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NASCAR Cup Series

Kenseth Crashes Out at California

Unfortunately, Matt Kenseth wasn’t California dreaming at the end of the Auto Club 400 as he crashed out of the event with 16 laps to go.

Starting from the sixth position, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver faded at the start and ran just outside of the top-10 throughout most of the race. Though with strategy, he was able to make his way up through the field, coming off pit road in fourth with 20 laps to go.

On the restart off of turn two, Kenseth was sandwiched between Jamie McMurray and Martin Truex Jr. His No. 20 Peak Toyota Camry got loose, followed by a slight tap from Truex. The result was Kenseth sliding across the pavement and making substantial contact with the inside safer barrier. Fortunately, he was okay.

“I just didn’t do the best job getting through the gears, and I think the 1 (Jamie McMurray) got snuck outside of me, so I was trying to leave room for him on the top,” Kenseth said. “Then I just got hit in the left rear quarter panel off of Turn 2 and got spun out, and I was just kind of along for the ride.”

With a 36th place finish, Kenseth currently sits 25th in the series standings heading to Martinsville Speedway.

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.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Kenseth, Logano Among Those Crashed Out with Tire Issues

With the temperature at 95 degrees in the desert, the fans and drivers weren’t the only ones victim of the heat. Brake temperature was high as well, resulting in some melted beads and blown tires for drivers.

The problems first surfaced on Lap 97 as Corey LaJoie made contact with the wall in turn one. LaJoie was already running deep in the running order as a result of contact with the wall on Lap 28 virtue of contact from Reed Sorenson.

The second incident happened on Lap 191 when Matt Kenseth blew a tire, resulting in substantial contact with the outside wall. He had been running just outside of the top-10 at the time.

“We just blew a front tire,” he said. “We kind of struggled with our Tide PODS Camry most of the day. We got a little bit better that run, but we weren’t handling the way we needed to for sure and just ended up failing a front tire.”

The issues continued throughout the race as with 108 laps to go, David Ragan cut a left rear tire, going around and taking Gray Gaulding to the wall with him. Ragan’s tire wasn’t as a result of excessive heat, though.

Trevor Bayne is the one that is kind of to blame,” Ragan said. “He tried to wreck Danica (Patrick) three of four consecutive laps. He was driving over his head and all over the race track. I was kind of a result of their shenanigans. They were bouncing off each other, and I tried to go low and actually made contact with Matt DiBenedetto and had a tire rub and was going to come in that lap. Just cut our tire.

“I am proud of our Jacob Companies Ford Fusion team. They worked hard, and we had a decent car today. We struggled some on Friday and Saturday but we made some good gains, and you will have that. We have a lot of racing left this year.”

The caution then flew for a seventh time at Lap 256 as a result of Cole Whitt hitting the wall in turn two due to a flat right front tire.

Joey Logano suffered the fifth tire issue of the day, blowing a tire with six laps to go and hitting the turn one wall. After leading early in the event, he had worked his way back to the top-10 following a pit road penalty in the second stage.

“The brakes are fine; we just blew a right front,” he said. “Probably just overheated the bead. I am sure that is what it was. There is not much you can do when the right front blows out. We had a good car in the beginning of the race and then just fell off and got a pit road speeding penalty, and it was hard to get back up there. We were getting closer but out long run speed was off. We have to figure out how to get faster here on the long run.”

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.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Kenseth and Elliott Score from the Penalty Box

Over the course of the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500, eight drivers were hit with pit road speeding penalties throughout the day. While it crippled the day of some, Matt Kenseth and Chase Elliott were able to fight back for top-five finishes on Sunday afternoon.

Starting from the 16th position, Kenseth kept himself in contention for a spot just outside of the top-10, biding his time in the early stages. However, the relaxed approach wouldn’t last as he’d be busted for speeding on pit road at Lap 35, putting him two laps down after serving his penalty. He was able to cycle out to being just a lap down by the end of the first stage at Lap 85.

