Categories
Trucks

THREE TAKEAWAYS: Active Pest Control 200 at Atlanta

Saturday’s Truck Series Active Pest Control 200 at Atlanta Motor Speedway was filled with wrecks as drivers tried to keep their tires under them on the rough surface. In the end, it was Christopher Bell in Victory Lane for his third career win.

Bell Dominates Beginning And End of Race

Bell became the first NASCAR driver to sweep all three stages of a race in the new split format. He had the dominant truck for much of the race, leading 99 of 130 laps.

His time of adversity came at the end of Stage 2, when he lost the lead off pit road to team owner Kyle Busch. Bell had to restart on the outside lane, which was a problem spot for drivers all race. Spinning the tires, Bell slipped back to fifth with Matt Crafton moving up to second.

He continued to hang around the top five, but unable to battle for the lead until a restart with 18 laps to go. Bell moved up to second and had a side-by-side fight with Crafton for a lap until he retook the lead with 16 to go. Despite a great restart by Crafton with two laps to go, Bell hung on until the end to take home the victory.

BKR Drivers Struggle

Saturday was not the day Brad Keselowski Racing was hoping for, with both drivers having issues throughout the race. Pit stops at the end of Stage 1 were particularly troublesome for the rookie teammates.

Chase Briscoe‘s team missed a lug nut, but the bigger problem came when the No. 29 truck re-entered the track and lost a tire. Briscoe spent time on pit road to pull the rubber off the axle. He finished the race in 25th, three laps down, and sits eighth in the points.

Austin Cindric had a problem on the same pit stop when he received a penalty for an uncontrolled tire. Cindric had bounced back from the infraction, running inside the top 10 late in the race when he’d be sent spinning with six laps to go virtue of contact from Grant Enfinger. He finished one lap down in 21st and is currently 19th in points.

Tires Cause Problems for Contenders

With an aged acing surface like Atlanta, tires are bound to become a storyline. Four drivers with a chance to contend for the win had to deal with tire issues during Saturday’s race.

The first was Chase Elliott, who brought out the second caution of the race on Lap 27 when his tire blew out. Elliott had minimal damage and came back to finish fifth.

Briscoe and John Hunter Nemechek both had flat tires in Stage 2 that ended their days. Nemechek had heavy contact with the wall due to the failure, sending him to the garage and giving him a 29th place finish.

Busch was one of the few drivers who could battle with Bell for the lead, but he did not have the finish to show for it. On the restart with 18 laps to go, Busch had a rear tire go down while in traffic. He slowed down and hit the wall, collecting the Daytona winner Kaz Grala with him. Busch’s team may have won the race, but he finished 26th, three laps down.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KaseyMcNerney

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

RAPID REACTION: Kurt Busch Finally Gets One

The 2017 Daytona 500 was not short on excitement, with plenty of wrecks throughout the race.

Unexpectedly, the finish was decided by fuel mileage as two leaders ran out of gas, paving the way for Kurt Busch to earn his first Daytona 500 win.

Kurt Busch wins fuel mileage race

While the Daytona 500 has become known for the victor being the driver who survived and had the best move at the end, this year’s race turned out differently. With no cautions in the final 45 laps and the fuel window being 40-44 laps, it transformed into a mileage test.

Chase Elliott appeared poised to get his first victory at the biggest race of the season, but the No. 24 team was unable to stretch their fuel to make it to the end. After Elliott’s bobble, another young driver went to the top in Kyle Larson. He, too, ran out of gas, this time on the last lap down the backstretch. Kurt Busch, who was running second, inherited the lead and held off Ryan Blaney and AJ Allmendinger for victory.

It was a long time coming for Kurt Busch, who attempted winning the 500 15 previous times. He finished second three times, but was never able to get the win until this year. This was also crew chief Tony Gibson’s first Daytona 500 victory in a 15-year career.

Pit strategies fail to pan out

In the first race under the new rules concerning race stages, teams were already testing new pit strategies to get the most points possible.

Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing stopped 18 laps into Stage 1, counting on not stopping again if the stage were to go green. However, their plan failed to give them an advantage due to errors. Rookies Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones both missed their pit stalls the first time through. When coming in the second time, Suarez also incurred a speeding penalty, putting him two laps down early on. Matt Kenseth locked up his wheels on the initial two-tire stop, meaning he also had to make a second trip.

Ultimately the day didn’t play out as they hoped as on Lap 106, Kyle Busch was running in front of Kenseth and Jones when a tire went down, triggering a six-car wreck including others like Dale Earnhardt Jr. All four Gibbs cars were involved in at least one wreck, and the highest finisher was Denny Hamlin in 17th.

