NASCAR Notebook: Kurt Buschs emotional win has optimism at Ford on high

Weekly look at news around NASCAR landscape heading into Atlanta race

Peter Casey—USA Today Sports
NASCAR Cup Series driver Kurt Busch (41) celebrates winning the 2017 Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

Recent seasons have not brought an abundance of success for Ford.The last time Ford won the manufacturer’s championship in NASCAR’s premier series was 2002. Kurt Busch won the last championship for Ford in 2004 for Jack Roush. Joey Logano, one of Team Penske’s current stars for Ford, was 12 and 14, respectively, when those accomplishments occurred.Yeah, that’s not exactly ideal. But this year has a different feel for the manufacturer.With Stewart-Haas Racing joining the fold, Ford now has a bevvy of drivers with championship aspirations. Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski all have Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series titles with the two teams combining for three titles since the 2011 season.”It is an incredible feeling to win the Daytona 500 but it comes with a piece of mind to know that you are a race winner in 2017,” Busch explained. “You have five bonus points that we will carry with us all through the playoffs and it gives you that motivation to go out there and win these different stages and get those bonus points and to get race wins.”Busch has been through a lot since that 2004 season with Ford. Some he brought on himself — like threatening an ESPN cameraman that led to his termination from Penske — before having to rebuild his career with Phoenix Racing and Furniture Row Racing before landing with SHR.Now with Busch back in the stable and several years of wisdom and growth since that title more than a decade ago, Ford is in a good place. And so is Busch.”Slow down and to not push so hard and to not put so much emphasis on one race weekend,” Busch said when asked what advice he would give to his younger self. “I think patience is the biggest thing I would preach. Putting together a game plan that is a bit more long-term instead of week-to-week or month-to-month, that would be something that I would tell my younger self.Martinsville flips the switch for first night raceWith seven decades under its belt, historic Martinsville Speedway officially flipped the switch this week. The “Light Up Martinsville” project concluded today, as the facility debuted its new LED lights — the first major motorsports facility to do so.”Today is truly a historic day in the history of Martinsville Speedway,” said Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell. “This is a venue which has a long and storied past, but with these lights now in place, we’re looking forward to a bigger and better future — and certainly a brighter one.”The industry-leading LED lighting solution, located around the perimeter of the facility and the infield of the track, will provide better illumination as well as greater flexibility and efficiency than traditional metal halide lights. This will lead to a better visual experience for fans in attendance at races, in addition to providing better clarity for television viewers. The installation was managed by Graybar, a leading distributor of high-quality electrical and communications products and services, featuring Eaton’s Ephesus Stadium 750 LED professional sports lights.Joining Campbell in the ceremony to mark the official lighting of Martinsville Speedway, were NASCAR Hall of Famer Leonard Wood, driver Matt Bowling — 2016 NASCAR Whelen All-American Series National Champion, Peyton Sellers — 2005 Whelen All-American Series National Champion and Lori Cauley, Vice President of Brand, ValleyStar Credit Union.This year’s ValleyStar Credit Union 300 on September 23 will be the first night race to be held in Martinsville’s 70-year history.”It’s super exciting,” Cauley said. “We were so excited to hear that our race was going to be the first race under the lights. I’m really excited for the drivers too, but having our name on it is just the icing on the cake.”Elliott set for busy weekend in AtlantaHometown favorite Chase Elliott is back in town for his second Atlanta race in NASCAR’s top series. He’s not just racing on Sunday, though, as he’s entering the Camping World Trucks Series race and commentating for Fox Sports 1 during the Xfinity Series race.It will be Elliott’s first crack at color on a race, but he’s not nervous about getting behind the mic.”I’m excited, it’s something that I’ve never done before and I honestly didn’t really see myself doing it or being asked to do it, so that was kind of cool,” Elliott said. “I thought Atlanta was a fitting place to give it a shot. I’m excited about that. I have not talked to anybody about it really yet. … I think after [the production meeting] we will probably talk a little bit, maybe to Jeff (Gordon) I think he is a great one to lean on. He has a lot of experience over the past year or so.”Elliott is already off to a strong start to his sophomore campaign at eight place in the standings despite running out of gas in the lead in the Daytona 500. That comes after he won the pole for the second straight season, but failed to finish in his first attempt at the Great American Race.Atlanta has been a great track for the Hendrick driver, with him claiming a pole and two top-five finishes in the Xfinity Series. He followed that up with an eighth-place finish in his lone race at the Monster Cup level last February.