return of Busch was on May 16 at the Sprint All-Star Race. It was a test for what was to come in the following week during the longest race of the season, the Coca-Cola 600. Busch finished sixth in his return during the preliminary race, but was quickest in his first practice session back. In his first full race back, he finished 11th.
The biggest victory of Busch’s career came when he was able to see the birth of his son, Brexton. Self admittedly, he wanted to be at the hospital for the birth of his son, but to not just sit there, but to be active in the approach.
In a way, Busch believed that he was injured for a reason and it was to be able to stay home with his wife in preparation of the couple’s first child after getting married in 2010.
Busch and his wife Samantha fought a battle of their own in previous years. Samantha was unable to get pregnant for a lengthy period of time because she was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome. PCOS haunted the couple as they tried for several years to get pregnant, but just could not have a baby. Perception became reality when Samantha’s doctors recommended for her to take a drug called Clomid. The risk of Clomid is that it increases the chances of having multiple children at once.
Clomid did not work either. The only other option for the couple was an IVF treatment. IVF is a process in which eggs are removed from the ovaries and mixed with sperm in a laboratory culture dish. This enabled for there to be a baby Busch.
“One day I found out that seven of my friends were having babies, and that four of my Pinterest announcement ideas were taken,” Samantha said in a blog last December. “I promptly had a Stage 5 melt-down and am impressed my iPhone survived a long trip across the room. Don’t get me wrong: I was so happy for my friends but, at the same time, I have to admit, I was so jealous! It’s such a terrible mix of emotions.”
Following Busch’s injury in February, he was looking forward to spend more time with his wife at home while she was on the tail-end of her pregnancy. Busch was a firm believer that his injury partially happened so that he could stay home and be with Samantha during that hard time.
“It stinks to be sitting on the sideline, but to be honest with you, the silver lining is to be home, to be with Samantha and to prep for our son coming,” Busch said in April at his first press conference after the wreck. “I think that's been the most fun.”
This was exactly what Busch did, and being able to see the birth of Brexton allowed for Busch to mature and grow even more as a person.
Leading up to the Chase:
The No. 18 team had a huge hurdle to overcome in order to make the Chase, let alone be in contention for the championship. He began 190 points in the hole and had just 15 races to make it up.
After having a respectable finish at Charlotte, the No. 18 car wrecked out of Dover while running in third. This put the team in a much bigger deficit with such a bad finish. At Pocono, Busch picked up his first top 10 of 2015, but it was two races later that changed the season for good.
On June 28, Busch won at the Sonoma Raceway, thus making him championship eligible if he could crack the top-30 in the season standings. This was just the beginning for Busch.
Prior to the Chase cutoff race at Richmond, Busch picked up three more wins and had nine top-10 finishes. He cracked the top-30 in the championship standings after Watkins Glen, four races before Richmond. He was locked into the Chase following the race at Darlington changing his outlook on the rest of the season.
“We set forth and did the path that was given to us from NASCAR to go out there and score points and win races to become eligible for this Chase,” Busch said. “The time in which it really set forth in me was after Michigan (June). We had a couple of good races. We were going to finish top-five out first nine races out. We weren’t finishing where we needed to be finishing, it was getting a little disheartening.”
After Michigan, Busch didn’t seem for it to be feasible to make it into the 2015 edition of the Chase. He had set aside racing for points and began to try and find momentum for 2016. Good thing for Busch, his results began to sway after three consecutive wins at Kentucky, Loudon and Indianapolis.
Once getting into the Chase, Busch became one of the favorites for the championship, and was almost definite for Homestead based on the points structure and the way it is formatted. But with recent struggles in the Chase, could Busch overcome all of the adversity that 2015 threw at him and elevate his game to the next level?
He could. After barely squeaking by each of the first two rounds, Busch was solid in the Eliminator Round that ended at Phoenix. After the points were calculated, he was among the four to fight for the championship at Homestead.
Post-Phoenix, Busch admitted that he would have to lean on his teammates leading up to Homestead, a track that he had an average finish of 23.6 prior to 2015. All three of his Joe Gibbs Racing teammates have found success at the 1.5-mile track and Busch wanted to pick their brains to see if he could improve his mindset heading into the championship race.
Of the four competitors competing for the championship, he had the worst average finish during the Chase at 10.7. That was part of the growing up process for Busch, going to tracks that he has struggled at and approaching them in a different way, a way that could result in popping champagne.
Everyone knows what happened at Homestead. Busch won the race and his first Cup championship.
There were many factors that caused Busch to grow up and overcome adversity. The old Busch would have folded. He wouldn’t have been able to handle the pressure, and either got upset with himself or his team and threw a temper tantrum over the radio.
Not the new Busch.
Wisdom comes with age. Busch has always been one of NASCAR’s smarter fellows and is very outspoken about how he feels regarding situations. With time, he has been able to mature and even won over some of the fans as he was once the most hated man in NASCAR.
In winning the championship he ties his brother Kurt Busch at one title a piece, and has become the first pair of brothers to win Cup titles since Terry and Bobby Labonte.
There were a lot of growing pains as Busch’s career went on. He went through multiple aerodynamic changes, and went through a handful of crew chiefs to find the right one, Adam Stevens.
The duo had worked together for multiple seasons in the Xfinity Series, winning 19 times. When Stevens moved up to the Cup Series he was able to find some of that success right away with Busch that they had together in another division of NASCAR. They have chemistry and that is exactly what a crew chief needs with his driver. Stevens led Busch to their first championship.
“I leaned on Kyle Busch pretty heavy,” Stevens said. “You’ve, just got to get him close, that’s the beauty of Kyle. His talent, his skill and his dedication, his feedback is so good. I think anybody could have adjusted on his car today.”