However, his race took another hit under the stage ending caution as he was again caught for being too fast on pit road. As a result, he’d have to start at the tail-end of the longest line, making it harder to put himself in position for a free pass.

Kenseth remained trapped a lap down through the second stage but was able to capitalize on one of the four cautions in the last stage by taking the wave-around to get back on the lead lap. Once another caution came out, and he got to put four fresh tires on, he made his charge, racing up into the sixth position just before the final caution waved with 18 laps to go. His Joe Gibbs Racing pit crew gave him a solid pit stop, allowing him to restart in the second spot.

Despite not firing off strong on the restart and falling back a couple of spots as the outside had plagued drivers all day, he was able to battle back and finish the event in third.

“Our DEWALT Camry was really fast,” Kenseth said. “We just sped on pit road there some – all our lights were right, so I don’t know. We must have – something happened there, and that got us behind. Then we were trying to get caught up, and it happened again, so we just had to forgot about our indications, just go real slow down pit road and finally came back from it all. Just couldn’t get rolling in that top lane. It’s such a disadvantage on restarts, and we were going to line up third, and I was like, ‘Man, I don’t think anybody is going to beat Kevin (Harvick). He led all day, but we might at least have a shot,’ but I ended up second, and those two first guys cleared me, and I just couldn’t get around them in that many laps.”

While Kenseth sped early in the event, Elliott’s speeding penalty happened much later in the race. Starting from 11th, he quickly broke into the top-five in the initial laps en route to finishing third in the first stage, followed by a runner-up in the second stage.

Continuing to show speed and possibly at times looking as though he’d challenge the race leader Kevin Harvick, everything began to unravel when he came down pit road with 113 laps to go for a green-flag pit stop, being caught too fast entering. Elliott came back down pit road to serve his penalty, placing him on the tail end of the lead lap, 25 seconds behind Harvick. He was able to hold on, though, keeping himself ahead till the caution flew 25 laps later for debris.

Restarting in the 14th position, Elliott drove his way back to the front of the field, moving into second before the final caution flew with 18 laps to go. Unfortunately, a small slip-up by the Jackman on pit road resulted in Elliott losing spots on pit road, restarting fourth.

“It’s one of those things where it’s hard to be frustrated at the pit crew because those guys did a really good job all day long,” Elliott said. “We made spots up all day and gained time on Kevin. Those guys having that first pit box obviously didn’t have to go far, but every time I thought we were just inching closer to his back bumper as we came off pit road. I think we have a great foundation on pit road to build off of. I think much improved, and just had a hiccup there at the end of the day, but I don’t think it’s something those guys should be discouraged over.”

Like Kenseth, he wasn’t able to get going as he dropped back to about seventh initially. However, he was able to fight back, crossing the line in fifth. For Elliott, it left him with a taste of frustration after running second to Harvick throughout the majority of the race.

“I thought our car was as good as Kevin’s car was. I just think he did a little better job driving than what I was doing,” he said. “I thought we could run second to him. The majority of the day I thought Brad at times was a little better than us, at times I thought we were a little better than him, and on that last stop we had just a little bit of a hiccup that lost us second spot unfortunately, and after Kevin’s misfortune that would have put us in a really good spot.”

As noted, Kenseth and Elliott were just two of eight drivers to get busted over the course of the race. NASCAR has added extra timing lines on pit road for this season to deter drivers from speeding in the section their pit box is located in, but even with that the drivers were left stumbled by what happened.

“I don’t know what happened there because I was plenty safe from how we set everything, which is the same as last year,” Kenseth said. “I was plenty safe when we got caught and when we went out the second time, I was still playing it safe, and we got caught again leaving under that yellow, so there was something that just didn’t jive to our calculations for whatever reason.”

Elliott said he thinks he knows why he was caught speeding and feels it will easily be corrected for next week, but didn’t want to share the details.

