Friday, Feb 03

Las Vegas Motor Speedway Weekend Notebook

Holly Cain - NASCAR Wire Service Saturday, Oct 15 336

Tyler Reddick earned his third pole position of the season Saturday morning at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. His Richard Childress Racing No. 8 Chevrolet will lead the field to the green flag in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series South Point 400 Playoff race (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

The 26-year old Californian’s lap of 184.603 mph knocked fellow Chevy driver William Byron from the pole position and then Team Penske rookie Austin Cindric finished the session by grabbing the outside pole position on the final qualifying lap of the 10 cars that advanced to second round.

Reddick also topped qualifying at the Indianapolis Road Course and then at Texas Motor Speedway just three weeks ago. The three pole-tally is a career best for the third-year NASCAR Cup Series driver. Only hours before qualifying, Reddick was named to drive the No. 45 23XI Racing Toyota next year.

“It’s pretty awesome,’’ a smiling Reddick said of the day’s work.

Interestingly, in the 29 races held to date at the track, no driver has ever won the Las Vegas race starting from the pole position. Kyle Busch was the race winner and polesitter in 2009, but technically he did not actually start from pole position, having to move to the rear of the starting grid after an engine change.

Asked about the difficulty of turning a pole position into a win here, Reddick was surprised to learn the statistic as well.

“Hopefully we’ll change that tomorrow,’’ said Reddick, who did win a NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Las Vegas in 2019.

“I think the track just changes a lot from practice to qualifying,’’ Reddick added, “For us, when we’ve started on the pole or we started toward the front on these mile-and-a-halves, we’ve had a lot of speed and we just unfortunately had some things not go our way.’’

Byron will start third, alongside Team Penske's Ryan Blaney, who boasted the fastest lap in practice. Blaney’s teammate Joey Logano, Trackhouse Racing’s Daniel Suárez, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell, Wood Brothers’ Harrison Burton, 23XI Racing’s Bubba Wallace and Reddick’s RCR teammate Austin Dillon rounded out the top-10 on the starting grid.

Only four of the eight Playoff contenders – Byron, Blaney, Logano and Bell - advanced into the final round of qualifying. The other four Playoff drivers will start a bit farther back, including Trackhouse Racing’s Ross Chastain, who will roll off 11th. Stewart-Haas Racing’s Chase Briscoe starts 16th with 2020 champion Chase Elliott 20th and JGR’s Denny. Hamlin, 31st in the 36-car field.

Brad Keselowski, who leads all current drivers with three Vegas victories, will start the No. 6 Roush Fenway Keselowski Ford from 25th.

 

KURT BUSCH STEPS AWAY FROM FULL-TIME COMPETITION

In an emotional speech to the media corps at his hometown track, Las Vegas native and former NASCAR Cup Series champion Kurt Busch announced Saturday morning that he will not be competing fulltime in the series going forward.

Although Busch won’t be making another start in 2022 as he continues to recover from concussion-like symptoms suffered this summer, he remained hopeful that next year he will be able to run a few selected races for his 23XI Racing Toyota team.

“I’m still not 100 percent in my ability to go out and race at the top level in the NASCAR Cup Series,’’ Busch, 44, said, adding as his voice cracked in emotion, “My longtime health is priority one, and I don’t feel competing for a championship next year is in my best interest or the best interest of the team.’

“This is more of being unselfish and respecting what has to happen in this industry and that’s to know how to make a team move forward. I believe in 23XI and everyone here.

“And for me, I will get back to 100 percent. I promise.”

As Busch revealed his plans, he also confirmed that Reddick will be filling his seat in the No. 45 23XI Toyota next season. Currently with Richard Childress Racing, Reddick was signed to join the 23XI team in 2024, but the two organizations were able to work out a deal allowing Reddick to move a season earlier.

Busch, 44, is the 2004 NASCAR Cup Series champion and certainly his victory in the 2017 DAYTONA 500 is a highlight on his 34-race win career. He’s won at least one race the last nine-consecutive seasons. Only three times in 23 years of fulltime competition, did he not win at least one race. In both 2003 and 2004 he won a single season high four times.

The decision to step aside from fulltime racing comes after Busch suffered concussion-like symptoms following an accident in qualifying at Pocono (Pa.) Raceway on July 23.

