NASCAR notebook: Kurt Busch expects pickup in season's second half

Reuters

LOUDON, N.H. - As the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season moves into its second half, Kurt Busch hopes to build on the notebook he and crew chief Billy Scott have been building during their initial visits to the Cup tracks.

Scott worked with Danica Patrick on the No. 10 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford team last year but moved to Busch's No. 41 when Patrick departed at the end of the season. He and Busch have spent the first half of 2018 getting to know each other's nuances and idiosyncrasies, a process of acclimation Busch expects to bear fruit as the playoffs approach.

"It's definitely what we need timeline-wise on going back to tracks to capitalize on the upgrade, so to speak, on the notebook and on the things we keep track of during the race," Busch said on Friday, after winning the pole for Sunday's Foxwoods 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (1 p.m. ET on NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

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"He was with the 10 car last year, I was on the 41, and when you look at notebooks, it's different with the human experience in it. Now the two of us have been through half of the season. We've got a great lead engineer with Will (Lee), a great car chief, great tire guy. Everybody is now meshing and jelling at the best level that we can get, and now we go back to these tracks and capitalize on little things we saw we left out from the first time."

The winner of three poles this season, Busch has yet to sign a contract extension with SHR.

"For me, I've just been racing, driving, performing and doing all the things that I can do to exceed in all categories," Busch said. "And so, whether it's teammate things, things on the track with performance, communication with Billy Scott, and then I don't know many drivers that have a primary sponsor with them.

"Monster Energy has been very loyal to me, and that's what they've told me, so it's just a matter of when the time is to start talking about contract. Last year, it went long just because I felt like I deserved more, but the landscape is changing in NASCAR on primary sponsorship values, teams with the purse and the guarantee that they get off the historical performance. There are a lot of things that move, so we'll see how it all comes together."

MICHAEL MCDOWELL GOES TO BACKUP CAR AFTER PRACTICE CRASH

Happy Hour was not a joyous occasion for Ford driver Michael McDowell, who crashed hard into the outside wall at New Hampshire Motor Speedway after running seven laps in Saturday's final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice.

"I'm not really sure what happened," McDowell said after the wreck. "I got on the brakes and immediately the car started to turn around, so it definitely caught me off guard -- whatever it was -- and at that point, I was kind of just along for the ride. There wasn't any indication that something was going wrong, other than when it was already too late.

"We'll go back and look and see if we can't get a better shot of it. It kind of felt like a left-rear tire went down to me, but it's really hard to tell. There's not a whole lot left of the race car to go through and see what happened first, but either way we'll roll out a backup and be ready to go."

McDowell was surprised by the severity of the blow he took when he hit the wall with the driver's-side door after the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports Ford spun.

"It was harder than I anticipated," McDowell acknowledged. "You're at a short track. You're at a flat-mile racetrack. We know we're going fast, but you don't really think you're going to ... I felt like I hit at a mile-and-a-half or something like that, probably because it was driver's side. It's been a while since I've done that, but it's never the hit you want to have.

"It just shows how great our cars are built and what a tremendous job NASCAR and all the teams have done to make it safe, because, driver's side, you didn't used to just get out and walk away from that easy. It's a hard hit. It hurts a little bit, but everything is good. I got checked out, and we'll be ready to go tomorrow."

SHORT STROKES

With the prospect of rain on Sunday morning and scattered storms in the afternoon, NASCAR will start the Foxwoods 301 one hour earlier than originally scheduled to expand the window for the completion of the race. The new start time is 1 p.m., with coverage from NBCSN, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio ...

Three-time New Hampshire winner Denny Hamlin topped the speed chart in Saturday morning's Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice session with a lap at 132.942 mph. Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Kyle Busch -- the three drivers who have combined for 14 wins in 19 races this season, were 1-2-3, respectively, in final practice, with Truex posting a lap at 131.624 mph. Harvick had the best 10-consecutive-lap average (130.904 mph).

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

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