“There’s something that I think a lot of guys are kind of aware of that goes on pit road, and that’s something we need to address kind of internally,” he said. “But I have a pretty good reasoning, and I think why it was, but I really don’t want everybody else to know.”

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.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Drafting Strategy Backfires for Toyota

DAYTONA Beach, Fla. – The Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row Racing Toyota drivers have developed a clear drafting strategy in the DAYTONA 500 over the last two years.

Last February, the five Toyota cars drafted together at the front of the field and led 156 of the 200 laps. Denny Hamlin then battled Martin Truex Jr. side-by-side in the closest finish in “Great American Race” history as the No. 11 edged out the No. 78 at the line.

Now with a sixth Toyota Camry in the field with Furniture Row Racing’s newly formed No. 77 5-Hour Energy team for Erik Jones, the two organizations attempted a similar drafting strategy throughout Speedweeks and in Sunday’s DAYTONA 500.

During the first stage on Sunday, all six Toyota cars pitted early in an attempt to sync up their pit cycle. However, this game plan didn’t turn out as planned as Jones, Daniel Suarez, and Matt Kenseth all ran into trouble on pit road.

Suarez received a speeding penalty entering pit road, Kenseth returned to pit road a second time after flat spotting his tires upon his first entry, and Jones missed his pit stall.

The six teams planned to draft together following the pit stops, but only three teams successfully executed the plan.

By the second stage, Truex Jr., Kyle Busch, Jones, and Kenseth found each other and were able to draft together. However, the strategy again backfired when Busch blew a tire while entering Turn 3.

Truex Jr. led the Toyotas which allowed him to escape the ensuing carnage once Busch’s tire blew unexpectedly and Jones and Kenseth were collected.

“If I would’ve (had an indication the tire was going to blow), I would’ve tried to wave off as many guys behind me as I could, but it happened just as soon as we started picking up load into turn three,” Busch said.

However, having no indication not only cost the 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion his day, but took out half of JGR and FRR’s six-car fleet and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

“I don’t know if it was a left rear that went down or the right that went down but man, tore up three JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) cars in one hit and also Jr. (Dale Earnhardt Jr.),” Busch continued

At the time of the crash, the Toyotas had just positioned themselves in an ideal drafting situation and planned to move to the front throughout the final stage of the race.

“We spent most of the day kind of working our way up through and biding our time and we were finally in the position we wanted to be there to be cycled out with some JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) teammates and our Furniture Row teammate,” Jones said. “Nothing we could do.”

Unlike a year ago, Toyota won’t leave Daytona with the trophy. Michael Waltrip ended up being the highest finishing Toyota during his 30th and final DAYTONA 500 as he finished eighth.

Truex Jr. was the highest finisher among the six JGR affiliated Camry’s as he finished 13th. Hamlin came home 17th, Suarez 29th, Busch 38th, Jones 39th, and Kenseth 40th.

Now the Toyota’s will head to Atlanta and look for redemption after a challenging start to the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season.

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

Two-Time DAYTONA 500 Champions Set to Battle for Supremacy

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The DAYTONA 500 is one of the toughest races to conquer. The struggles of many of NASCAR’s most elite drivers to win this event has been well documented throughout the event’s 59-year history.

When a competitor breakthroughs and captures the prestigious victory, it’s often one of the most emotional wins of the driver’s career. It etches their name in the record books and assures that they will forever be part of Daytona International Speedway history.

A total of 37 drivers have achieved this feat. However, there have only been 11 repeat DAYTONA 500 winners. Four of those drivers will compete on Sunday – Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, and Michael Waltrip.

While Sunday is Waltrip’s 30th and final DAYTONA 500 start, Earnhardt Jr., Johnson, and Kenseth will compete for Daytona supremacy among active full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers.

Earnhardt Jr.’s first DAYTONA 500 victory came in 2004 and marked his second career points-paying victory at the speedway. He led 58 laps en route to victory, which was second most to Tony Stewart who finished second.