Jr.’s wreck headlines Hendrick struggles

Hendrick Motorsports was another team that struggled throughout Sunday’s race. Earnhardt was the first of three drivers involved in an incident. Though Elliott recovered to compete for the win late in the race, Earnhardt and Jimmie Johnson’s teams were unable to repair the cars and retired to the garage.

Kasey Kahne ended up with the highest finish at Hendrick, coming home seventh. He was one of only five cars that were not involved in any wreck, and he led seven laps.

Lots of wrecks, but not because of rule changes

Some thought the introduction of stages into NASCAR races would lead to increased wrecks at the end of each stages. There were indeed many accidents in the 500, but none were near the conclusion of Stages 1 or 2. There was only one single-car incident, when Corey LaJoie lost control coming to pit road and hit the wall on Lap 32.

The biggest wreck of the day came four laps into the final stage when Johnson spun after contact from Jamie McMurray. Seventeen cars received some damage during this incident.

Shop for 2017 Daytona 500 Champs Gear and Collectibles at Store.NASCAR.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KaseyMcNerney

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

NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Joey Logano

Joey Logano put together an impressive season but came up just short for the championship after being involved in a late-race incident at Homestead. Now going into 2017, he’ll look to take another shot at the crown.

Car No.: 22

Crew Chief: Todd Gordon

Team: Team Penske

Wins: 3

Top-Fives: 16

Top-10s: 26

Points Finish: 2nd

2016 Quick Summary: Statistically speaking, 2016 wasn’t quite as fantastic as 2015 for Joey Logano with less top fives and top 10s. But without the drama that plagued the Connecticut driver in 2015’s Chase, Logano was able to get closer than ever before to his first championship.

He didn’t win his first race until June, but his season was the picture of consistency, with only four finishes outside the top 25. This consistency also helped him advance past the first round of the Chase without winning a race.

The second round got off to a bad start, however, with a 36th place at Charlotte. He needed good finishes to advance to the Round of 8, and he did just that with a third at Kansas and a victory in Talladega.

During the Round of 8, Logano once again secured advancement by winning the cutoff race at Phoenix, giving him the chance to compete for the title. Unfortunately, an incident with Carl Edwards was too much to recover from, and he finished behind Jimmie Johnson.

2016 Highlight(s): All three of Logano’s wins were highlights of the year. His most dominant win came at the June Michigan race, where he started on the pole and led 138 of 200 laps en route to his first victory of the season. He never ran lower than 12th and spent the majority of the race in the top two.

Perhaps his most meaningful victory was at Phoenix for the penultimate race of 2016. Coming into this cutoff race, Logano was only one point to the good. He ran in the top five for most of the race, even leading a few times. But his fellow Chase competitors were also performing well, and his spot in the Championship Round wasn’t a lock.

But when Matt Kenseth and Alex Bowman made contact on a late restart, Logano grabbed the lead and held off Kyle Busch for the win.

2016 Lowlight(s): Logano’s worst finish was at Kentucky when a blown tire 55 laps into the race relegated him to a 39th place finish.

His shot at the championship was dashed when he and Edwards collided on a restart with less than 10 laps to go. Logano battled back to finish fourth in the race and second in points, but he was unable to catch Johnson for the victory.

2017 Outlook: Logano has been a threat for the championship the last four seasons, so it’s only a matter of time before the No. 22 team is able to put everything together. Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon work very well together, never finishing lower than eighth in points. Even with Stewart-Haas Racing’s switch to Ford, Team Penske is one of the top three or four teams in Cup and will continue to compete at an elite level.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KaseyMcNerney

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

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Kurt Busch

Kurt Busch only won one race in 2016, but his consistent finishes allowed him to advance to the Round of 8 in the Chase.

Car No.: 41

Crew Chief: Tony Gibson

Team: Stewart-Haas Racing

Wins: 1

Top-Fives: 9

Top-10s: 21

Points Finish: 7th

2016 Quick Summary: Consistency was key for Kurt Busch’s 2016 season. While he may have only got to Victory Lane oncehe had 21 top 10s, tying for the most in a season during his career. After making it through the first three rounds of the Chase, he finished the season seventh in points, which is his highest position since 2009.

Statistically, 2016 was very similar to 2015 for Busch. Both season totals in top fives, top 10s, wins, and poles were comparable, and he made it to the Round of 8 in each year’s Chase.

