Bruce Martin
Monday July 14th, 2008

Ah, to be 23 and Kyle Busch.

While most people in their early 20s are struggling to begin their professional careers or personal relationships, Busch just keeps on winning races, proving that he is by far the best driver in NASCAR in 2008.

With seven wins in his first 19 races this season, he has joined Darrell Waltrip (1981) and the late Dale Earnhardt ('87) as the only drivers to achieve that impressive accomplishment.

Moreover, Saturday's win at Chicago gave Busch a whopping 262-point lead over Dale Earnhardt Jr., who just happens to be the driver who took over Busch's ride at Hendrick Motorsports when Busch was turned loose last year.

It's not only that Busch has won so many races for Joe Gibbs Racing this year, but also how he has won. He either dominates or snatches away victory at the last moment, as he did in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona two weeks ago and at Chicagoland Saturday night.

Carl Edwards was on the short end of that battle at Daytona and it was Jimmie Johnson's turn at Chicagoland, in the lead only to see it disappear as Busch's Toyota went blazing past.

"I've watched Jimmie Johnson do that a few times and I don't know how I did that," Busch admitted. "Jimmie was going to bring us down slow. I remember this from short track days when somebody was in your mirror and you creep up on them. You stop and they'll go up on you. Well, I just went -- I pushed Jimmie to go and was like, 'let's go man, here we go.'

"That was the saving grace right there was a good restart. I just had to go to the outside because he was going to block the bottom in turn one and two. It sucked for me out there. I don't know how, why or whatever. Steve Addington (crew chief) and these guys deserve this one here. It was a great car out front all night. We got back in traffic and complained about it a lot. When we got back out front it felt good again. I knew when Jimmie got us here that clean air was going to be it. Luckily we got that caution and got back by him."

That is the latest move that adds up to an incredible season for Busch.

"I really don't believe how good things are going," Busch said. "It's just been a phenomenal year. Something just so special. I have to thank the good Lord from up above. I don't know where this is coming from, but he's blessing us all at Joe Gibbs Racing this year. This is just a privilege to be a part of and we're so proud."

But even with such an outstanding start to the season, it doesn't ensure Busch the title. After all, his dominance can disappear in the 10-race "Chase for the Championship" if another driver gets hot at the end of the season. That is what happened last year to Jeff Gordon, who put up a Busch-like lead in the regular season before Johnson got hot in "The Chase."

Now that Tony Stewart has made his decision to become an owner/driver in Sprint Cup at Stewart Haas Racing, another major piece of his puzzle fell into place Monday at noon when Daytona 500 winner Ryan Newman was granted his release from Penske Racing.

That means Newman is now free to join Stewart on the same team in '09.

"We want to thank Ryan for his hard work and contributions to Penske Racing over the past nine years," said team owner Roger Penske. "We wish Ryan all the best for the future and we'll continue to focus our efforts on making the Chase with Ryan and the Alltel Dodge team this season."

Newman, driver of the No. 12 Alltel Dodge Charger, is currently in his ninth season competing for Penske Racing. He is 16th in the Cup Series standings through 19 races this season.

The driver of the Penske Racing No. 12 Alltel car for the 2009 NASCAR Cup season will be announced in the near future.

Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon have all confirmed they will sign new contracts that will keep them with their current IndyCar Series teams.

Castroneves will remain at Team Penske, where he has raced since '00. Kanaan said he plans on signing a new deal with Andretti Green Racing later this month, extending a relationship that began with the '03 IndyCar Series season. Team co-owner Kevin Savoree confirmed the two are in negotiations for a new deal and expect to have it completed later this month.

Wheldon confirmed on Saturday that he has agreed to terms to remain with Target/Chip Ganassi Racing in the IndyCar Series. Wheldon, who won the '05 IndyCar title for Andretti Green Racing, has been with the Target team since '06.

With those three secured for '09, it leaves Marco Andretti as the only driver yet to sign for next season, but the son of team owner Michael Andretti is expected to stay with Andretti Green Racing.

Castroneves was always expected to stay in the IndyCar Series despite an erroneous report by the Los Angeles Times in May that said he was considering a jump to NASCAR. Castroneves vehemently denied that report before the Indianapolis 500 and said the reporter, Jim Peltz, had pressured him into a positive response with his line of questioning.

Prior to unification, Wheldon had talked about trying NASCAR but said now that the IndyCar Series is whole, he plans on remaining an IndyCar driver.

Kanaan had been rumored to be a prospect for Team Penske when Ryan Briscoe got off to a slow start, but Briscoe won at Milwaukee, and his confidence level has increased with that operation.

"By re-signing with Andretti Green I'll be pretty much done," Kanaan said. "I'm 33. It won't be a short deal. Driving for Roger Penske would be great but I can't say it's my dream. It's a good team -- as good as mine. If I had the opportunity I would do it, but I'm pretty good where I am right now. Right now, I think Roger is pretty happy with Ryan Briscoe."

Move over, Danica Patrick, the Indy Racing League has another female race winner.

Ana Beatriz of Brazil became the first female driver to score a victory in the IRL-sanctioned Firestone Indy Lights Series with her win in Saturday evening's Sunbelt Rentals 100. Indy Lights is the developmental series of the Indy Racing League.

