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Kurt Busch, crew chief enjoy victory after Daytona criticism

Kurt Busch celebrates his win in the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Ky., Saturday, July 13, 2019. (Timothy D. Easley / Associated Press)
Kurt Busch celebrates his win in the NASCAR Cup Series auto race at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta, Ky., Saturday, July 13, 2019. (Timothy D. Easley / Associated Press)
By Doug Alden Associated Press

LOUDON, N.H. – When fans slammed crew chief Matt McCall for costing Kurt Busch a win at Daytona, he was a good sport and made a video for social media of him reading the criticism – even a critical tweet that came from his wife.

The feedback has been quite different this week.

Busch raced to his first victory with Chip Ganassi Racing last week at Kentucky – in part because of a call McCall made before overtime – and McCall has been able to focus on what’s ahead rather than answering for any mistakes.

“It feels great, but I’m terrible about celebrating. Literally, when I get home, I’m already thinking about the next week,” McCall said Friday. “That’s the way I’ve always been and I’ve always raced. I think it’s because when you’re in a sport like this, you’re expected to win.”

That hadn’t happened until last Saturday, when Busch edged brother Kyle in a two-lap overtime shootout at Kentucky Speedway. It was the first time Kurt beat his little brother in a head-to-head NASCAR finish, but more importantly, it was a victory for the elder Busch, McCall and Ganassi, who had been in position to win the week before at Daytona before lightning struck – literally.

Busch was in front after making it through a massive accident unscathed. NASCAR said the race was one lap away from resuming, but McCall called Busch in for a quick pit stop, which turned out to be the end of the line.

Lightning quickly followed and the race was eventually called, leaving McCall with a backlog of angry messages from fans questioning his logic, among other things.

McCall said he may have taken it hardest of all.

“There’s stuff that’s out of control,” McCall said. “Our car was good enough to possibly win the race if we raced, so that made it a little bit harder to not stay out.”

The Busch/McCall/Ganassi fortunes changed in Kentucky and this time it was McCall who was widely credited with a crucial call that helped the team to victory on four fresh tires.

“We just sort of got pretty lucky there to have the caution at the end,” McCall said. “Kurt had a really good restart and made it happen.”

The result lifted the Ganassi and Team Chevy spirits considerably this week as the circuit headed north for Sunday’s Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, where Busch swept both races in 2004 and also won in 2008.

Now 40, Busch is on a one-year contract and trying to enjoy each stop.

“Each week is fun because there’s speed to be found and teamwork to work on to make sure we’re going to have the best weekend,” Busch said. “It brings it back to that passion and desire when I was younger to go out there each week and try to make sure we’re getting the most out of each session.”

With Busch as his driver, McCall said it’s almost like having a co-crew chief and extra hand in the pit crew. Kentucky was Busch’s 31st Cup victory and never bashful, Busch always has a few “suggestions” for his crew on how to make the car perform better.

“His feedback and the information he provides and what he asks for, it’s pretty precise,” McCall said. “I feel like he asks for what he needs and he asks for what we need to win. He just pushes for everybody to try and get better each week.”

Busch, whose victory last week clinched him a playoff spot, said he learned the value of communication growing up racing with his father, Tom.

“When you learn from an early age and a successful racer like my dad was, it gets instilled in you on how to communicate the proper things with the car and gives you that confidence to know what you want changed in the car,” Busch said. “I just want their jobs to be easier because if they’re jobs are easier, they’re doing better and ultimately the car that I’m driving will have better results.”

McCall said Busch has made a considerable effort to ease the transition into his new team such as group outings and hosting dinners. He also took a group of team leaders to Pittsburgh for a visit with Ganassi and a Cubs-Pirates game.

“He communicates with everyone. He tries to keep everyone involved,” McCall said. “He does a good job with trying to keep the morale high.”

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