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NASCAR Cup Series

Elliott Rising at the Right Time

Chase Elliott didn’t enter the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs as a championship favorite.

A regular season of mixed results and a lack of speed among the four Hendrick Motorsports teams with the new Chevy Camaro ZL1 led many to expect similar struggles in the final 10 races. 

After rebounding from a crash in the playoff opener at Las Vegas with two top-10 performances at Richmond and Charlotte, Elliott advanced to the Round of 12 where he became a serious championship contender.

He capitalized when Kevin Harvick made two costly mistakes late at Dover and Kansas and scored both victories to put himself in the Round of 8 for the second consecutive season.

Now he will look for redemption this fall after narrowly missing the Championship 4 in 2017.

After pacing 123 laps and leading with three laps to go at Martinsville Speedway last year, contact from Denny Hamlin sent Elliott spinning, costing him a shot at an automatic spot in the final four.

Elliott bounced back in the season’s penultimate event at ISM Raceway, pacing the field for 34 laps and leading late before Matt Kenseth passed him with 10 laps remaining to take the win.

Those opportunities were coupled with the pressure of securing his first career NASCAR Cup Series victory. However, that pressure has been alleviated entering this season’s Round of 8.

While the No. 9 team has yet to dominate a race en route to victory like Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. have, a combination of momentum and increased speed places Elliott on the championship radar.

After struggling for much of the season at 1.5-mile tracks, Kansas showed an improved intermediate performance for Elliott. Demonstrating that again at Texas will be crucial to set up for the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Reaching the Championship 4 remains the challenge at hand for Elliott. However, the playoffs reward performers who execute under pressure and Elliott has proven that through six races.

Seeing if he can maintain this performance in the Round of 8, advance to the final four and rise above the competition at Homestead will ultimately decide his fate in 2018.

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
NASCAR Cup Series

Kenseth Wins The Pole in Wild Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race Qualifying

CONCORD, N.C. – On Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Matt Kenseth put an exclamation point on his return to racing at NASCAR’s highest level, winning the pole for Saturday night’s Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race (6 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

In the unique All-Star qualifying format, which features three laps and a four-tire stop with no pit road speed limit, Kenseth posted a total time of 2:07.644 for an average speed of 126.915 mph to edge Roush Fenway Racing teammate Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (126.427 mph) for the Monster Energy Pole Award in the exhibition race that pays $1 million to win.

The driver of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford won his third pole for the All-Star Race, his last coming in 2007. Kenseth won the event in 2004, the year after he secured his series championship.

Behind the Roush Fenway drivers are two more Fords, the No. 14 of Clint Bowyer and the No. 4 of Kevin Harvick, winner of the last two Cup series events and five this season.

Kenseth was the 10th driver to make a qualifying run, and he had to wait for the remaining seven drivers to complete their attempts. When Kyle Larson, the last qualifier, shot down pit road like a cannonball and slip three stalls past his pit box, Kenseth knew the pole was his.

Kenseth secured the top starting spot without the opportunity to practice, thanks to a downpour that ended the session before some cars had a chance to run.

“The car drove good,” Kenseth said. “It seemed fine. It was our first laps on the track today with all the rain, and Ricky (Stenhouse) was a huge help to me going out early and helping me with my braking on pit road and his spotter up there helping me. That was a big help to get us up there like that.

“To have both cars on the front row is really a tribute to these guys-the pit stops, obviously the engines and all the restrictor-plate stuff. This was more about the car and the team than it was about me.”

For the first time, NASCAR incorporated a competition package for Charlotte that included restrictor plates on the engines-offset by larger rear spoilers designed to add downforce and drag.

Both Kenseth and Stenhouse had little trouble mastering the new feel of the cars, and their pit stops-expedited by changing left-side tires first-were among the best of the night. Stenhouse qualified second despite running over a drainage grate trying to cut the corner near the entrance to Turn 1 after his pit stop.

“I thought I would cut the corner as low as I could, and I got right past the wall and saw that pothole and I was wide open and I hit it,” Stenhouse said. “Yeah, that was not good on the equipment, but my guys did an awesome job. No penalties. That was big.

