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News

Rick Hendrick Trying to Find New Ride for Kasey Kahne

Rick Hendrick didn’t want Kasey Kahne back at Hendrick Motorsports next year, but he’s working to find the veteran a new ride.

Kahne will leave the owner’s team at the end of this season to be replaced in 2018 and beyond by William Byron in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

But during a teleconference Wednesday morning, Hendrick said he’s paying Kahne’s salary next year and he’s trying to find him a soft place to land.

“First of all, I have an obligation to Kasey, so I’m paying two drivers next year,” said Hendrick. “And I’m also trying to help Kasey in another situation that we could be involved with, helping another team. “

Kahne has been linked to a possible move by GMS Racing from the NASCAR XFINITY Series to the Monster Energy Cup Series. Hendrick would neither confirm nor deny that he’s been talking with GMS.

“I’m not going to mention the team, but I know there’s several situations that we’re talking to and have kind of an alliance, which would be good for everyone,” said Hendrick. “We’re working on it. We’ve been working on it and we’ll just see how it develops.”

Kahne has driven for Hendrick Motorsports and has won six Cup races with the team, including this year’s Brickyard 400.

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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.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Your Ultimate Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Silly Season Guide

After a couple of relatively quiet years, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is about to go through a wholesale shuffle of drivers and teams.

Known as “Silly Season,” this is the time of the year when changes are announced or sometimes just rumored for the upcoming season. With lots of upheaval ahead, the 2018 Cup season will have a very different look.

With that in mind, here is your ultimate Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Silly Season guide, a detailed list of who’s going where next season.

We’ll start with the drivers.

Aric Almirola

The Richard Petty Motorsports driver’s contract is reportedly up at the end of this season. No official word yet if he’ll be back with the team next year.

Ryan Blaney

After two successful seasons with the Wood Brothers, Blaney will move to the new Team Penske No. 12 Ford next year.

Alex Bowman

An impressive stint for an injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2016 was enough to earn Bowman the ride in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet next year.

Kurt Busch

Officially the elder Busch is a free agent, as Stewart-Haas Racing declined to pick up his contract option for 2018. But the team has said it expects him back next year. We’ll see.

William Byron

After dazzling performances in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series last year and the NASCAR XFINITY Series this year, Byron will move to the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet next season, replacing Kasey Kahne.  Axalta and Liberty University will sponsor him.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

This is Earnhardt’s last season as a driver; next year, he’ll be in the NBC television booth, where he will add a lot to the broadcast. And, of course, he and sister Kelley Earnhardt Miller will continue to run their successful JR Motorsports XFINITY team.

Erik Jones

It’s one-and-done for impressive rookie Jones at Furniture Row Racing. Next year, he will take over the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota from Matt Kenseth.

Kasey Kahne

Officially a free agent, Kahne is looking for work for next season.

Matt Kenseth

Another top free agent, Kenseth does not yet have a confirmed ride for 2018.

Paul Menard

Following seven years with Richard Childress Racing, Menard will move to Wood Brothers Racing next season.

Danica Patrick

If Stewart-Haas Racing can’t find a sponsor for Patrick next season, she will be released from the final year of her contract, Patrick told USA Today last weekend.

Bubba Wallace

Wallace is one of several good drivers looking for work. He was impressive filling in for the injured Aric Almirola this summer.

 

And now, the teams.

Furniture Row Racing

With Erik Jones moving to Joe Gibbs Racing, team owner Barney Visser has said he’ll only run two cars next season if he can find enough sponsorship.

Hendrick Motorsports

Alex Bowman will succeed Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88, and William Byron will replace Kasey Kahne in the No. 5. Axalta and Liberty University will sponsor Byron.

Joe Gibbs Racing

Matt Kenseth is out at the No. 20 an Erik Jones is in.

Richard Childress Racing

With Paul Menard moving to the Wood Brothers next season, there’s an open seat at RCR, assuming they don’t decide to scale back to two cars.

Richard Petty Motorsports

There have been rumblings that RPM will try to find enough sponsorship to bring back the No. 44 with Bubba Wallace, but so far nothing definite.

Stewart-Haas Racing

As always, it seems, the situation at SHR is interesting. The team declined to pick up Kurt Busch’s option for 2018, but says it expects him back, while Danica Patrick said she doesn’t yet have a sponsor for next year and could be released if they don’t find one.