Through the first two rounds of the 2016 Chase, Busch’s consistent, if unspectacular, finishes were enough to advance past drivers who fell to bad luck. But a 22nd at Martinsville and a 20th at Texas couldn’t be overcome with a fifth at Phoenix, which meant, once again, he would not compete for the championship in Miami.

2016 Highlight(s): Busch’s lone win of the season came at the June Pocono race. After starting ninth, he ran in the top 10 or top five almost the entire race. He started fourth on the final restart of the day with 33 laps to go. He quickly got around the third-place car of Casey Mears and set his sights on the two Hendrick drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Chase Elliott. After Elliott made contact with Earnhardt, getting both cars loose, Busch was able to take the lead with 32 laps to go, and he never looked back.

2016 Lowlight(s): Busch’s worst finish was a 38th at Bristol in August. He had worked his way from a 14th starting position to running in the top six by lap 150. But on lap 374, when Busch was battling for the lead with Joey Logano, his No. 41 Chevy got loose and spun, causing an 11-car pile-up.

His championship hopes were ended with two finishes of 20th or worse in the third round of the Chase. Not even a fifthplace finish at Phoenix could help Busch advance to the Championship Round at Homestead.

2017 Outlook: In 2017, Stewart-Haas Racing is switching manufacturers, from Chevy to Ford. This also means it will not be receiving support from Hendrick Motorsports. This may cause the team to go through some growing pains over the 2017 season. It is entirely possible Stewart-Haas, and its drivers like Kurt Busch, will not be as competitive as in previous seasons. The first four races of the season, featuring a super speedway, two intermediate tracks and one short track, should provide a good barometer for the success of Busch and his teammates.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KaseyMcNerney

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

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Kyle Larson

2016 was a year of firsts for Kyle Larson, as he was able to earn both his first Sprint Cup Series victory and his first Chase berth.

 

Car No.: 42

Crew Chief: Chad Johnston

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing

Wins: 1

Top-Fives: 10

Top-10s: 15

Points Finish: 9th

2016 Quick Summary: This season was by far the most successful of Kyle Larson’s young Sprint Cup career. He was able to live up to a lot of the expectations people have had for him, like being competitive every week. He had eight more top fives than 2015 and five more top 10s.

Since he was a rookie, people have wondered when Larson would earn his first Cup win. This question was answered at Michigan in August when he held off Chase Elliott on a late-race restart to finally end up in Victory Lane. This win guaranteed him a spot in the Chase, but he was eliminated in the first round. He finished the season ninth in points, which is also a career-high.

2016 Highlight(s): Larson finally got the proverbial monkey off his back at the August Michigan race, coming home with the victory. He led a race-high 41 laps, including the final nine after a late restart where he held off Chase Elliott to get the win.

2016 Lowlight(s): Larson’s worst race of the year came at Fontana, where he finished last after an early wreck. But two finishes outside the top 15 in the first three races of the Chase, including an accident at Dover, led to the California native being eliminated in the first round.

2017 Outlook: Much like his teammate, Jamie McMurray, Larson looks to benefit from Ganassi’s relationship with Hendrick Motorsports, as they will be the only outside team using Hendrick engines. Now that Larson has proven he can get to Victory Lane, the 42 team’s goal in 2017 should be contending for the championship, not just wins.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KaseyMcNerney

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

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Jamie McMurray

Jamie McMurray made the Chase for the second straight year based on points, but he didn’t contend for the championship, nor find himself in Victory Lane in 2016.

 

Car No.: 1

Crew Chief: Matt McCall

Team: Chip Ganassi Racing

Wins: 0

Top-Fives: 2

Top-10s: 12

Points Finish: 13th

2016 Quick Summary: McMurray had a decidedly quiet 2016 season, with no wins but only three finishes outside the top 30. A steady, consistent approach to the season allowed him to make the Chase for the second year in a row in his second season with crew chief Matt McCall.

Six top-10s in the 10 races before the Chase, including a seventh at Richmond, gave McMurray a cushion in the cutoff race. His only worry was whether Kasey Kahne could pull off the last-minute win and knock him out, but Kahne came up short.

However, a bad finish in the last race of the Round of 16 meant McMurray would once again fail to make it past the first round of the Chase.

2016 Highlight(s): McMurray’s best finish of the season came at the May Talladega race. Despite being involved in two accidents during the event, including the 21-car wreck on lap 162, he was able to battle back for a fourth-place finish. His other top five of the season came in the finale at Homestead, where he finished fifth.

