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Sep 15, 2023 8:49 pm

NASCAR notebook: Kyle Busch’s pit crew swap was team decision

BRISTOL, Tenn. — Driver Kyle Busch said Friday that the swap of pit crews with Austin Dillon before Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway was a collaborative decision at Richard Childress Racing that involved both drivers.

The swap, which switches all pit crew members except for the fuelers, took place because Dillon’s crew has been faster and more consistent throughout the season, said Busch, who is in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, where Dillon is not.

“If you can take a step from an ‘8′ or a ‘9′ crew to a ‘9′ or a ‘10′ type crew, you’ll take it,” Busch said before Friday’s Cup Series practice at Bristol Motor Speedway.

“I’m involved in most discussions, but that was definitely a discussion that was talked about with everybody. I wasn’t the one who was pushing it or forcing it, by any means, but made the suggestion — probably not first — but it all came together through everybody.”

Because the switch was made this week, Busch hasn’t had an opportunity to practice with the new over-the-wall crew.

“There wasn’t time this week, unfortunately,” Busch said. “My schedule didn’t allow me to get up there on Tuesday when they were doing the pit practice stuff. Hopefully, it’s a plug-and-play, and everything’s good.”

Busch, who was eliminated from the Playoffs in the Round of 16 last year, has a 24-point cushion above the current cut line for the Round of 12.

“I forward to this year and hopefully being able to have a normal Kyle Bristol race and get out of here with some good points and move on to the next round, if not maybe a win,” said Busch, who has eight victories on Bristol concrete and one on dirt.

–Martin Truex Jr. will try to avoid elimination on one of his toughest tracks

If Martin Truex Jr. doesn’t advance to the Round of 12 in the NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs, he’ll be the first regular-season champion to fail to do so.

But Truex faces an uphill battle after finishing 36th last Sunday at Kansas Speedway, thanks to a cut tire and a hard crash into the Turn 3 wall on Lap 4.

The driver of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota is 13th in the Playoff standings, seven points behind Kevin Harvick in 12th. After Saturday’s Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol, the field will be trimmed to 12 drivers.

Unfortunately, Bristol hasn’t been a strong track for Truex, who has posted just two top fives and four top 10s in 32 career starts at Thunder Valley.

“It’s a terrible spot to be in,” Truex said. “Last week, we didn’t even get a chance to race, which was disappointing. I felt like it was probably the best car I had on a mile-and-a-half all year long. I was really excited about it after coming off a tough Darlington race, and then two laps in, you feel like you’re in trouble with a flat tire and it turns out you ran something over.

“It’s terrible bad luck. I don’t know what you do about it. You just move on and do the best you can (Saturday) night. Obviously, it’s a bad spot to be in.”

Truex’s two top fives came in 2011 and 2012 when he finished second and third in consecutive races. Since then, he has rarely been a threat to win.

“We’ve run well here at times,” Truex said. “We’ve certainly struggled at times, but I think everybody has. This place is tricky with the spray (traction compound), and the groove moving around. We won’t race where we practice. It’s a little bit of a challenge there, but all of the times we’ve run here, it’s always been a flat tire or a loose wheel.

“I can’t even use both hands to count all of the times that has happened. It’s just been a tough place. Hopefully, no bad luck (Saturday) night, and we can go just have a smooth race and hopefully have the performance to get the job done.”

–Daniel Hemric to drive Kaulig Racing’s No. 31 NASCAR Cup car in 2024

Former NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Daniel Hemric will fill the seat of the No. 31 Kaulig Racing NASCAR Cup Series Chevrolet next season, team president Chris Rice announced during a press conference on Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Hemric succeeds Justin Haley, who is leaving Kaulig at the end of the season to drive for Rick Ware Racing.

In 276 starts across all three of NASCAR’s national series, Hemric has posted one victory, but that lone win came in the Xfinity Series Championship 4 race at Phoenix in 2021, earning Hemric the series title.

The 2024 season will mark Hemric’s second full-time foray into NASCAR’s top division. In 2019, he drove the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet to a 25th-place finish in the Cup standings, with a best result of fifth at Talladega.

“I appreciate these guys,” Hemric said of Rice and team owner Matt Kaulig. “They went to bat for me when I didn’t know what I had next, in 2021. When I got to sit down and actually hear them out, hear what their vision was, not only for 2021 — but for 2024 and 2025 and beyond — back well before that was on the horizon, I knew after hearing what they had to say that I wanted to be a part of it.

“You’re never promised anything. You never know what’s to come, but one thing’s that’s always been true is if you keep showing up, put the work in and bring that heart each and every week, you’re going to have that same shot you can only dream of.

“Yeah, it’s been a whirlwind, to say the least… But it’s here — I’m going back.”

–Bristol Motor Speedway spring race returns to concrete surface in 2024

The spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway no longer will be a dirty business.

After three years of hauling in truckloads of Tennessee red clay to stage a dirt-track event at the 0.533-mile short track, Bristol racing will return to its concrete surface for the Food City 500 in the spring of 2024.

No specific dates for the race were provided, pending the release of the NASCAR Cup Series’ schedule for next year.

“As the motorsports world focuses on America’s Night Race (on Saturday), we are thrilled to announce Bristol Motor Speedway will host the return of the Food City 500 on the concrete high-banks of the World’s Fastest Half Mile in the spring of 2024,” Bristol Motor Speedway president and general manager Jerry Caldwell said in a statement announcing the change.

“We will revive a logo reminiscent of the first Food City 500s in the early ‘90s and resurrect the track’s vintage trademark look and feel of the era. We’re looking forward to a great weekend of racing and what’s to come in 2024.”

Accordingly, Christopher Bell, winner of the 2023 Food City Dirt Race, will have the last chance for an unprecedented sweep of Bristol Cup races on two different surfaces in the same season. The Bass Pro Shops Night Race is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Saturday on USA, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

Veteran driver Kevin Harvick applauded the decision.

“I think that’s fantastic,” he said. “I think the dirt race was what it was. I think it’s something that you try and probably tried it a couple years too long, but I’m always going to vote for something that’s not dirt.”

–By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service. Special to Field Level Media.

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