Team Penske

Earlier this season, Team Penske re-signed drivers Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano and their respective crew chiefs to long-term deals. Next year, they’ll add a third full-time car for the first time since 2010, with Ryan Blaney driving the No. 12 Ford.

Wood Brothers Racing

Ryan Blaney will be out and Paul Menard will be in the cockpit of the iconic No. 21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford.

All article photos courtesy of Nigel Kinrade Photography © 2017 

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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.

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Commentary

5 Reasons Why William Byron is the Right Choice to Replace Kasey Kahne

Well, that didn’t take long.

Monday morning, Hendrick Motorsports announced that Kasey Kahne had been released from the final year of his contract as driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet and would be replaced next year with a driver to be named later.

By Monday evening, Adam Stern of the influential and well-respected Sports Business Journal reported that Kahne’s replacement would be William Byron.

Now, Byron moving to the No. 5 next year isn’t official until Hendrick Motorsports says it’s official, but he’d be a terrific replacement for Kahne.

Here are five reasons why:

Image

Byron is everything Hendrick Motorsports likes to project as its image: Clean-cut, polished and well-mannered, Byron might be just 19 years old, but he’s already well seasoned. He has made an overwhelming positive impression for his current sponsor, Liberty University, and will be a great sponsor representative at the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series level.

Timing

The timing of this move works on several levels: First, we’re in the midst of a generational change in NASCAR, with a host of veterans retiring and the strongest young talent base in recent memory. It’s also a time of transition at Hendrick Motorsports, with Jeff Gordon already retired, Dale Earnhardt Jr. about to be retired and Kasey Kahne departing.  

Familiarity

Byron knows the Hendrick Motorsports system. He’s driving this year for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s JR Motorsports NASCAR XFINITY Series team, which works closely with the Hendrick organization. The Hendrick folks know Byron already and know how he operates and he knows how the team functions. It’s not like they’ll have to break in an outsider.

Economics

As Dale Earnhardt Jr. so eloquently explained it last weekend at Watkins Glen, the economics of NASCAR are changing drastically. No longer can established drivers command $8-$10 million per year because sponsorship dollars are way down. NASCAR contract deals are closely held secrets, but it would not be surprising if Byron’s contract is for substantially less money than the team was paying Kahne.

Winner

All of the aforementioned reasons are valid and important, but none of them would matter a whit if Byron wasn’t a stud behind the wheel. Without question, young Mr. Byron is a wheelman of the highest order.

The numbers don’t lie.

In 2015, Byron won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East championship with four victories, five top fives and 11 top 10s in 14 races.

Last year, Byron set a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series record by winning seven races as a rookie, along with 11 top fives and 16 top 10s in 23 races. An engine failure at Phoenix was the only thing that kept Byron from winning the Truck Series championship.

Byron has kept up the heat this year. As a rookie in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, Byron has three victories, seven top fives and 14 top 10s in 20 races.  Just in the last eight XFINITY races, Byron has two victories, five top fives and eight top 10s. He’s ready.

Categories
News

Official: Kasey Kahne Out at Hendrick Next Year

Another huge domino fell in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Silly Season on Monday, with the announcement that Kasey Kahne won’t return to the cockpit of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

In a press release, the team said Kahne’s replacement would be made at a later date.

The move was not unexpected, even though Kahne had another year left on his contract.

Kahne had gone nearly three full seasons without a race victory prior to winning the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway two weeks ago.

After that race, team owner Rick Hendrick declined to say Kahne would return in 2018, which meant his departure was pretty much a formality.

Kahne is in his sixth season with Hendrick Motorsports and he’s won six of his 18 career victories with the team. His best season came in 2012, his first year with the team, when he won twice, had 12 top fives and 19 top 10s and finished a career-high fourth in points. He has not finished in the top 10 in points since.

After missing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup playoffs in 2015 and ’16, Kahne will be eligible this year, thanks to his Brickyard 400 victory.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Kahne May Not Be Last to Shake Up Playoff Picture

An unpredictable year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series experienced another unexpected moment in Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Kasey Kahne captured his first victory in nearly three years, adding another twist to the playoff picture in a season filled with surprise winners.

Now with the Hendrick Motorsports driver in the top-16 six races before Chicagoland, the question shifts to who will be next to win and lock themselves in.

Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray, Chase Elliott, and Matt Kenseth are currently in positions to make the post-season based on points, and a victory in the coming weeks wouldn’t change much other than solidifying their title bids.

Clint Bowyer has now fallen below the cutline, joining Joey Logano. A win from either would knock another competitor out and further narrow the possibility for drivers to make the playoffs based on points

However, the ones to watch are those with no other choice but to gamble and hope luck falls their way like it has for Ricky Stenhouse Jr.Ryan Newman, Austin Dillon, and now Kahne in 2017.

Before the chaos at the finish, Trevor Bayne was in a position to be the next surprise winner after stretching fuel mileage and hoping for a green flag run to the checkered.

While it didn’t materialize, it’s that type of strategy that those outside the playoffs need to utilize to have any chance at making the post-season.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. is in the same situation and has mentioned many times that it does his team no good to aim for a 10th-place finish when they are in a must-win situation.

It wouldn’t be a stretch to see another driver make the playoffs under similar circumstances as the series heads to Pocono and Watkins Glen.

Strategy often prevails at Pocono, and it’s a place where Earnhardt Jr. has recently visited Victory Lane after sweeping the events in 2014.

Road courses breed unpredictability and road racing ace A.J. Allmendinger hasn’t been much of a factor this season, but that could change in a heartbeat.

Everything fell into place for Kahne to join the list of surprise winners this year at Indianapolis. It not only has thrown another curveball at the post-season but further attests to the adage of 2017 being expected the unexpected.

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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.

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News

Kasey Kahne Snatches Improbable Victory at The Brickyard

SPEEDWAY, Ind. — In semi-darkness, as the sun set behind the frontstretch grandstand at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Kasey Kahne did all he could to dispel the shadow overhanging his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season and his racing career.

With a phenomenal restart in the second overtime of Sunday’s Brantley Gilbert Big Machine Brickyard 400, Kahne cleared race leader Brad Keselowski through the first two corners and crossed the overtime line on the backstretch before NASCAR called the record 14th caution of the race.

That ended the event with Kahne in the lead, and when he took the checkered flag under yellow a lap and a half later, the driver of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet had his first victory since an eleventh-hour win at Atlanta in August of 2014 that propelled him into NASCAR’s postseason.

Kahne was breathless with exhaustion in Victory Lane, the result of withering heat inside the cars in a prolonged race that featured three red flags, one for rain and lightning and two for incidents. But the implications of the triumph weren’t lost on him.

“The career is big, for sure—but the win and the history here,” Kahne said. “To win at this track is unreal. We used to always be really close. We lost to Jeff (Gordon) and we lost to Tony (Stewart); just some fast cars back then.

“Today, strategy got us here. This Farmers Insurance Chevrolet was great once I got out front. I just had to get there. I’m exhausted. But, an unbelievable win. The team just kept working. We had great pit stops.”

The pit stop that mattered most occurred on Lap 150, when Kahne came to pit road moments before a vicious wreck on the frontstretch eliminated the cars of Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch and Erik Jones, all of whom had been running in or near the top 10 throughout the afternoon.

Kahne had fresh rubber and stayed on the track when the cars ahead of him came to pit road for tires on Lap 151. Suddenly at the front of the field, Kahne battled Keselowski on three successive restarts before the decisive second overtime.

Kahne status in the No. 5 car has been grist for the rumor mill this season. Asked Sunday morning about plans for the ride next year, team owner Rick Hendrick would say only “That’s another day,” during a press conference heralding Alex Bowman as the successor to Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

Asked post-race what the victory does for Kahne’s future, Hendrick replied, “It puts him in the (playoff).”

But the uncertainty that surrounds Kahne’s status in the No. 5 did nothing to diminish his accomplishment at the vaunted Brickyard.

Keselowski had taken the lead during the first overtime restart, but a huge wreck on the frontstretch—triggered when Trevor Bayne turned sideways after a push from Michael McDowell as the cars approached the start/finish line—aborted the attempt.

For the second overtime, Keselowski chose the outside lane, leaving Kahne on the bottom in a racing groove covered with Speedy Dry fluid absorption material. But Kahne pulled off a magnificent restart and powered into Turn 1 at full steam.

“Well, the one before just didn’t work,” said Kahne, who picked the outside lane and lost the lead on the short-lived restart for the first overtime. “Everything went wrong. On the final one, everything went right. And once I got to Turn 1, I had good power and was able to clear him off (Turn) 1. I’m exhausted. And, it’s pretty crazy.”