No one can take away the fact that Busch is now a Cup champion. He will go to his grave knowing that he accomplished something that only 30 other men have done in NASCAR history. But his career isn’t done. He is only 30 years old and still has a lot to prove to himself and to his team that he can go down as one of the best drivers of all time.
“I think that when we talk about those past times that we missed off in the Chase and fell out for one reason or another, I think a lot of that was us, the race team broke apart,” said car owner Joe Gibbs. “Last year we couldn’t avoid that, it was just two cars hit us and we were trying to be real conservative. I think in a lot of ways he was ready, but our race team probably wasn’t ready. It take so much to get this, it really does. In pro sports what you learn is if you have a weakness you aren’t getting there at the end.”
The fact that Busch is now a champion is scary for his competition. He has always got the most out of his racecar. Prior to this season he was probably the most talented driver to have never won a Cup title. Now that he has won a title it could lead to an outbreak.
“This is a dream of a lifetime, a dream come true,” Busch said after winning the championship. “It’s something that happens every so often. I just can’t believe it with everything that happened this year. All of the turmoil and the things that I want through, that my wife went through, that my family went through. This championship is all of these guys and everyone who sacrificed to get me here.”
Even his closest rivals were there to congratulate him after picking up his first title. The retiring Jeff Gordon was one of the first competitors over to his car to give him words of wisdom.
“What a great driver,” Gordon said. “With all that he has been through this year, nobody is more deserving than him.”
Now that he has got the first title under his belt, Busch is going to be hard to stop. He stands over the motorsports world as a champion in its most competitive series.
As the night was set to be a historic one at the Homestead-Miami Speedway for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series finale, Matt Crafton went on to take the final race of the 2015 season with a historic visit to victory lane at the 1.5-mile track.
While the headlines prior to the Ford EcoBoost 200 were centered on the championship race between Tyler Reddick and Erik Jones, Crafton – who had been in championship contention — entered the night with the most starts in the Truck Series with 361. While breaking a record for most starts previously set by Ron Hornaday, Crafton was looking to end his season with his sixth victory of 2015.
After falling out of the championship contention at Phoenix, Crafton stayed out front and dominated the season finale. The win at Homestead is Crafton’s first at the track and first win starting from the pole.
“I was having so much fun right there at the end,” said Crafton in Victory Lane. “And they were trying to slow me down, but I’m like, I want to see how far I can get out, but it’s all about these guys behind me. They built these trucks and I’m just the lucky guy who gets to drive them. It’s been awesome. “
Despite coming short of his third consecutive championship, Crafton said 2015 was a dream season and that the team will grow from it.
“Just six wins and as many laps as we led, it’s been awesome. I’ve said, like it’s been a dream season there, we just had too many mistakes. I mean I made mistakes, we've all made mistakes and we're all human, but 2016 we're going to be stronger from it,” said Crafton.
Although Crafton made the trip to victory lane at Homestead, Jones went on to take the 2015 championship. Jones also made Truck Series history by becoming the youngest driver to win the championship. Austin Dillon was the last to have that feat when he won the title in 2011.
Along with winning the 2015 championship, Jones also captured the owners’ championship for Kyle Busch Motorsports. It will mark their fourth owners’ title in the series since forming in 2009. Jones’s Camping World Truck Series championship win is also the first driver title under the Kyle Busch Motorsports banner.
After spending the last two seasons as a part time driver for KBM, Jones said he couldn’t find a better way to thank KBM in his first full-time season.
“It was just so, so special for everybody here to close off this run like this,” said Jones. “I’ve had a great three years with these guys. I can’t think of a better way to repay these guys.”
Owner Kyle Busch was quite impressed with the accomplishment by Jones this season.
“Just really impressed to see what kind of kid he is,” said Busch. “He didn't want to be there for two part-time seasons, but he was. I think he learned a tremendous amount in those seasons.”
Despite running in the top five for most of the night, Reddick ended his championship quest by finishing third at Homestead and 15 points behind Jones in the standings. Regardless of the outcome, Reddick said that he will take the results of 2015 and move on to 2016.
“Our guys did great all year long, all season long. We had a great strong effort, all of our guys,” said Reddick after the race. “Unfortunately we were just a little short but work on it. Thank goodness I got next year to try to chip at it and try to get it done and that’s what we're looking forward to now. “
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series will return to action at the Daytona International Speedway on Friday, February 19, 2016. The Nextra Energy Resources 250 will air live on FOX Sports 1 at 7:30 p.m. ET.
Kyle Busch hasn’t started in all of the 2015 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races, but he’s undefeated in his only two starts. Busch came back from a pit road penalty early in the race, to go on and win the Careers for Veterans 200 at Michigan International Speedway.
Busch led for a total of 44 laps on Saturday and took the lead for a final time on Lap 97, edging out Ryan Blaney.
Blaney finished second followed by Erik Jones, Johnny Sauter and Austin Dillon.
The win at Michigan is Busch’s first Truck Series win and the first win at the track for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
“First win for me, first win for KBM here,” said Busch after the race.
Although it is Busch’s first Truck Series win at Michigan, he had won at the track previously in the XFINITY Series and Sprint Cup Series.
“Just cool to finally get that monkey off my back here in the Truck Series and notch another race track where I’ve won in all three divisions here at Michigan,” said Busch.
Heading out of Michigan, Tyler Reddick remains with the points lead. Matt Crafton remains in second followed by Erik Jones in third.
Crafton -- who finished the race in sixth—managed to come back with a top 10 finish after receiving a pit road penalty, battling a bucking windshield and a late race spin after contact with John Wes Townley.
The next race for the Truck Series will be on Wednesday night at Bristol Motor Speedway.