Categories
XFINITY

Stage Points Allow Drivers to Salvage Disappointing Finishes

Stage racing has transformed the way an event unfolds. By awarding championship and playoff points during the race, it provides added incentive to run up front and creates a safety net if a competitor faces trouble later in the event.

The format has proven extremely valuable especially during the unpredictable restrictor plate races as a crash can eliminate a competitor on any lap. Now if they are collected in a wreck, having captured points through the earlier stages lessens the blow of an early exit.

Saturday’s Coca-Cola Firecracker 250 again highlighted the value of stage points as drivers who performed well at the beginning of the event but didn’t finish at the front were compensated.

Other than a couple of bonus points, the 28 laps Blake Koch led before being involved in the Lap 50 crash wouldn’t have been rewarded under the previous format.

However, because of stage competition, Koch won the first stage, earned a playoff point and ten championship points despite a disappointing 38th-place finish.

Ben Kennedy had an impressive performance early at Daytona International Speedway before fading late. He finished second in Stage 1 and ninth in Stage 2, capturing an additional 11 points in the event.

While he finished 16th, he walked away with an amount of points reflecting a top-10 run. Despite not competing for the championship, his day attested to the impact of stage points.

Koch and Kennedy aren’t the only drivers who have benefited from early race success before experiencing trouble this year.

In the season opener at Daytona, Elliott Sadler won the first two stages before crashing and finishing 24th but still walked away with the third highest point total.

Sadler’s JR Motorsports teammates experienced similar fortunes in the following races as William Byron finished seventh at Atlanta and earned the most driver points while Justin Allgaier collected the highest points total at Las Vegas but finished fourth.

Similar situations have played out in nearly every event so far in 2017, showcasing the importance of stage points.

Stage racing has made it possible for a driver other than the race winner to earn the most points. While first-place would ideally secure the largest point total, now a driver who performs well throughout the day is appropriately recognized.

Taking home the trophy remains the most appealing incentive to run well in NASCAR, but stage racing has made a driver’s overall performance matter more now than ever before.

The extra points won’t ultimately make up for missing out on the opportunity for victory but now defeat doesn’t sting as badly.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @HeyJasonSchultz

EMAIL JASON AT jason.schultz@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

Ben Kennedy Expands XFINITY Series Schedule

In addition to the nine-race schedule set with Richard Childress Racing, Ben Kennedy will also run 12 additional events this season for GMS Racing. He will kick off his campaign with GMS at Charlotte Motor Speedway, driving the No. 96 Chevrolet Camaro.

Kennedy is no stranger to GMS Racing, scoring his first career Camping World Truck Series victory with them at Bristol Motor Speedway last season. Everything will be familiar this year, too, as he reunites with crew chief Jeff Stankiewicz.  

“I am really excited to be competing with GMS Racing in the XFINITY Series,” said Ben Kennedy. “The conversation to get me in the second car has been on-going since the end of last season. Everyone that works at GMS is so dedicated to the team. There’s a sense of family at the shop and at the track so I’m glad everything has finally lined up. GMS has shown speed this year in both series and I know that they will give me the necessary tools to run up front.”

After winning the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Championship last year with Johnny Sauter, GMS Racing made the decision to go full-time XFINITY Series racing with Spencer Gallagher behind the wheel. The news of a second entry has the team excited.

 

“We couldn’t be more excited to have Ben fill our second car,” said GMS Racing Director of Competition, Mike Beam. “This is a huge step for our [NASCAR] XFINITY Series program and I look forward to watching Ben learn and grow as a driver through it.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
News

Kennedy Joins RCR for 2017 XFINITY Series Season

The talent pool continues to grow for the 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series season.

Richard Childress Racing announced on Monday that Ben Kennedy would drive the No. 2 Rheem/Menard’s Chevrolet Camaro for the team in nine NXS races this season starting at Talladega SuperSpeedway in May.

Kennedy will join 2013 XFINITY Series champion Austin Dillon and Paul Menard on the No. 2 team with Justin Alexander as crew chief.

Last season, Kennedy scored his first NASCAR National Series win by winning the Truck Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway in August; he also made his NXS debut at Iowa Speedway in June where he scored a 10th place finish.

