September 2, 2018 / 1:00 AM / 23 days ago

NASCAR notebook: Busch embraces 'W' flag after victory

DARLINGTON, S.C. - There’s no more ardent Chicago Cubs fan than Kurt Busch.

Aug 11, 2018; Brooklyn, MI, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Kurt Busch (41) during practice for the Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

On more than one occasion, Busch has thrown the first pitch at Wrigley Field. And he has belted out “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” from the press box during the seventh-inning stretch, in the tradition of legendary broadcaster Harry Caray.

As the Cubs’ streak without a World Series title grew to 108 years, Busch suffered. And when the North Siders finally broke the jinx in 2016, no one rejoiced more than the driver of the No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford.

On Aug. 18 at Bristol Motor Speedway, Busch ended a drought of his own when he took the checkered flag in the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. The victory was Busch’s first since he won the season-opening Daytona 500 in 2017, a span of 58 races.

When Busch arrived at Darlington to prepare for Sunday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 (6 p.m. ET on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), he noticed an extra flag on his team transporter. Along with the American flag and the usual Stewart-Haas and Ford banners was a white flag sporting only a blue “W” — in other words, the same flag Cubs fans unfurl after a victory.

“Crew surprised me with the ‘W’ flag,” Busch posted on Twitter, along with photos of the flags. “Go @Cubs.”

DENNY HAMLIN SPORTS A SHINER DURING DARLINGTON PRESSER

During a Friday question-and-answer session with reporters at Darlington Raceway, Denny Hamlin highlighted the grueling nature of the Bojangles’ Southern 500.

“I’ve fainted in the shower I think twice after this race, just because you just get so dehydrated,” Hamlin said. “I’ve run the Xfinity race on Saturday for the last handful of years, so it really drains you after the Southern 500.

Aug 12, 2018; Brooklyn, MI, USA; NASCAR Cup Series driver Kurt Busch (41) before the Consumers Energy 400 at Michigan International Speedway. Mandatory Credit: Mike DiNovo-USA TODAY Sports

“You’ve got to prepare for that. I’ll tell you, it’s definitely one of the most physical race tracks that I can think of. Way more than the Coke 600 or any other race track. I consider this the endurance test of all, and so you got to have it all put together.”

Two days before the Bojangles’ Southern 500, Hamlin already looked the worse for wear — as if he’d just gone 10 rounds with Manny Pacquiao. Hamlin’s left check was swollen, and there was a mouse under his left eye.

The injury, however, wasn’t the result of fisticuffs. Hamlin’s penchant for pick-up basketball was the culprit.

“My depth perception to someone’s elbow wasn’t very good in basketball,” said Hamlin, the defending winner of the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington. “I caught an elbow.”

CHRISTOPHER BELL THANKFUL TO BE BACK ON AN OVAL TRACK

After racing on road courses in two of the last three NASCAR Xfinity Series events, Christopher Bell was thrilled to come to Darlington.

In last week’s race at Road America, Justin Allgaier forced his way past Bell as he charged to the front and eventually won, vaulting past Bell into the series lead.

But the contact with Allgaier wasn’t the only incident that involved Bell, who spun off Matt Tifft’s bumper while running fifth in the late going and finished 23rd.

“I’m not really mad at Justin,” said Bell, who shares the series lead in victories with Allgaier (four each). “It’s just a product of road racing. I definitely felt like I was a ping-pong ball out there at times, but that’s all right.

“That’s road racing, and we’re not road racing this week — thankfully.”

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

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