Racin’ With Jason: New season, familiar face

  • Kyle Busch answers questions during NASCAR Daytona 500 media day at Daytona International Speedway, Wednesday. Busch will spend his Sunday seeking an elusive title. AP

Published: 2/13/2020 6:37:47 PM

 

The field is coming around turn four, lined up two-by-two ... and there’s the green flag!

If my name looks familiar to you, I covered auto racing for the Springfield Republican from 2004-2014 and wrote a weekly column informally called “Racin’ with Jason.” I’ve been a copy and layout editor at the Greenfield Recorder for 13 months, and was recently approached by editor-in-chief Joan Livingston and sports editor Jeff Lajoie about starting a column here.

With Monadnock Speedway not far away in Winchester, N.H., with a good number of Franklin County racers and fans, I thought it would be best to take “Racin’ with Jason” to the shop to get it ready for the track again.

I’m admittedly a little rusty. I’ve only written two columns since 2014, so forgive me while I turn some practice laps the next few weeks before I get up to speed. It’s fewer than 80 days until Monadnock’s season-opening Spring Dash on May 2.

My favorite driver is Brad Keselowski — I like his driving style, he’s good with the media and I’ve had a couple good interactions with him — and my favorite manufacturer is Ford (I drive one myself).

But I also root for Ryan Preece, the former NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion from Berlin, Conn., who drives the No. 37 for JTG Daugherty Racing. I also had some memorable interactions with him during my Springfield days.

In matters of current interest, the Daytona 500 is Sunday. The final field was set Thursday night in the Duels, so any final storylines will have to wait until after this column goes to print.

BUSCH’S BUCKET LIST: Kyle Busch has won more than 200 NASCAR national series (Cup, Xfinity, Trucks) races — a record that I place an asterisk next to because the majority of them came on Fridays and Saturdays in the “lower” series. He won his second Cup Series championship last season and enters Daytona with his eyes on the repeat. Busch is often considered the most talented driver in NASCAR today.

Count Busch among that crowd. When asked at Wednesday’s Daytona 500 media day who the best driver in NASCAR is, Busch replied, “You’re looking at him.”

One accolade has eluded him, however. His older brother, Kurt, has hoisted the Harley Earl Trophy as Daytona 500 champion (2017) but Kyle has yet to go to Victory Lane in 15 tries.

It’s not as long as Dale Earnhardt, who in 1998 broke a 20-year drought, but it is still a big line missing from one of NASCAR’s most impressive resumes.

Busch may call himself the best driver in NASCAR, but he is also one of its most polarizing. There’s definitely a “love him or hate him” dynamic surrounding the driver of the No. 18 Toyota. Someone that talented should be seen as the face of the sport, which in my opinion, there hasn’t been since Dale Earnhardt Jr. retired.

Busch was asked for his opinion on the matter on Wednesday.

“That’s not for me to decide, not for me,” he said. “Your sport’s most popular driver is Chase Elliott, if that answers some of your questions.”

But even Chase Elliott would admit comparing him to Kyle Busch would not be appropriate. Both broke into the upper levels of NASCAR at a young age with Hendrick Motorsports, but the comparison kind of stops there.

I respect Busch’s talent, but not how he built his record win total. He’s at times standoffish with the media, and even when he’s in a good mood, he’s not the most colorful. He lets his driving — and the results — do the talking.

If Kyle Busch takes the checkered flag on Sunday, don’t expect all the teams to line up along pit road to congratulate him as they did with Dale Earnhardt in 1998, but expect it to be a huge monkey off Busch’s back regardless.

JOB OPENING: There’s no ad in the paper, nor can you find it on Indeed, but the hottest job search in sports this side of Tom Brady has begun.

Jimmie Johnson is retiring from full-time Cup Series racing after this season, and he would love nothing more than to walk off with an eighth championship. Even if he doesn’t, his departure leaves a top-level seat open. The No. 48 has been one of NASCAR’s most iconic rides since Johnson began full-time in 2002.

Hendrick Motorsports has a big decision to make — whether to promote from within (Chase Elliott, William Byron, Alex Bowman) or go after one of a handful of talented free agents.

Kyle Larson is the Mookie Betts of the bunch: young, with his best seasons still ahead of him. Not far behind him are Ryan Blaney and Erik Jones, similarly talented young guns without the hype of Larson. Brad Keselowski is the veteran, a former Cup Series champion who is still only in his mid-30s.

There’s still plenty of time for this to shake out, but the auditions begin this weekend.

HELP WANTED: If any local racers would like to be featured in this column once the season starts, please send your contact information to the email address below. Thanks and I look forward to talking to you!

Jason Remillard is a Recorder copy and editor. He can be reached at jremillard@recorder.com and followed on Twitter @racinwithjason




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