2016 Lowlight(s): McMurray’s worst finish came at a very inopportune time. In the cutoff race of the Round of 16 at Dover, the No. 1 team suffered a blown engine and finished last, ending any chance of advancing to the next round of the Chase.

He also had the dubious honor, along with Kahne, of not leading a single lap during the season.

2017 Outlook: The relationship between McMurray and McCall seems to be working, as the pair has not missed the Chase yet. He also has a great teammate in Kyle Larson, who continues to improve each year. With Stewart-Haas Racing moving to Ford and HScott Motorsports suspending operations, Chip Ganassi Racing will be the only team with Hendrick support. If all these relationships continue to improve, look for McMurray to be competing for top-fives and wins next year, rather than just top-10s.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KaseyMcNerney

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

Second Time The Charm for Logano?

For the second round in a row, Joey Logano won the last race to move on to the next part of the Chase. Now, the 26-year-old is in a familiar spot: battling for the championship at Homestead.

In 2014, Logano qualified for the Championship Round with a sixth-place finish at Phoenix. The No. 22 team was in a position to potentially capture their first championship when a mistake on pit road involving the jack relegated them to finishing 16th.

This time, things appear to be different. Logano won Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix, gaining and keeping the lead on late restarts. Winning two of the last four races, he seems to have momentum on his side. There is an air of confidence surrounding the team.

“I love that we’ve got speed,” said crew chief Todd Gordon. “I love that our pit crew has got confidence, and our race team has got confidence. On top of that, we’ve got a guy that’s a closer. I think Joey elevates when pressure gets put on him. A lot of those things, you look at it, and it makes it very optimistic about what we can do next week.”

Logano’s stats in the Chase have been comparable to 2014, with two wins and multiple top-fives. But the whole team seems much more confident about its chances in Miami. One of the main differences is the mentality, according to Logano.

“You know, I remember last time I was calling Todd,” he said, “what else can we do, is there anything else, and you get so — I guess you’re looking at every little detail, as you should, but you’ve also got to be able to turn it off, and that’s where I didn’t do that before.”

He also believes that 2014’s heartbreaking loss may actually be contributing to better chances this season.

“After the race, everyone told me, you’ve got to lose one to win one, and I thought that was the biggest crock of crap I’ve ever heard in my life. But you know what, it’s not the fact that you have to lose one to win one. It’s the fact that maybe it really helped me to just live through it once, and since then, we’ve been in those situations.”

Even just this season, Logano has been in situations where he’s had to win or come close to advance, and he pulled it off. If he can do it again, he may just take home his first Sprint Cup.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KaseyMcNerney

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: O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas

As the Round of 8 nears an end in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, series regulars have still not won a race in the round. Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway was controlled by Cup drivers and was mostly uneventful for the Chasers.

 

Cup Driver Dominance

Brad Keselowski seemed poised to take home a dominant victory after leading 145 of 200 laps. But on a late race restart, Kyle Larson hung tough on the top. Larson eventually cleared the No. 22 and never looked back. The two Sprint Cup drivers led 175 laps between them.

Only two XFINITY drivers, Erik Jones and Brennan Poole, led laps. Jones took the lead at the start and led for the first 23 laps, while Poole held the lead for two laps during green flag pit stops. Jones crossed the finish line in fourth as the highest finishing XFINITY regular, while Poole finished eighth.

Kevin Harvick in the No. 88 Chevrolet never led, but finished third, making it a Cup sweep of the top three positions. Austin Dillon was the only other Cup driver in the field and came home seventh.

 

Must-win Situations?

All eight Chase drivers finished in the top 15, but that wasn’t enough for some drivers.

Brendan Gaughan is 23 points behind the cutoff heading to Phoenix. Gaughan started 16th and ran around this position for most of the race, battling a tire rub and was lapped twice. The No. 62 Chevrolet finished 15th.

Darrell Wallace Jr. stayed out of trouble and finished 11th, but he is still 20 points behind fourth.

Both drivers will likely need a win or lots of luck to advance to the Championship Round at Homestead.

 

Bubble Spots Still Close

Coming into Saturday’s race, all that separated the bubble drivers was a tie breaker. Now it is a single point. Justin Allgaier finished 10th, yet fell a spot in the standings to fifth, one point behind Blake Koch.

Jones jumped up into the top four with a fourthplace finish at Texas, but he is still only seven points to the good. In fact, only 11 points separate the driver of the No. 20 Toyota from Ryan Reed, who sits sixth in the standings.

Expect even more points shuffling over the course of next week’s race at Phoenix.

 

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KaseyMcNerney

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.