“I am looking forward to working with Rheem, Menard’s and the No. 2 XFINITY Series team,” said Kennedy. “I’m thrilled that well-respected brands like Rheem and Menards are willing to lend their support and provide the opportunity to prove what I can do. I may not have the experience that Cup Series drivers do, but I’m confident that I have what it takes to get to Victory Lane.”

Dillon and Menard are excited Kennedy’s addition to their NXS lineup and credits RCR’s partners for allowing young drivers to get seat time in winning equipment.

“I cut my teeth in the XFINITY Series,” said Dillon. “If it hadn’t been for the success I experienced in both the Truck Series and the XFINITY Series, I wouldn’t be driving in the Cup Series now. I understand how important it is to give younger drivers a chance to make a name for themselves and gain valuable experience. They can’t prove themselves unless someone gives them a shot, and I’m glad that Rheem and Menards want to provide Ben that opportunity.”

“It is great that our partners recognize the value in developing young drivers,” said Menard. “They are the future of NASCAR and need to be given chances to race in good equipment at the front of the field. This is a big opportunity for Ben, and I know he’s going to make the most of it with Rheem and Menards on board. He has a lot of talent and this is his chance to show everyone what he’s got.”

EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @JustinTuckerWeb

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

NASCAR Camping World Truck Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Ben Kennedy

To say Ben Kennedy had a wild 2016 may be an understatement. From starting the season with Red Horse Racing, then moving to GMS, to making his first XFINITY Series start, to winning his first Camping World Truck Series race and making the Chase. After a season like that, one can only wonder, what’s next for the 24-year-old?

 

Truck No.:  11, 33

Crew Chief: Scott Zipadelli, Jeff Stankiewicz, Joey Cohen, Marcus Richmond

Team:  Red Horse Racing, GMS Racing

Wins: 1

Top-Fives: 4

Top-10s: 10

Points Finish: 7th

2016 Quick Summary: As noted, Kennedy started the season with Red Horse Racing. The season didn’t start as the two side hoped, and after three finishes outside the top-10, they parted ways.

Left without a ride, Kennedy agreed to terms with GMS Racing, in what was originally a part-time ride.

His first race with the team came at Kansas, and it proved to be a good one as he scored a solid ninth-place finish. As the season went on, Kennedy’s performance began to heat up in the summer months.

From June to August, he captured six top-10’s in nine races, including the Wednesday night race at Bristol. In dramatic fashion, he held off a late charge from Brett Moffitt to win his first race and lock himself in the Chase.

As he entered the Chase, his momentum didn’t slow down, capturing a fourth and then a fifth at Talladega, catapulting him into the Round Of 6. Unfortunately for him, he would not have the same fate in the following three races. After a rough race and altercation with Ben Rhodes at Martinsville, Kennedy would not be able to recover and subsequently he’d be eliminated from championship contention.

2016 Highlight(s): As noted above, Kennedy capturing his first Camping World Truck Series win and going on quite the summer run after being unemployed early in the season serves as quite the highlight of Kennedy’s 2016 season. Another highlight would be capturing a top-10 in his first XFINITY Series start at Iowa, with Richard Childress Racing.

2016 Lowlight(s): After his impressive run to make the Chase, coming up just short of the Championship 4 will ultimately serve as the low point of what was a career year for Kennedy.

2017 Outlook: As of now, Kennedy has not announced any plans for 2017 season. With his performance in 2016, he should be getting attention from both Camping World Truck and XFINITY Series teams.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

Kennedy Eliminated in Round of 6 After Two-Team Effort in 2016

AVONDALE, Ariz. — It was a tale of two teams for Ben Kennedy in 2016, who was eliminated from the Chase Round of 6 on Friday night.

Kennedy, son of International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa France Kennedy, finished ninth in the Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix International Raceway, which ended the GMS Racing driver’s title aspirations along with Kyle Busch Motorsports rookie William Byron, who suffered a blown engine after leading 112 laps.

The 24-year-old started the year with Red Horse Racing and drove the No. 11 for the first three races of the season collecting finishes of 23rd, 15th and 11th while driving for Red Horse. Owner Tom DeLoach decided to emphasize focus on Timothy Peters having an opportunity to win the 2016 championship, so his team parted ways with Kennedy.