Beatriz started second and passed Sam Schmidt Motorsports teammate and pole sitter James Davison on Lap 33 and led the remainder of the race.

Four other women have competed in Firestone Indy Lights events since the series began in '02, including Mishael Abbott, Sarah McCune, Veronica McCann and Cyndie Allemann.

Beatriz' previous best finish was third three times this season.

"I just can't be more thankful for Healthy Choice/Sam Schmidt Motorsports for bringing me to the U.S.," she said. "I thought I would win at St. Pete, we were almost there. It's hard work. I'm with the best team and they have so much information on oval. I won my first race on an oval. It's amazing. I'm really, really happy to win as a driver, not so much as a driver of my gender. I look forward to having a great career in America."

Beatriz was brought to the United States by former CART driver Andre Ribeiro, who serves as her manager.

After eight years of loyal fan support, including sold-out or near sell-out crowds, Nashville Superspeedway is about to fall off the IndyCar Series schedule.

Although fans of the Tennessee track have been very supportive of the series, the concrete surface does not lend itself to a competitive IndyCar Series race, making it a one-groove track.

Combine that with one of the lowest sanctioning fees in the series and IndyCar Series officials are prepared to replace the 25,000-seat facility on next year's schedule in order to make room for some new venues.

That means one of IndyCar racing's coolest trophies -- a specially-painted Gibson Guitar -- may have been awarded for the final time to Scott Dixon on Saturday night.

Ironically, the track is in the home area of Firestone, which makes it a very important market for IndyCar's tire supplier. It is also the one track that eats up tires because of the abrasive concrete surface.

"Definitely the concrete, I believe, is the issue," said Castroneves. "Firestone has been doing fantastic trying to make better tires. But it's just the concrete, which has a lack of grip. Our cars, it's tough for us. We depend a lot on the downforce as well. When the tire is gone, basically for us it's difficult to stay right behind another guy or try a second groove."

IndyCar will add a street race in Toronto to the schedule next season and possibly a return to the ovals at New Hampshire and Las Vegas.

"I think it needs to be an even split between ovals and road courses," said rookie driver Graham Rahal. "But it's not up to me to make the schedule. You have to go to the places that are the best markets and there are a lot of good road courses out there. But it is tough to leave any market that is strong. Where we have good crowds, we need to be at places like that."

After IndyCar driver E.J. Viso was diagnosed with the mumps and unable to participate in Saturday night's race at Nashville, participants, IndyCar Series officials and even the media were affected by the rare outbreak.

IndyCar officials requested medical certification showing that an individual had been inoculated for the mumps or had the illness earlier. Otherwise, individuals had to give a blood sample to a member of the IndyCar medical staff to be tested.

So when the series arrived at Nashville for Friday morning's practice, the race had already been nicknamed the "Mumps 200."

"I just went and had my blood tested," said Scott Dixon. "Coming from New Zealand it would have taken me a full week to try and get the paperwork back. So I just went ahead and had my blood tested."

Ryan Briscoe said he had never heard of any mumps cases in his lifetime.

""It's unfortunate for E.J.," said Oriol Servia. "It's one of those sicknesses, just like catching a cold. You don't know who you get it from."

"Tony has been crazy, always. But man, he makes stuff happen. I think somebody wrote a column on the web saying it was admirable and it certainly is. He is taking such a risk, but that is his style man.

"I mean, a lot of people may look at that team and go, well, the caliber isn't correct. It doesn't match up, why would he do this? But he will make it the way he wants it, you know. He has done that with everything. That race track he owns is superb. His race teams he owns, the sprints and what not, are first class. Everything he does, he gets the right people and he gets them motivated.

"He is fun to be with, fun to work for. So that is pretty cool for him. I am happy for him. He has earned it. He has put a lot into this deal. He has put a lot into this sport and he has earned it. He has earned [the right] to do whatever he chooses to do I feel like." -- Dale Earnhardt Jr., on Tony Stewart's decision to be a Sprint Cup team owner/driver in '09.

"First of all, we didn't let him go. Tony [Stewart] came in and said he wanted to leave. I think that's a good question. We had a contract through next year and we talked about that and my initial reaction and with J.D. [Gibbs] and all of us was that we'd race through next year. I think the more we talked it over with ourselves, with Tony and with Home Depot -- Home Depot didn't have any part of this decision, they didn't have a choice. This was brought to a head between Tony and us. I think the further we went with it and the more we talked about it we just reached a conclusion that it would probably be best under these set of circumstances to go ahead and let Tony pursue another option here and let him get started and let us get started in a different direction." -- Team owner Joe Gibbs on Tony Stewart's departure from the NASCAR Sprint Cup team.

With NASCAR Sprint Cup racing having a rare weekend off, the IndyCar Series heads to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, which is more like a weekend at Boy Scout Camp. The road course is tucked away amidst the cornfields of Ohio, but to get there, one must drive through Amish Country, which draws a stark contrast between the two lifestyles.

From what I understand, despite his recent bout with "the mumps," E.J. Viso is quite popular among the Amish racing fans.

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