A decade later, Earnhardt Jr. conquered the “Great American Race” again as he drove the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports car to Victory Lane. The time between his two victories made for an emotional triumph and once again proved Earnhardt Jr.’s restrictor-plate prowess.

Johnson first visited DAYTONA 500 Victory Lane in 2006 en route to his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship later that season.

He captured the Harley J. Earl trophy again in 2013 as he held off Earnhardt Jr. and Mark Martin. The No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet then went onto to win the July race, sweeping the season’s events at Daytona.

Kenseth had the shortest span of years between his two DAYTONA 500 victories. When weather moved in during the 2009 running, he led the way and captured the win in the rain-shortened race. He only led seven laps en route to victory but capitalized on the luck factor that often plays a crucial role in the event.

When Kenseth came home victorious again in the DAYTONA 500, it followed one of the wildest editions of the race in 2012. He had one of the strongest cars in the event and held off a hard-charging Earnhardt Jr. coming to the checkered flag.

Now all three drivers will look for a momentous third DAYTONA 500 victory on Sunday. Kenseth nearly captured his third win last February but lost the lead in Turn 4 on the final lap He’ll look for redemption after having a dominant performance in 2016.

Earnhardt Jr. hopes to send a statement in his return to the track and battle for his third victory. He has the most second-place finishes with four among the drivers competing for a third win on Sunday.

Now a seven-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion, Johnson will eye capturing a second consecutive NASCAR Cup Series victory after winning the race in addition to the championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway last November.

If Earnhardt Jr., Johnson or Kenseth win tomorrow, they will join an elite group of drivers and tie Bobby Allison, Dale Jarrett, and Jeff Gordon with three victories.

While the DAYTONA 500 continues to be one of the most unpredictable races of the season, the experience all three drivers bring into the event could make a difference as they look to further cement their name into “Great American Race” history.

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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
Commentary

RAPID REACTION: A Chaotic Final Lap

A wild and unpredictable Advance Auto Parts Clash at Daytona International Speedway kicked off the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season on Sunday afternoon.

As drivers climbed back behind-the-wheel for the first time since November, aggressive driving defined the exhibition race as many bold moves were made throughout the event. This competition produced numerous crashes, exciting racing, and chaotic moments.

A Chaotic Final Lap

The drama peaked on the last lap as the hard-charging Team Penske duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano worked their way to the front after running mid-pack for much of the final segment. As race leader Denny Hamlin attempted to block the progress of Keselowski and Logano in Turn 1 and 2, contact ensued.

Hamlin came down in front of Keselowski, sending the No. 11 FedEx Toyota spinning and hindering Keselowski’s momentum. However, Logano avoided the trouble, launched into the lead, and captured his first career victory in the Clash.

Teamwork Tested

Joe Gibbs Racing’s teams worked together throughout the Clash and executed a strategy similar to the 2016 DAYTONA 500. The JGR cars dominated the “Great American Race” last February by running together up front for a majority of the event and leading 154 of the 200 laps. For many of the final 50 laps on Sunday, they repeated this approach, and it nearly delivered another Daytona victory.

Hamlin, Daniel Suarez, and Matt Kenseth paced the field up until the final lap as they raced nose-to-tail. Kyle Busch kept pace at times but was unable to remain in line with his teammates as he battled approaching cars.

When the cars began to shuffle with two laps to go, the JGR train broke up as the Team Penske duo along with Kevin Harvick closed in. While JGR’s strategy to run together worked for a majority of the event, it fell apart in the final laps and ultimately cost the organization a fourth consecutive victory in the Clash.

Busch avoided Hamlin’s spinning car on the last lap and went on to finish second. Suarez came home eighth, Kenseth 11th, and Hamlin 13th after a strong day.

Trouble for Seven-Time

When Jimmie Johnson last competed in a race, he captured the victory and 2016 championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway. However, his day didn’t go as well on Sunday. He was involved in the first two cautions of the race, both featuring crashes off Turn 4.