He joined GMS in April and made his debut with the team at Kansas Speedway in May, where he earned his first top 10 of 2016.

In the summer night showdown at Bristol Motor Speedway in August, Kennedy won his first career Camping World Truck Series race and clinched a berth in the series’ inaugural Chase.

He collected two top fives in the Chase and survived the opening Round of 8. But finishes of 18th, 13th and ninth weren’t enough to advance to the championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway as one of the final four.

“It was a good transition coming over to GMS, and I’ve certainly learned a lot from this group,” Kennedy told POPULAR SPEED. “I have awesome teammates and really smart people. We’ve had fast trucks. We won at Bristol, and we ran down Kyle [Busch] at Chicago. Some races we have been able to capitalize and some we’ve missed it a little bit, but we’ll go on to Homestead.”

GMS had the best year of its history in NASCAR this season. The organization, which only had one victory since its inception, has won six races in 2016 with the Homestead finale next.

Naturally, the team will look to build on its success from this year and translate it to 2017.

“We’ll just keep building on it, we have a really good platform,” Kennedy said. “This year was all about learning. There were some tracks that kind of surprised us. We thought we had some good mile-and-a-half packages as well as this one [Phoenix, a one-mile oval] and missed it quite a bit. But will have a good notebook going forward.”

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Commentary

THREE TAKEAWAYS: Lucas Oil 150

The Camping World Truck Series traveled to Phoenix for the penultimate race of the season. With Phoenix also being the final race of the second round of the inaugural Chase for the trucks, it meant the elimination of two drivers, leaving four to go to Homestead to decide the championship.

While William Byron dominated, a late-race mechanical problem cost him the race, opening the door for Kyle Busch Motorsports teammate Daniel Suarez to pick up his first win in the series.

 

Final Four Decided

With wins at Martinsville and Texas, Johnny Sauter was already locked in to run for a championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway next weekend. Coming into Phoenix, the question was who else would join him? Sauter’s consecutive victories meant that, even if a Chase driver won, two others got in on points.

While Byron dominated the race, the biggest question mark seemed like it would be “Who will point themselves into a chance at the Championship?” Matt Crafton came into the race with a slim one-point lead over Timothy Peters for the final spot. Crafton managed to stretch that to four points early on but it was soon a three-way battle between him, Peters and Christopher Bell.  Every lap and every pass would drastically change the Chase picture.

With Byron out of the title picture with a handful of laps to go, it gave all three drivers a bit of breathing room.  Johnny Sauter, Matt Crafton, Timothy Peters and Christopher Bell will head to Homestead with one emerging as the 2016 series champion. Meanwhile, Byron and Ben Kennedy found themselves on the outside looking in when the night was over. 

 

It Was Byron’s Race to Win

After never running any lower than second until the last ten laps, William Byron seemed poised to easily win the race and head to Homestead as perhaps the favorite to win the 2016 Camping World Truck Series championship. 

He had been quickest in all three rounds of qualifying en route to winning the pole. Although he had surrendered the point to Daniel Suarez and Tyler Reddick for a few laps, Byron had otherwise remained fixed at the front.

But just as the telecast went to break with a dozen laps to go, the commentators pointed out a flashing light that might indicate an overheating issue. By the time viewers rejoined the race, Byron’s engine was up in smoke. That finished his evening and, despite six wins, his chance at a championship.

 

Johnny Sauter Was Not Coasting

Two weeks ago, Johnny Sauter picked up an important win at Martinsville, which was enough to earn him a spot in the Final Four at Homestead. Many drivers might have taken advantage of the situation and coasted through the next two races. Instead, Sauter backed up his Martinsville win with another at Texas. Coming into the race, Sauter had been sixth overall in combined practice speeds and qualified fourth.

Sauter spent the early part of the night in third. After a pit stop had shuffled him out of the top five, Sauter continued to battle his way towards the front. By the white flag, he was in second and while he was unable to chase down winner Suarez, Sauter was still the leading Chase driver and should have the momentum he needs going into the final race of the season.

 

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

Chasers Kennedy and Peters Struggle in Texas

Timothy Peters and Ben Kennedy were both looking for a strong night to put themselves in good position to potentially advance to the Championship 4 in the Truck Series Chase. However, both struggled throughout the night at Texas Motor Speedway en route to sub-par finishes.