“Any time you do a format like this, being penalty-free is good. I do think I could have gotten to pit road better. Right now, I’m glad that we beat the 48 (Jimmie Johnson) and the 2 (Brad Keselowski) because those cars were really good at doing this last year. Track position will be pretty key come tomorrow night.”

Reigning series champion Martin Truex Jr. will start fifth next to Ryan Blaney. Kyle Busch, Keselowski, Daytona 500 winner Austin Dillon and Joey Logano will start sixth through 10th, respectively. Busch is the defending winner of the race.

Jamie McMurray posted the fastest time (2:06.595 mph) but drew a five-second penalty because of a loose lug nut. McMurray will line up 12th, one spot behind Johnson, whose effort was foiled by a 19.9-second pit stop.

Qualifying for the Monster Energy Open, which will advance its three stage winners to the All-Star Race, was a victim of the rains that played havoc with track activity on Friday afternoon. The field for Saturday’s qualifying race was set by owner points, with Aric Almirola getting the pole position and Erik Jones the outside of the front row.

Hendrick Motorsports teammates Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott will start third and fourth, respectively, in the 50-lap Open, which will be contested in stages of 20, 20 and 10 laps before the main event. The final starting spot in the All-Star Race will be determined by the Fan Vote.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Matt Kenseth Returns to Roush Fenway Racing

There’s no place like home, and for Matt Kenseth, a lot of people felt that Roush Fenway Racing was always that for him. After beginning his career there 18 years ago, he will return to the organization this season.

As announced at the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday morning, Kenseth will share the No. 6 Ford Fusion with Trevor Bayne for the rest of the 2018 campaign. Bayne has driven the first nine races this year, with a season-best 12th at Texas Motor Speedway. 

“It’s a great feeling to return to where it all started for me in the Cup Series,” said Kenseth. “There aren’t many people who have been more influential in my racing career than Jack Roush and Mark Martin. For them to believe in me today means almost as much as it did when they believed in me the first time, 20 years ago. I’m excited to get to the shop, get back to work, and help Roush Fenway return to prominence in the NASCAR Cup Series.”

Kenseth felt this partnership with Roush Fenway was the right fit for him at this time in wanting to help Jack Roush after all he had done for Kenseth’s career to date. 

“I think they’ve been trending in the right direction,” he said. “I think our bar is on the upswing. I think it’s a good challenge that I’m looking forward to in getting my hands dirty and evaluating what we can do better.”

The details as to whom will drive when have yet to be finalized, but the team confirmed Kenseth’s first race back will be at Kansas Speedway on May 12, and he will run the Monster Energy All-Star race at Charlotte Motor Speedway a week later. While no contract lengths were openly discussed, there were hints of this being a long-term deal with a possibility for Kenseth to be involved with the organization beyond his time behind the wheel. 

As of Wednesday morning when the announcement was made, Kenseth said he had yet to speak with Bayne about things, but hoped he embraced the plan and expected to talk with him next week at length. Roush Fenway Racing’s Steve Newmark went on to add that he spoke with Bayne, and thought “he reacted just like any of us would’ve – he’s a fierce competitor wants to be in the car every week,” while adding that there’d be continued dialogue. 

Beginning with his rookie campaign in 2000, Kenseth spent the next 13 seasons at Roush Fenway Racing behind the wheel of the No. 17 Ford, winning the Daytona 500 in 2012, followed by a championship a year later. He then went to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013, remaining there until the end of last year when he replaced by Erik Jones. In total, the Wisconsin native has captured 39 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victories, along with 181 top-fives. 

“We are very pleased to welcome Matt back to Roush Fenway,” said team co-owner Jack Roush. “Matt is one of the guys who really put us on the map of the racing landscape. He’s one of the most talented drivers to ever sit inside a race car and his will to win, drive and determination have always embodied what we strive for as an organization.”

Roush added at the announcement that he looks forward to watching Kenseth win more races for the organization while mentoring the team’s younger drivers. 

“We look at Matt as the best in the business at being able to access and make our program better,” he continued. 

The new partnership brings a new company to the sport, in the form of a multi-year deal with Wyndham Rewards. 