Keselowski, who was trying to give team owner Roger Penske a first Brickyard 400 victory, gave credit where credit was due.

“Kasey did a heck of a job today and drove a hell of a race,” Keselowski said. “I’m happy for him. I thought we were in the right spot. You had seen the same thing all day when you’d get somebody on the outside, and in the corner you got real loose.

“He drove in there and it just stuck. I don’t know. I may have had the wrong lane there or made the wrong call. I’m not sure. The car was on edge and then some.”

By the time Kahne took the checkered flag, the two fastest cars in the race had long since been eliminated—in the same wreck. Polesitter Kyle Busch, who led a race-high 87 laps, was racing side-by-side with Martin Truex Jr. after a restart on Lap 111 when Truex’s No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota got loose underneath Busch’s No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, causing a collision that crippled both cars.

Ultimately, it was Kahne who seized the opportunity their exit presented.

Notes: The victory was the first for Kahne’s crew chief, Keith Rodden… Kahne visited the infield care center for treatment after Victory Lane ceremonies in which Kahne looked drained. … Jimmie Johnson, with his eye on a record-tying fifth Brickyard victory, spun in Turn 3 while battling Kahne and Keselowski for the lead on Lap 159, causing the caution that set up the overtimes that eventually took the race seven laps past its scheduled distance.

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Commentary

7 Takeaways From an Insane Brickyard 400

Locusts, frogs and boils might have been the only three plagues missing from Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. There were fires, lightning, torrential rain, crashes, overtime, red flags and six hours of utter and total chaos, before Kasey Kahne took a surprising victory in the wildest Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race in a very long time.

It was a crazy outcome after a long day of racing, with checkered flag not falling at the Brickyard until past 8:30 p.m. And it wasn’t just one big day, it was a big week, with the announcement that Alex Bowman will replace Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet next season.

Here are seven takeaways from the Brickyard 400 and the week in racing.

Kahne mutiny

The last time Kasey Kahne won a race was at Atlanta in 2014, but he prevailed in the final restart, passing Brad Keselowski to win this race for the first time. Kahne, who is rumored to be on his way out at Hendrick Motorsports, has now has punched his ticket to the Cup playoffs, becoming the 12th driver to lock in a playoff spot with a win. This will have huge playoff implications.

Toyota trauma

For the second consecutive year, Kyle Busch’s Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was in its own zip code, far and away the fastest car in the race. Last year, Busch led 149 of 170 laps to drub the Brickyard field and win his second consecutive Brickyard 400. This year, he led all 50 laps of Stage 1 to win it from the pole, and led 35 of 50 laps to take Stage 2.

But in a truly stunning moment, on a restart during Stage 3, Martin Truex Jr. got loose in Turn 1 and got into Busch, taking them both out of the race. Truex’s wrecked Furniture Row Racing Toyota spectacularly burst into flames, although he was able to escape without injury

For Busch, it meant his quest to be the first driver to win this race in three consecutive years would not happen and his winless streak would be extended to one full season.

“Just chalk it up to another one that we figure out how to lose these things by,” said Busch. “It’s very frustrating and I hate it for my guys, they build such fast Toyota Camrys and the Skittles Camry was really good again today. Had wanted to go out there and put ourselves in the record books for three in a row, but not happening.”

“I just got loose and wrecked him, I guess,” said Truex. “Totally my fault. … I hate it for Kyle. He had a great car and we did as well, but that’s racing. Glad I was able to get out, fire was bad.”

Junior Achievement

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s final Brickyard 400 came to an early and unhappy ending, as he made it less than halfway before being ensnared in contact deep in the field, as the field stacked up and he ran into the back of Trevor Bayne, damaging the radiator of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet. Earnhardt’s best career Brickyard 400 finish was a fourth in 2012.

“There were just a bunch of cars slowing down and stopping and it was a chain reaction and we got into the back of the No. 6 (Bayne) and I guess they were all kind of running into each other and it just knocked the radiator out of it,” said Earnhardt. “We hit the No. 2 car (Brad Keselowski) earlier in the race kind of doing the same thing and it damaged the front end and I think it knocked the bumper bar out of it then, so we really had no protection after that.”