While exiting the final turn on Lap 17, Johnson’s car broke loose and spun Kurt Busch into the outside wall. Johnson suffered minimal damage, but the accident ended Busch’s day.

On Lap 50, Johnson lost control again coming off Turn 4 and spun by himself, hitting the inside wall. This ended Johnson’s day and raised questions about why the No. 48 car experienced such loose conditions exiting the final turn.

His trouble appeared similar to what took his teammates Chase Elliott and Dale Earnhardt Jr. out of last year’s DAYTONA 500 after they were both involved in separate incidents coming off the final turn.

Where Did They Come From?

Hamlin’s ill-timed block in Turn 1 on the final lap led to contact and a spin and halted the momentum of drivers running the bottom line. However, it transformed into an advantage for competitors racing along the top as they propelled forward and gained multiple positions.

Alex Bowman went from seventh to third in Turn 2 while Danica Patrick catapulted from 10th to fourth. Both had quiet performance in the Clash but remained in position throughout the race and were rewarded at the end by the luck factor that often plays a crucial role in restrictor plate racing.

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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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XFINITY

NASCAR XFINITY Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Daniel Suarez

The 2016 NASCAR XFINITY Series season was a year of firsts for 24-year-old Daniel Suarez. From collecting his first series win at Michigan in June to becoming the first foreign-born driver to win a NASCAR National Series championship at Homestead in November, Suarez made this past season one for the history books.

 

Car No. 19

Crew Chief: Scott Graves

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Wins: 3

Top-Fives: 19

Top-10’s: 27

Points Finish: 1st

 

2016 Quick Summary: Suarez was a model of consistency in 2016, only recording six finishes outside the top ten during the 33 race campaign. He picked up wins at Michigan (June), Dover (October), and Homestead (November) as part of his championship season. Over the season’s final 11 races, Suarez recorded 10 top five finishes with a worst finish of eighth coming at Richmond in September.

2016 Highlight(s): The Monterrey, Mexico native won the inaugural XFINITY Series Chase by winning the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead – Miami Speedway. He led a race-high 133 laps and was able to hold Ty Dillon and Elliott Sadler on the final restart of the race to claim the championship.

2016 Lowlight(s): Suarez only recorded two finishes of 30th or worse this past season. He finished 32nd at Daytona in July after crashing out after just 48 laps. Qualified on the pole at Iowa in July and led only 11 laps before exiting the race due to an engine failure.

2017 Outlook: With the sudden announcement of Carl Edwards, Suarez will move up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series full time with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Suarez will contend for Rookie of the Year honors and will have the presence of veteran crew chief Dave Rogers on top of the pit box. He will also have veteran teammates Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, and Denny Hamlin to lean on for guidance in his rookie season.

Given how quickly he took to the XFINITY Series, he may struggle a little bit at the start of this season but look for Suarez to post some strong results in the second half. 

 EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.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.

Categories
News

Toyota Unveils New NASCAR Camry

Every race fan has heard the mantra “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday”. This year for Toyota, though, things are going to be a little different.

Rather than selling the next day, the manufacturer will hope to sell the model the following year as Toyota announced its 2018 model Camry will compete in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series this season. The racecar, along with the production model, was unveiled on Monday at the North American Auto Show in Detroit.

Ed Laukes, vice president of integrated marketing for Toyota Motor Sales, said the car’s design was crucial for the move to put it on the race track ahead of being available on the market

David Wilson, Toyota Racing Development, President, and General Manager said the car was tested in June with representatives from NASCAR, General Motors, and Ford present.

Toyota went to great lengths to keep the privacy of the project under wraps. Joe Gibbs Racing even installed new windows in its fan viewing area to prevent the work on the new car from being seen.

Wilson said Toyota involved its teams more heavily in the car’s aerodynamic development.

“We had them work with us side by side as we’re designing this because they’ve got very, very smart aerodynamicists,” Wilson said. “So the intent is to hit the ground running at Daytona with being further along than the past two generations” of the Gen 6 car”.