“With iconic brands like Wyndham®, Days Inn®, Super 8®, Ramada® and more, Wyndham Rewards was built for the everyday traveler, and that’s who race fans are—they are the folks hitting the road, heading from track to track, supporting their drivers and showing their love of the sport,” said Eliot Hamlisch, vice president of worldwide loyalty and partnerships at Wyndham Hotel Group. “Roush Fenway is one of the most recognized names in racing and the opportunity to work with them in support of Matt’s homecoming is something we see as really special.”

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
NASCAR Cup Series

5 BIGGEST STORYLINES OF 2017: Retirement

From the Daytona 500 in February to the last checkered flag of the year at Homestead-Miami Speedway in November, the world of left turns – with an occasional right – keeps everybody on the edge of their seats. While the on-track action keeps eyes peeled on the asphalt, the discussion, and headlines generated away from the competition result in plenty of water cooler talk.

The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season was no exception, as there were lots to talk about right from the beginning. As we close a chapter on another year, POPULAR SPEED is going to reflect upon the five most significant storylines in a series of articles.

The first of those touches upon one filled with emotion – retirement. 

Over the past couple of years, fans have walked many of their favorites walk away from the sport. In 2015, Jeff Gordon hung up the helmet, while Tony Stewart walked away from NASCAR competition in 2016. This past season was no different, with three more big names calling it quits.

After missing most of the second half of the 2016 campaign healing from a concussion, Dale Earnhardt Jr. returned to the track this year. But in April, he announced that the 2017 season would be his last full-time campaign. The announcement was significant, considering the third-generation racer has been considered the leader for the sport, winning the Most Popular Driver Award the past 15 straight years.

The good news for fans in helping the adjustment period is that Earnhardt has stated he will run at least one NASCAR XFINITY Series event next season and will be in the broadcast booth for the second half of 2018 with NBC. At least during a time of trying to see where their loyalty rests in the sport – whether remaining a fan and tuned in, or finding another driver to cheer for, they will still get to connect to their leader of JR Nation. 

In November, Matt Kenseth revealed he would be stepping away from the sport as he was unable to find a ride for 2018 after being let go from Joe Gibbs Racing in replace of Erik Jones. It is sad that a guy who can still get the job done, as evident by his win at Phoenix Raceway, is being forced out of the seat over youth and dollars. It once again brings up the conversation that fans have debated for the past couple years now of how much talent versus money plays into the equation. 

Lastly, Danica Patrick dropped the last domino when she stated at the season finale that the 2017 campaign is her last full-time, and she will run the Daytona 500 and Indianapolis 500 in 2018 before retiring. Arguably, she has not had the best statistics as compared to other drivers. However, her impact on the sport goes beyond that.

Each week, little girls look up to her as a role model to possibly enter the sport themselves one day. How much will that affect these ladies moving forward? Talented female drivers are coming up through the ranks, such as Natalie Decker with a full-time ARCA deal for Venturini Motorsports, but is that enough to continue the diversity movement that Patrick helped build upon? 

With three of the most prominent names stepping away – five in the past three years, some have begged the question – what happens now with the sport? 

This period isn’t the first time drivers of this magnitude have walked away from NASCAR in groups, with each of those retirements sparking a new era. The sport survived when Richard Petty hung up the helmet, and when Dale Earnhardt died. So can it do so once again? Absolutely.

There are plenty of veterans still behind the wheel, continuing to add to their career numbers with personalities to carry us forward. Competitors like Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Kyle Busch, and Martin Truex Jr. are just to name a few. 

Beyond those, we have a young crop of drivers are beginning to establish themselves on-track, while drawing fans to them with their personalities through social media and appearances.

The next biggest storyline discussed in the series touches upon that, with the youth movement of the sport. 

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

 

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NASCAR Cup Series Nigel Kinrade Photography

A Look Back Through Matt Kenseth’s Career

Since making his debut in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 1998, Matt Kenseth has been full throttle ever since, including a series championship in 2003. From making us laugh to intense battles on track, Kenseth has certainly made a lot of memories through the years.

With no plans set for the 2018 season, Kenseth announced a couple weeks ago that the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway would be his final career event. 

Here’s a glance back through his career over the past 19 years.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

Kenseth made his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut in 1998 at Dover International Speedway with an impressive sixth-place finish. 