Elliott’s engine goes

A rare engine failure in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet meant a 39th-place finish and a terrible points day for second-year driver Chase Elliott

“I’ve been racing Hendrick engines since 2013 and this is the first engine problem I’ve ever had,” Elliott said. “So, I’ll take those odds all day long. We still have the best engine shop in the business and stuff’s going to happen. We’re pushing it as everyone is. So, we’ll move on to next week and see what we’ve got there.”

The good news for Elliott is that other good drivers who are winless in 2017 had bad days, too, including Clint Bowyer, Erik Jones and, of course, Kyle Busch.

See the air

There was some great racing in Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race, and you can bet that NASCAR officials picked up a few ideas on how to tweak the Monster Energy Cup Series cars next year, which they clearly need. The Brickyard 400 is still one of NASCAR’s flagship races, and there is no question that fans want and deserve top-flight competition, with a lot more passing than they saw on Sunday. Here’s hoping the XFINITY race is a preview of what’s to come in 2018 for the Cup Series.

Byron’s bright future

William Byron, who won Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race, has had a torrid summer, winning three of the last five races in the sport’s AAA division. Byron drove like an old pro on Saturday, holding off a ferocious charge from Paul Menard in the final laps to win.

Great showings in the XFINITY Series does not guarantee success at the Cup level — Chase Elliott, Erik Jones and Daniel Suarez are still looking for their first victories and two-time XFINITY champ Ricky Stenhouse Jr. got his first two Cup wins this season.

Still, it’s hard to look at Byron and not see someone with a huge upside. Rick Hendrick is quietly reloading his dream team with top-notch talent.

Silly Season

The Bowman announcement is likely to trigger a flurry of driver/team/sponsor moves in the days and weeks ahead. This could be the most volatile Silly Season we’ve had in NASCAR in quite some time. We already know Joe Gibbs Racing and Hendrick Motorsports will each have one new driver next season, and changes are likely to follow at other contending teams. Stay tuned, it’s about to get interesting.

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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
NASCAR Cup Series

Texas Performance Puts Earnhardt Jr. Back in Contention

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s season had been defined by disappointing performances up until Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Success shouldn’t come surprisingly as Earnhardt Jr. entered the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 with five consecutive top-10 finishes and ten top-10 results in his last 13 races in the Lone Star State.

The weekend didn’t kick off well as Earnhardt Jr. missed qualifying after not passing through technical inspection in time which put him 37th to start the race.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver quickly moved forward, gaining ten spots before the first caution on Lap 3. By Lap 59, he entered the top-10. Following a Lap 121 caution, Earnhardt Jr. restarted sixth, moved up to fourth, but ultimately finished Stage 2 in ninth.

When the Final Stage went green, the No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet was third. While he never took the lead, he ran as high as second at Lap 211. He consistently ran in and around of the top-five for the remainder of the event, crossing the finish line in fifth and scoring his first top-10 result of 2017.

“Could have finished a little better, we will take top five,” Earnhardt Jr. said.

Hendrick Motorsports’ performance indicated the organization is making progress after a slow start to 2017 for three of its four cars.

A ninth-place run at Phoenix marked Jimmie Johnson’s highest result of the season before scoring HMS’ first victory on Sunday. Earnhardt Jr. finished nine positions higher than his previous best result of 14th at Phoenix.

Chase Elliott hasn’t been phased by his teammates’ struggles to start the year as he now has five top-10 finishes in seven races. While two top-10 performances at Daytona and Atlanta showed promise from Kasey Kahne, he has struggled ever since and had another disappointing run at Texas, finishing 38th.

If HMS can carry this momentum into the upcoming races and find similar success, it would be a role reversal from last season when they started strong but faded throughout the summer.

Sunday’s results not only indicate a potential turnaround for HMS but show they adapted well to the new surface which could be beneficial come November when the stakes are much higher in the playoffs.

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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
NASCAR Cup Series

RAPID REACTION: O’Reilly Auto Parts 500

Seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion Jimmie Johnson passed Joey Logano with 16 laps to go, en route to the O’Reilly Auto Parts 500 victory.

One-Groove Show

Although Texas Motor Speedway officials tried to get rubber laid down via running multiple laps with their tire machine, it was a one-groove affair with everybody fighting for the bottom. There were some position changes, but only due to a competitor missing their marks and sliding up off the corner. As the race closed, a second lane developed in turns three and four, with passes in the closing stages.