Kennedy fought handling issues early in the event, while reporting motor issues in the early stages with his No. 33 Chevrolet. He’d end up falling all the way back to 17th at one point, coming home with a 13th place finish.

Following an 18th place finish last weekend at Martinsville after an altercation with Ben Rhodes, Kennedy now sits at the bottom of the Chase standings, sixth in points, 13 points behind Matt Crafton for the fourth and last spot to transfer. It’s worth noting Kennedy has now posted four finishes outside of the top-10 in the last six races after being consistent in the events leading up to the inaugural Truck Series Chase.

Peters ran up front during the early stages of the Striping Technology 250, but a pit road speeding penalty on his first trip down pit road put him behind. He tried to make up the ground throughout the rest of the race, but crossed the finish line in 14th.

“Track position was important, but we just never could go,” Peters said. “The initial run for about the first five laps was probably our best run all night. I didn’t do a good job managing my speed, I thought I did and I put us in a box with the first pit stop by speeding on pit road. The crew did a great job getting me back up there, but I never could go. What we would gain on pit road I would lose on the race track. It’s a little frustrating for sure, but everyone worked hard on our Red Horse Tundra and we’re on the outside looking in right now, but we’re going to a place next week where we’ve won before and whatever happens, happens.”

Following a 14th place finish at Martinsville, Peters now sits fifth in points, one point behind Crafton for the fourth and final spot. Peters’ chances of a strong run at Phoenix International Raceway are strong as he has posted five top-nine finishes in the last six races, and won last year’s event in the desert.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Commentary

THREE TAKEAWAYS: Striping Technology 350 at Texas

With three races left in the season, the action ramped up at the Texas Motor Speedway. From non-chasers dominating early to a familiar face ending the night in victory lane, the Striping Technology 350 provided a lot to talk about.

 

Sauter Doubles Down in Texas

One week following his big win at Martinsville, Johnny Sauter decided one win would not be enough in the Round of 6, as he went back-to-back in Texas. It marks his third win of the season as well as keeps anyone from locking into the Championship Round with him early.

For Sauter it was a relatively quiet night; he positioned himself in the top-five for the majority of the race but seemingly couldn’t find a way to the lead.

That changed during the last round of pit stops, as the No. 21 team won the race off pit road. Despite falling back on the restart, Sauter fought back and passed Matt Crafton with three laps to go to come home with the checkered flag.

 

Making the Best of a Bad Situation

Following an altercation with Ben Rhodes last weekend at Martinsville, Ben Kennedy desperately needed a good day in Texas.

Unfortunately, that would not be the case for the 24-year-old.

Early on in the event, he began to report motor issues under the hood of his No. 33 Chevrolet, forcing the team to assess the situation and lose several spots in the process. Fortunately for Kennedy, he would be able to continue the race, on the lead lap, and capture a 13th place finish.

Well it may not have been the night he had hoped for, Kennedy will walk out of Texas just 13 points out of the cutoff, allowing him a chance to get in at Phoenix possibly.

 

 

Out of the Chase, Not out of the Game

They may no longer be in the hunt for a championship, but that didn’t stop Daniel Hemric and Spencer Gallagher from having a great night in Fort Worth.

Despite not coming home with the win, the two showed they shouldn’t be written off just yet, leading a combined 126 of the 147 lap race. Gallagher set a career-high in laps led at 88 laps led, but fell short of winning due to a slow pit stop late; he finished seventh. Meanwhile, Hemric tied his best at 38 en route to finishing third.

They may not be in the title picture, but they made themselves the focus in the Lone Star State.

 

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

Categories
Trucks

Drivers With Most to Lose Could Gain the Most

Typically, the drivers below or closest to the cut line are thought to have the most to lose going into a weekend as a single wreck, or bad finish could put them further behind, essentially eliminating them from competition.

Though going into this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it seems the tables have turned in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

The three drivers at the bottom of the Chase Standings following Chicagoland are among the top drivers in average finishes for Las Vegas. So what does that mean? One of these three could turn the tables this weekend.