Getty Images for NASCAR

In the midst of his rookie campaign in 2000, Kenseth led 32 laps en route to scoring his first career victory in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

Kenseth scored his first career pole award in 2002 at Dover International Speedway. 

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

Despite only winning a single race in 2003, Kenseth won the championship on the heels of 25 top-10’s. He is largely disputed as the driver who brought forth the chase and playoff formats so champions would no longer be crowned weeks before the finale.

Tyler Barrick | NKP

Leading just nine laps, Kenseth scored his first of two Daytona 500 victories in 2009 in a rain shortened affair.

Michael L. Levitt | NKP

Kenseth is one of a few drivers that can say they won the Great American Race twice, as he was victorious in 2012.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

After driving for Jack Roush for 12 straight full seasons in the Cup Series, Kenseth left the organization at season’s end to join Joe Gibbs Racing for 2013.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

Kenseth may have only won a single championship over the years, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t close to repeating the feat. He scored a pair of runner-ups in the standings since then, including 2013 after winning seven races that season.  

Matthew Thacker | NKP

Although known for being respectful on-track, Kenseth had a couple disputes with drivers through the years, including the tackle on Brad Keselowski at Charlotte Motor Speedway, and the memorable payback for Joey Logano at Martinsville Speedway.

Nigel Kinrade | NKP

Kenseth got the opportunity to go out a winner, scoring his 39th career Cup Series victory at Phoenix Raceway in the second last event of 2017.

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

Growth, Not Elimination Will Define Elliott’s Season

Chase Elliott came within ten laps of his first career victory and spot in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship 4 in Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway.

He entered the race needing a win to advance to the season finale and proved capable of pulling off the feat by taking the lead late before Matt Kenseth retook the top spot.

“It’s just such a bummer,” Elliott said. “I was telling my guys we’ll get it right someday, or I’ll get it right someday. We’ve had so many good opportunities, and at some point, we’ve just got to close.”

The second-place finish for the No. 24 team marked their fourth in the Playoffs, attesting to the championship-contender strength Elliott showcased throughout the first three rounds.

While a stout title run ended in a disappointing elimination, it won’t be what’s remembered most about Elliott’s sophomore year.

The growth the 21-year-old has shown throughout 2017 will be how the season is defined as it nearly led him to the championship race.

He made significant gains over his rookie campaign in the finishes column, earning one additional top-five and three more top-10’s with one race left to add to those numbers.

The No. 24 car has also paced the field for over 200 more laps this season, which contributed to an improved average finishing position of 12.2 over last year’s 14.6.

Aside from statistics, the Hendrick Motorsports driver has been a consistent challenger for much of 2017 and has especially shined in the last nine races.

After not having shown dominant speed for a majority of the regular season, not many expected Elliott to be as dangerous of a threat as he turned into as the Playoffs progressed.

Phoenix marked the third post-season event that he led late but couldn’t capitalize to earn his first career victory after falling short at Dover and Martinsville as well.

Elliott again expressed frustration on Sunday but being in a position to contend for wins in high-pressure races shows significant career progress.

Strong performances towards the end of the year highlight the strides Elliott has made since February, fulfilling his goal of improvement in each race.

“I hope we grow every week,” Elliott said. “I hope I grow as a person every week and grow as a racer every week. That is something I think everybody tries to do and I try to do better and do my job and came up short again, and that is frustrating, and I get it.”

After a hard-fought Playoffs effort, the focus is on what Elliott could have done differently.

However, the most significant takeaway will be that he established himself as a top contender and how hungry he will be for success in 2018.

“We just have to keep our morale high and go to Homestead next week and get ready to close out the season strong and bring everything we’ve got come next season,” Elliott said.

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.

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Commentary

5 Takeaways From Phoenix

Sunday’s Can-Am 500 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at Phoenix Raceway was about as wild and emotional and affair as we’ve seen all year, a crazy roller coaster of ups and downs for drivers, teams and fans alike.

In the end, it was lame-duck Matt Kenseth, on his way out the door at Joe Gibbs Racing to make room for the younger and presumably less expensive Erik Jones, who drove his butt off to win over Chase Elliott, Martin Truex Jr. and the aforementioned Jones.