Even left annoyed today, fans should be patient – the track should improve with age, and produce great racing.

Hendrick Motorsports

While Chase Elliott has five top-10’s in seven races, his teammates have struggled. Between Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Kasey Kahne, they have only three top-10’s in the first five events. Entering Sunday, it appeared that Hendrick Motorsports would continue on that path, given poor starting positions. However, they all found a way to the front, with three placing in the top-10.

Texas Motor Speedway has always treated the organization well, and the momentum should carry to Bristol Motor Speedway, where all but Kahne scored a top-10 last year, including Earnhardt’s runner-up finish.

Put me in Coach

As things are heading up-hill for Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing wishes something would go their way. After sweeping both events in 2016, they failed to contend for victory this year. Matt Kenseth ran up front most of Stage 1, while Kyle Busch briefly cracked the top-10 mid-race.

Now six races into 2017, the foursome has scored only three top-fives. Daniel Suaraz was expected to struggle as a rookie, but based on last seasons results, the other three weren’t expected to.

Some may say it is too early to panic, but for a team that dominated throughout last year, there could be concern two months into the year. Perhaps focusing on last year’s championship run caused them to fall behind, not learning about the new package.

The next two events at Bristol and Richmond International Raceway will be a big test after Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch dominated both trips there last year.

One Hit Wonder?

Ryan Newman has a win, which puts him into the post-season playoffs ultimately – but not much has happened outside that.

Outside of the victory, they only have two top-10’s – eighth at Martinsville due to Newman, and fifth at Daytona International Speedway by Paul Menard. Surprising considering Austin Dillon ended off last year as someone people suspected to score his first career win soon with 13 top-10’s in 2016.

Sunday’s race at Texas proved pitiful for them with the best finish being Newman’s 26th. Dillon went to the garage on Lap 1 with a track bar issue, while Menard went to the pits on Lap 184.

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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
NASCAR Cup Series

Treacherous and Tricky Used to Describe New Texas Surface

When tracks get repaved, sometimes it is great while drivers don’t applaud others. Right now with Texas Motor Speedway, there seems to be mixed feelings.

The morning practice left drivers concerned, with Ryan Blaney noting it was “very sketchy getting into turn one” throughout the first hour of practice. While Eddie Gossage and his staff ran a tire machine around the track numerous times forming a groove, it left the asphalt above and below “treacherous” for drivers to handle.

“It’s so dirty outside the groove,” Kasey Kahne said. “Anywhere you go where there aren’t cars going constantly, it’s really slippery. We’re just going to do the best we can and hopefully get a really good balance tomorrow and stay out of trouble. Five hundred miles is a long time.”

Martin Truex Jr. felt they could’ve done a better job cleaning the track before the start of practice.

“The groove was really, really narrow,” he said. “You seen as soon as guys started pushing it in qualifying trim especially at the end of practice they get out of the groove a little bit, you’re done. There’s nothing you can do. It’s so slippery. I wish the track was clean; then there would have been plenty of time to practice. I don’t think practice time is an issue. We got to clean race tracks before we get on ’em and run 200 miles an hour. Just doesn’t make sense to me.”

Beyond concerns surrounding the groove, the reconfiguration of turn one and two caught drivers off-guard, due to reference points.

“I think that is what everybody was looking for – something that was challenging,” Kevin Harvick said. “It is very hard when you get into turn one because you are so used to where the corner used to be. It is hard to pick up your reference points because the bottom is so far down there and you are so far out. You have to drive straight down the race track. It is hard to get situated in a couple of hours.”

The conditions waved their ugly head, with four having incidents in the session. Both Chase Elliott and Erik Jones were forced to back-up cars after crashes. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch‘s team had to fix his No. 18 Camry following wall contact, while Denny Hamlin went for a quick spin.

The problems carried over to qualifying with Jimmie Johnson spinning following his first lap, resulting in not being able to take part in round two due to three flat-spotted tires.

Despite concerns over the surface, there’s hope based on seeing more rubber being laid down through the sessions.

“It’s come a long way since this morning when we first unloaded,” Jamie McMurray said. “I think the XFINITY race is obviously going to widen it out a little bit.”

Even with conditions improving, there are still some wishing the old Texas was still here for another year.

“I mean I can’t say there is anything wrong with the race track, but man… I think I speak for everybody when I say we miss old Texas,” Ryan Newman said.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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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.