Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – AUSTIN, TX – Two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch met with the media on Friday and sounded optimistic that this weekend’s road course race could be a turning point in his up-and-down season.
Busch, driver of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, is ranked 11th in the standings – only a single point behind 10th place Ross Chastain – coming into the COTA weekend with three top 10 and a single top five in the opening five races of 2022.
He has four NASCAR Cup Series victories on road courses – two each at Watkins Glen and Sonoma, Calif. And four in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, including last year here in Austin. He will start 15th Sunday at COTA.
“I think the car is fine,” Busch said of his season. “We are all trying to figure it out and learn what it potentially is and what it is that makes it go fast, what the knobs are that you need to turn at particular places. I feel like we’ve had decent speed everywhere we’ve been except Phoenix. Phoenix was really bad.
“Vegas, we were fast – coulda, shoulda, woulda – California, we were okay, worked on it and came back from five laps down. … Last week was fast, probably one of the fastest cars in the field and just got caught up in a wreck.
“We don’t have anything to show of this year, which is disappointing. No stage points. That’s about it.”
ROAD COURSE RINGERS AT COTA
Practice and qualifying proved to be a bit of trouble for some in the road course “ringers” group at COTA this week. Former NASCAR Cup Series Rookie of the Year, sports car ace Andy Lally did not get to make a qualifying lap and will have to serve a penalty at the beginning of Sunday’s race because of an inspection violation for his No. 78 Live Fast Motorsports Ford. He will start last in the 39-car field
Joey Hand, another IMSA standout road course racer, had a tire problem in practice and the crew was unable to repair the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford in time for him to make a qualifying lap, so he will also start from the rear of the field in 28th place.
One of the sport’s most popular drivers, Boris Said, is returning to competition – making his first NASCAR Cup Series start since 2017 at his hometown track, Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International. Said’s best showing was third at Watkins Glen in 2005. He won a NASCAR Xfinity race in Montreal in 2010.
Said, who has now been racing for four decades, He will start the No. 66 Motorsports Business Management Ford 37th of the 39 cars.
CATCHING UP WITH BUBBA
Bubba Wallace got a huge test of the new Next Gen car last week in an accident at Atlanta Motor Speedway – and the driver of the No. 23 23XI Racing Toyota is giving a big thumbs-up to the durability and safety. It’s been quite a week for the star driver, who covered several topics Saturday with reporters.
“P1, new track record, hard as hell,” Wallace said of this accident at Atlanta. “It was a hard hit. Wednesday I was finally good. Main thing I was worried about was my shoulder because I had surgery on it in the offseason, but Wednesday I was feeling good and able to move it easily.
“Atlanta happened and I’ve got a job to come out here and continue to race. You put that behind you and race.”
Wallace said he spent some time during the week with former University of North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams and said he received some encouraging and useful tips on dealing with his distractors in NASCAR.
“I had never met him, I’m not a UNC fan, I’m a Tennessee fan obviously, but I became a fan of him and UNC after that night,” Wallace said.
“He said, ‘Hey man, heard a lot about you and one thing I want to leave you with before I go, the dogs are always going to be barking and the caravan is going to continue rolling.
“You just kind of roll on with it,” Wallace recalled with a smile. “Super cool. I’d never ever had a conversation with him or even been around him and in that moment, he took the time that night to tell me that.’’
To help with his road course skills, Wallace competed in Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race and will run Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race.
“Absolutely [I needed it],” he said, adding, “Only been here once, so trying to get another leg up on guys. Nothing but seat time for me so I’m enjoying it.”