And the race set the championship field for next week, which will feature Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. racing heads-up for a championship. Whoever has the best finish of the four will be the champion.

The Phoenix race demonstrated five key components to NASCAR racing that are some of the reasons it’s still so damned compelling to watch.

Plot lines

Talk about a ton of sub-plots: Which driver would be the last one to make it into the final four? It turned out to be Keselowski, but for most of the race it looked like he’d get knocked out. Would Chase Elliott rough up Denny Hamlin and finally win a race? Yes and no — Hamlin led a race-high 193 laps but Elliott ran him into the wall and out of the playoffs.

Elliott, meanwhile, got passed by Kenseth with 10 laps to go and wound up finishing second for the fourth time in nine playoff races.

Then there was Jimmie Johnson, who was racing for an eighth championship but got knocked out by a cut tire just before the end of the second stage. There were all sorts of plots and subplots all day long, and, yes, stage racing added to the intrigue.

Emotion

Kenseth is one of the coolest guys you’ll ever meet — smart, funny and one hell of a wheelman. And he had dark glasses on during his post-race interview as he fought through the emotions running through him. Don’t let anyone kid you: This meant the world to Kenseth and he drove like it. That was real emotion you saw in the post-race interviews.

“It couldn’t be any sweeter. I just don’t know how else to explain it, you know?” said Kenseth. “You always feel like you can get the job done, but, you know, if you’ve got a big enough sample size of numbers, numbers don’t really lie, so we needed to go out and get the job done and get us a win and we were able to do that today, so we’ve got one more race left and, like I said, great way to go out.”

And when asked about spraying team owner Joe Gibbs with champagne in Victory Lane, Kenseth quipped, “What’s he going to do, fire me?”

Revenge

In racing, you need a good guy and a bad guy. Depending on where your loyalties are, Denny Hamlin and Chase Elliott each fit one of those roles. Elliott  was leading at Martinsville two weeks ago when Hamlin drilled him into the wall with two laps to go. At Phoenix, Elliott ran Hamlin up into the wall and a few laps later, Hamlin popped a tire and crashed, his playoff hopes over.

Interestingly, both men owned it in their post-race comments.

“Oh, well I’m going to race guys how they race me and keep a smile on my face regardless,” said Elliott. “I’m happy to race guys how they choose to race me and that’s the way I see it.”

“Each person has their own opinion of how they do things,” said Hamlin. “It just proves to people who thought I was the bad guy that he would do the exact same thing under the same circumstances. That’s part of racing. I got into him and he retaliates, so I’m in the garage and that’s the way it is.”

Redemption

Keselowski and the No. 2 Team Penske Ford were off the pace most of the day, failing to pick up any points in either of the first two stages. But Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe persisted, and at the end, the team gutted out a 16th-place finish, which was enough to advance them to the title race next week.

“This feels a little bit like Christmas,” said Keselowski. “Sometimes you need a little luck on your side. Today we had that. It wasn’t by any means where we wanted to run. We wanted to run up front and have a shot for the win. That wasn’t in the cards. We tried to run the smartest race we could and survive and it ended up paying off in the end.”  

Classiness

Elliott raced Hamlin physically, making contact with him on a couple of occasions. Elliott didn’t put the bumper to Kenseth, who he’d never had an issue with before. And, bummed out as he was that he didn’t win, Elliott walked down to Victory Lane to congratulate Kenseth on his win.

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News

Matt Kenseth Comes Up Huge to Win in Phoenix

If you were waiting for a Game 7 moment in the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series playoffs, it came Sunday at Phoenix Raceway, where Matt Kenseth passed Chase Elliott with 10 laps to go to capture Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at the penultimate race of the 2017 Cup Series season.

Kenseth, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver who has no ride for next year, won over Elliott’s Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing teammates Martin Truex Jr. and Erik Jones, and Kevin Harvick.

“Just got one race left and everybody dreams of going out a winner,” said Kenseth, the 2003 NASCAR champion who won his 39th career race. “We won today. Nobody can take that one away from us. It was a heck of a race with Chase there.”