Following his penalty, John Hunter Nemechek has fallen to seventh in points. However, he has the best average finish virtue of a fourth-place finish last season. As Shane Carlson wrote earlier this week, chances for a comeback seem to be in his favor – as long as he doesn’t meet Cole Custer along the way.

The next best average finish belongs to Ben Kennedy, who has posted a seventh and third in his previous two attempts in Sin City. Following Chicagoland, he finds himself needing to gain points as he sits sixth in points, which would make him the last driver to transfer out of the Round of 8 into the Round of 6.

Kennedy and GMS Racing have shown speed throughout the season – seven top-10s in 17 races – but have struggled to find consistency. While Kennedy will run up front one week, he struggles the following week as noted with back-to-back finishes outside of the top-10 as of late. On top of that, the intermediate tracks haven’t treated Kennedy kindly this year with a best run of seventh and three top-10s in seven races.

Even though history is in his favor, the trends of this season could find the Florida native outside the cut.

The third best average finish belongs to Daniel Hemric, who finished sixth last season in Las Vegas. He enters this weekend needing points as he sits eighth, 20 points behind Kennedy for the last spot.

Coming into the Chase, Hemric was one of the most consistent drivers in the series, posting 13 top-10s in 17 races and putting himself third in the standings based on points. However, the Chase reseed, and a 28th place finish at New Hampshire currently have him needing a chunk of points. However, this weekend brings a high chance to gain a ton of ground. While Brad Keselowski Racing has struggled at times to find speed this year, Hemric has been solid in the seven intermediate track races, posting six top-10s including four top-fives.

Ideally, this weekend would be perfect for Hemric to score his first career series victory as it’d lock him into the Round of 6 and he wouldn’t have to go through the worries of getting taken out in someone else’s mess at Talladega. It’s worth noting he wants a win badly as frustrations have begun to show their face following six third place finishes and a runner-up at Chicagoland Speedway.

Outside of these four, the averages for the rest of the Chase contenders aren’t so bad. William Byron is using this weekend to have fun as he locked himself into the Round of 6 by winning New Hampshire, and could turn his first trip to Sin City into a big win. Matt Crafton has eight top-10s in 15 starts for an average finish of 11.9, while Christopher Bell hopes his growth as a driver this year allows him to improve on a 14th place finish from last season. Timothy Peters and Johnny Sauter enter this weekend with at least seven previous starts at Las Vegas a piece, each boosting average finishes lower than 10th.

If you combine the numbers from the bottom three to the figures of the top five, it promises to be one exciting weekend in Sin City. Are you surprised, though?

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

Kennedy’s Strong Night Ends With Crash

JOLIET, IL – Chicagoland proved to be a night of highs and lows for Ben Kennedy, who ended his night with a disappointing finish.

Kennedy started the evening in the sixth position and stayed inside the top-10 for the majority of the race. But it was after the halfway point the driver of the No.33 Chevrolet began to show his strength.

Following a caution in the late stages, he restarted seventh with four fresh tires. The 24-year-old capitalized on a strong restart and began to work his way through the field. By the time the time the next caution came out, Kennedy already worked his up the second position and looked to be competition for the eventual race winner, Kyle Busch.

During the caution on Lap 105, he and his team made a strategy call to take only fuel, allowing him to take the lead. Unfortunately for Kennedy, the strategy ultimately backfired. While battling up front, he and GMS teammate, Johnny Sauter, made contact, resulting in a violent crash for Kennedy.

“I don’t know; I guess the 21 just got into us,” Kennedy told POPULAR SPEED. “Just tight racing and got wrecked.”

Sauter apologized over his radio during the race for the contact, as well as post-race.

“I didn’t mean to get into Ben there,” he said. “I misjudged my corner entry and got into him there. I hate it for all those guys and GMS because ultimately it means we got to work harder.”

Following the incident, the No.33 Weber Chevrolet would not return to the race and had to settle for a 23rd place finish.

Despite the finish, Kennedy and his team will have momentum to carry into the Chase in the form of three top-fives in the last five races (which includes his win at Bristol), in addition to his strong showing at Chicagoland.

“We got speed; those guys knew we were here,” Kennedy said. “We’ll take something like this to the mile and a halves and then keep working on our short track program and be there at the end.”

Kennedy will enter New Hampshire next weekend as the sixth seed in the Camping World Truck Series Chase.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66