Although Busch said doctors had not cleared him to return this season, he was adamantly hopeful that he would be able to compete in select races in 2023. 23XI Racing team owner – and fellow NASCAR Cup Series competitor – Denny Hamlin said the team will absolutely field a third car to ensure Busch gets that opportunity when the time comes.

“I told Kurt, in this decision never feel like you owe the team anything, if anything the team owes you and we do feel owed to Kurt,’’ Hamlin said. “Any race he wants to participate in I will certainly field a third car for him.”

Hamlin was quick to remind that Busch’s time in the NASCAR Cup Series spanned an important 23 years in the sport competing against the late Dale Earnhardt to racing another seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.

Busch made his debut as a 21-year old at Dover, Del. in 2000 finishing 18th. His last start this season, was a 10th place finish at New Hampshire. He won at Kansas Speedway this summer.

“The time he’s been in the Cup Series I don’t think there’s anyone who has been through a transition as he has,’’ Hamlin said. “From being the “outlaw” as they called it to maybe the most-liked person inside the garage. He’s just such a good person. He’s great with sponsors, great with team, everything I was hoping for, but more.’’

In the meantime, Busch will stay active with the team, working with his longtime sponsor Monster Energy, helping teammate Bubba Wallace and now Redddick in any way he can. And Busch, who for years has been a popular, on-air talent calling NASCAR Xfinity Series and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series races on television, said a television gig is absolutely a possibility as well.

“There’s so much that’s out there,’’ Busch said.

NASCAR President Steve Phelps also expressed his hope that Busch returns to competition soon, offering his reflections on the former champion and what Busch has meant to the sport.

“For more than two decades, we have been privileged to watch Kurt Busch compete,’’ Phelps said Saturday. “He has proven himself a champion ion the racetrack, but perhaps just as importantly, he has grown to become a true ambassador for the sport.

“Kurt’s drive to improve the future of motorsports has set him apart. We are thrilled that he’ll remain in our sport as a leader and a trusted resource. Kurt’s unparalleled passion for racing gives us hop that we will see him in a race car again.’’

 

REDDICK’S EARLY MOVE

For his part, Reddick seemed very nonchalant about his upcoming team  transition – insisting that he personally had very little to do with any of the recent negotiations between Richard Childress Racing and 23XI Racing to move his tenure up a year to 2023.

“Their discussions, I had no part of, it was directly between 23XI and RCR,’’ Reddick said. “It was between those two and they came to an agreement and worked it out so that I get started a year early.

“Unfortunately, Kurt’s situation is what brought this opportunity about, which is a tough thing. It’s tough and I really hate to see that for him. But he’s a team player and I’ve seen that in his time outside the car.’’

“To be honest I never really felt like I was in limbo,’’ said Reddick, who was poised to run as part of a three-car RCR operation next year after the team signed two-time series champion Kyle Busch to drive the No. 8 that Reddick has steered for the past three seasons.

“Whichever direction it would go, I knew I’d be excited about,’’ Reddick added. “And it ended up going in a direction I get to start a year early with Toyota and 23XI.’’

 

BELL ENJOYING THE MOMENTUM

For all intents and purposes, Christopher Bell shows up at Las Vegas fresh one of the most clutch performances of his young NASCAR Cup Series career. The 27-year old driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota took his first lead of Sunday’s ROVAL Playoff elimination race with two laps remaining – holding on for the victory and automatically advancing to the Round of 8 that begins this weekend at Las Vegas.

It was only the third win of Bell’s three-year fulltime career in the marquee NASCAR Cup Series. And certainly it had the greatest impact. He would not have advanced on points.

“It’s nice to still be in that’s for sure,’’ Bell said with a slight grin, adding “That was a big one and it was big for me personally because it was so unexpected. At Loudon or Daytona road course, I was a competitive car that won the race whereas last week at the Charlotte road course I didn’t expect to be a top car going in and the race really played out exactly how I was expecting.  … When the yellow came out it mixed up all the strategies and we played it right.

“It was very rewarding because it was so unforeseen.’’

A perennial NASCAR Xfinity Series championship contender, Bell dismissed talk that his inexperience this deep into the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs would play any role going forward.

“Definitely these next three races, specifically the next two (at Las Vegas this week and Homestead-Miami Speedway next week) I feel really good about.’’

“I’ve had experience with this format my entire NASCAR career, not as long as some of the guys I’m competing against, but I think it’s all relevant.

“Much more in control of your own destiny,’’ Bell added of this Playoff round. “The next two races the cream should be able to rise to the top I’d say.’’

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