But the big news is the field is now set for next Sunday’s championship race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski will battle for the title. Whichever one of those four drivers has the best finish at Homestead will be the 2017 Cup champion.

Eliminated from championship contention at Phoenix were seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Elliott, Ryan Blaney of Wood Brothers Racing, and Joe Gibbs Racing’s Denny Hamlin.

In the Phoenix race, Blaney started from the pole, but Hamlin and his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota showed early speed before getting passed by Kyle Larson, who won Stage 1. But Hamlin, who came into the race outside the top four in the standings, picked up 9 points by finishing second in Stage 1.

In Stage 2, Hamlin led the whole way, picking up another 10 stage points, which meant he was tied in point with Keselowski., who failed to get points in either of the first two stages. One lap before the end of the second stage, Johnson had a tire failure and went hard into the wall, knocking him out of the race.

But after a caution in Stage 3, Hamlin’s crew got only four lug nuts on his left-rear tire during a pit stop. And during that stop, he was passed by his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Matt Kenseth.

Then, with 42 laps to go, Elliott tried to pass Hamlin and rode him up to the wall. Just four laps later, Hamlin blew a tire and his championship hopes were over after leading 193 laps.

And following another restart, Elliott passed Kenseth with 29 laps to go and appeared to be ready to win his first race.

But Kenseth passed him with 10 laps to go to take his first victory of the year and dash Elliott’s hopes of racing for a title.

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Commentary

Despite Frustrations, NASCAR Damaged Vehicle Policy Is Good For The Sport

Over the past two weeks, NASCAR’s Damaged Vehicle Policy has been critiqued by competitors, the media, and fans alike. However, there’s more good than wrong, and it’s certainly something the sanctioning body should not change.

In February, the policy was revealed by officials to be put in effect for all three of NASCAR’s three premier series – Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, NASCAR XFINITY Series, and NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

Teams are not allowed to replace body panels and would be only given five minutes from the time they enter pit road to fix the racecar. If you try to speed on pit road to give their teams a better chance, they will be assessed a 15-second penalty to their allotted five minutes. Lastly, no more than six men are allowed to touch the car at once. If repairs cannot be repaired within those guidelines, they were sent to the garage with their race over.

NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition stated at the time the rules were put in place as damaged cars result in debris cautions. The move also came to stop drivers from going back and crashing their competitor in revenge, like Matt Kenseth with Joey Logano at Martinsville Speedway. It also helped in the eyes of competition, too, as competitors won’t be forced to maneuver around slower vehicles.

Through the season, the policy has worked smoothly without complaints from drivers or teams – until the past two weeks.

At Talladega after being involved in a wreck with 16 laps to go, Jimmie Johnson was sent to the garage due to the team working on the car under the red flag. Policy or before it was implemented, you were not allowed to work when the event was stopped, but allowed to start once lifted – which teams try to time precisely.

Initially, the seven-time champion was left confused, stating his spotter Earl Barber gave them cue to begin working due to the flag being lifted. However, it was explained afterward by NASCAR that the team heard the command wrong.

“What happens is, David Hoots, our race director, will say — as he did yesterday — the cars on the backstretch can fire their engines,” an official told Sirius XM Radio. “We’re still under red. What happened yesterday, we talked to Jimmie, Chad (Knaus) and Mr. (car owner Rick) Hendrick and they understood. So what happened is, David said fire engines and the team assumed they could go back to work. Our officials were on pit road saying you can’t do that. So because they worked under red, that put them out of the event.”

Then on Sunday at Kansas Speedway, Johnson found himself stuck on the five-minute clock longer than he probably anticipated. Battling a loose car, he spun the No. 48 Chevrolet off of turn four through the grass on Lap 189. With only minor hood damage, the Hendrick Motorsports team made repairs under caution within the allotted time.

Johnson would go back on track, spinning for a second time the first lap after the restart. Per the NASCAR rulebook, you must complete a full lap under green and be up to full speed to be taken off the five-minute clock. Therefore, Johnson only had what time he hadn’t used up before. Fortunately, he avoided damage and was able to change tires and make an adjustment within the same allotted time.

