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Wheels kept turning on, away from track in 2016

According to Ernest Hemingway, there are only three sports: bullfighting, motor racing, mountaineering. The rest, Papa said, were merely games.

I must confess that rapt attention was not paid to the fighting of bulls and the climbing of mountains during 2016. But here’s some of what happened on and away from the racetrack with a local bent:

BUSCH BROTHERS CONTEND

Kyle Busch was in the hunt for his second consecutive Cup Series championship with 11 laps to go during the season finale in Florida before getting shuffled back during restarts. Busch won four races for Joe Gibbs Racing, settling for third place in the championship — another solid season.

Older brother Kurt, the 2004 champion, won once and finished seventh for Stewart-Haas Racing. Kurt also was on his best behavior, and at age 38, seems to have found a new maturity. He planned to wed girlfriend and polo enthusiast Ashley Van Metre during the short offseason.

GAUGHAN NOT FORGOTTEN

This was supposed to be Brendan Gaughan’s final season in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series — again. His father and chief benefactor, South Point chief Michael Gaughan, said during NASCAR Weekend in Las Vegas that it was time for his 41-year-old offspring to hang up his helmet and start learning the hotel-casino business.

Gaughan didn’t visit victory lane in 2016, but he qualified for the Xfinity Chase and finished 12th in season points driving the South Point Camaro for Richard Childress. It was enough to put off learning the hotel-casino business for at least one more season.

GALLAGHER KEEPS TRUCKIN’

Spencer Gallagher, another son of another successful Las Vegas businessman — his father, Maury, is CEO and chairman of Las Vegas-based Allegiant Air — finished 12th in the NASCAR Truck Series points and will move up to the Xfinity Series in 2017. Gallagher also was in a celebrated skirmish with John Wes Townley after the two had tangled on the track at Gateway Motorsports Park near St. Louis.

As NASCAR fights go, this one was mostly head noogies.

NOAH’S CAREER ARC

Noah Gragson was named to NASCAR Next, a list of young drivers earmarked for potential NASCAR stardom, and by season’s end was hired by fellow Las Vegan Kyle Busch to drive in the Truck Series in 2017.

Gragson, 18, started the final two truck stops of the season, kept his nose clean and showed why he’ll be one of the young ’uns to watch when racing resumes at Daytona in February.

MONSTER NEWS

The biggest development of the NASCAR offseason also was confirmed in Las Vegas, when it was announced at a hastily called news conference during Champion’s Week at Wynn Las Vegas that Monster Energy will replace Sprint as title sponsor of the Cup Series.

NASCAR’s top championship will be called the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, or NASCAR Cup Series on second reference. If not first reference. Which may not make the Monster Energy folks happy.

SCHMIDT HAPPENS

It was another eventful season for Sam Schmidt, the quadriplegic IndyCar team owner from Henderson, whose driver James Hinchcliffe won the pole position for the 100th running of the Indianapolis 500 on Memorial Day Weekend just one year after nearly losing his life in a practice crash at the venerable Brickyard.

Schmidt also got behind the wheel himself — he drove a specially equipped Corvette 152 mph at Indianapolis and in the prestigious Pikes Peak Hill Climb before receiving the nation’s first driver’s license for a semi-autonomous vehicle during a ceremony and exhibition at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

It was announced at season’s end that Schmidt would be shutting down his championship-winning Indy Lights team to focus on the IndyCar series and perhaps add a third car to his stable.

Contact Ron Kantowski at rkantowski@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0352. Follow @ronkantowski on Twitter.

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