He would get stuck on the clock a little longer due to wreck happening on the next restart on Lap 199, but he avoided the incident. Once the event went back to green on Lap 205 with at least one lap being completed, he was taken off the clock.

The decision to keep a driver on the clock through a series of events like those may seem puzzling but makes sense. They’re stopping a driver from going out, realizing they can’t make minimum speed and purposely spinning to bring forth another caution and more time to work on their car. Johnson’s second incident wasn’t intentional as he got out of the groove and got loose, but what if he would’ve realized something was broken and had been buying time?

Although the clock was discussed surrounding Johnson, the policy took center stage when it came to Matt Kenseth. He was one of the drivers caught up in a wreck at Lap 199 after Erik Jones got loose off of turn two, crashed into the wall, taking several competitors out with him. 

The Joe Gibbs Racing competitor came down pit road, stopping in his box for repairs. Everything was legal until a seventh crew member stepped over the wall, and began helping another with the left front. The move was deemed illegal – per the policy of only having six crew members at a time working on the car, and Kenseth was sent to the garage, eliminating him from the playoffs.

The call from the tower resulted in discussion across social media during the race, with a photo pulled from earlier in the event of Jimmie Johnson having seven crew members over the wall while he was on the clock. Kenseth’s son Ross shared the image on Twitter, tagging NASCAR on NBC broadcaster Jeff Burton.

If you read the initial rules announced by the series, Johnson would be deemed illegal – except he was not. The rulebook includes a stipulation regarding a seventh man.

Each pit crew is made up of six people – front tire changer, front tire carrier, Jackman, rear tire changer, rear tire changer, and the fuel man.

Though during events, NASCAR can allow teams to have a seventh man over the wall – as long as he is just servicing the driver. Those duties can include pulling the windshield tear off or handing the driver a drink or food, but in no way can they do anything else to the car. The stipulation in the damage policy follows merely the standard protocol.

NBC did a great job amongst the controversy, with Burton breaking down Johnson’s time spent on pit road.

Whether something, like cleaning a windshield or not, should be classed under servicing the driver or not is up for discussion – really, they’re making sure they can see clearly for safety purposes. However, based on the rules, it is all fair and legal.

When the damage policy was initially unveiled, some fans grumbled about long gone are the days of watching teams scramble to put a car back together, or seeing someone come back from nine pit stops to fix the damage and win a race (Dale Earnhardt Jr. at Talladega in 2013).

However, despite these minor frustrations which were quickly cleared up, the safety reasons outweigh the cons and is a rule change that NASCAR should stick in stone forever.

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Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Pit Road Violation Knocks Kenseth Out of Playoffs

It’s one thing to get beaten on the track, it’s another thing to be beaten by the rule book.

Just ask Matt Kenseth, the 2003 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.

Kenseth qualified third for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway, where he ran a strong race and appeared set to advance to Round 3 of the Cup playoffs.

Then, disaster.

On Lap 198 of the 267-lap race, Erik Jones lost control of his Furniture Row Racing Toyota on the backstretch, triggering a 14-car crash that snared Kenseth’s Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Kenseth’s car suffered significant damage, which put it on the 5-minute crash clock. Under caution, Kenseth brought the car down pit road, where his JGR crew jumped into action.

Unfortunately, seven crew members went over the wall, instead of the permitted six. That was a violation of NASCAR’s Damaged Vehicle Policy, with the mandated penalty being immediate disqualification.

Instead of moving on in the playoffs in his final season with Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth’s title hopes are over with a 37th-place finish. And with no confirmed ride for 2018, it was an especially bitter blow.

“I don’t know what any of the rules are,” said Kenseth. “Seems like we got a lot of stuff that kind of gets, you know, changed so often I honestly can’t keep up with it. My head kind of spins from putting lugnuts out of pit boxes to one too many guys over the wall, you’re not allowed to race anymore.

“I just don’t get it to be honest with you,” he said. “I really don’t have a lot good to say right now. I’m more than disappointed. …  We showed some flashes of brilliance this season, been off and on, been fast at times, had great pit stops at times, just haven’t been able to put it all together like a championship team needs to. Unfortunately this is an example of that. I hope that I can do a better job here the next four weeks and hopefully go get a win.”