Wilson said NASCAR sets limits on the advances made with increasing downforce while lowering drag but “every time a manufacturer has a shot at building a new car and evolving a new car, you try to work closer and closer to the corner of the lowest drag and highest downforce.”

Laukes added, “Everyone operates within the box on downforce and drag, and as long as you’re operating in that box, it passes the test. So there are always minor tweaks that everyone is doing as far as sheet metal, but it’s still going to operate within that NASCAR-approved box of downforce and drag. I think we’re always looking to try to make things better, but you can’t get radical, because then you’re outside the rules.”

Laukes further went on to say the next step for Toyota would be to develop a new XFINITY Series model.

“The current XFINITY car will live on at least a year, probably two within XFINITY,” Laukes said. “Then we’ll redesign or talk about some other future model to unveil in that time.”

Matt Kenseth will be the first driver behind the wheel of the new Camry as he takes part in a Goodyear tire test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Tuesday.

 EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.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.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 2016 Recap/2017 Outlook – Matt Kenseth

Consistency was once again the name of the game for Matt Kenseth during the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. The Cambridge, WI native scored two victories and qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup for the seventh consecutive season.

 

Car No. 20

Crew Chief: Jason Ratcliff

Team: Joe Gibbs Racing

Wins: 2

Top-Fives: 8

Top-10’s: 19

Points Finish: 5th

2016 Quick Summary: Kenseth finished the 2016 campaign with another top five points finish after scoring wins Dover (May) and at Loudon (July). It wasn’t the textbook week after week consistently good to great finishes we are used to seeing from the 2003 premier series champion but more times often than not especially during the Chase, Kenseth found his stride, recording only two finishes outside the top – 20 in the final ten races.

2016 Highlight(s): Kenseth’s win in May at Dover was one of the wildest races during the 2016 season. After a late race stack up that took out a chunk of the field, He was able to hold off Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott over the final 47 laps to score the victory.

2016 Lowlight(s): Kenseth appeared to be on his way to a Championship 4 berth at Phoenix in November after leading 55 of the race’s final 67 laps until a late race restart on lap 317, when he was collected in a wreck with Alex Bowman which ended any hope of a second premier series championship. He would go on to finish 21st.

2017 Outlook: Even though Kenseth enters his 18th season of full-time competition in NASCAR’s top series in 2017 don’t expect the 44-year-old to slow down as he continues the fire that made him a champion and a perennial championship contender in the mid-2000’s. Kenseth just sits two wins shy of 40 premier series wins for his already certain Hall of Fame career. With Jason Ratcliff returning to the top of the pit box and one of the best pit crews in the business at his disposal look for 2017 to be business as usual for Kenseth and the No. 20 team.

 EMAIL JUSTIN at tuckerjustin65@yahoo.com

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Categories
Commentary

WAID’S WORLD: The Chase Played Big Role In Phoenix Drama

I’m going to say a few things in defense of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Now, for those of you who aren’t fans of the Chase, please be aware that I’m not trying to change anyone’s mind.

I have learned at least two things in a long career: First, don’t ever try to pull the wool over fans’ eyes. Be as accurate at you can because they know their stuff.

Second, do not try to alter their opinion. Maybe sometimes you can, but it won’t be often. They will not always agree with you – and, frankly, that’s a good thing.

That said I am of the opinion that the Can-Am 500 at Phoenix was, arguably, the best race of the year and the Chase had a lot to do with that.

Many of the closing laps of the race, and beyond, featured exciting, dramatic racing among a group of drivers who were motivated by the Chase. In other words they had to win or finish high enough in points to have a chance at the championship.

As you know only four drivers will contest for the title at Homestead. Believe me, those in contention knew this and tried everything they could to make the final four.

They moved high and low – and even dashed through the Phoenix International Raceway’s dogleg – to try to take the advantage. They took chances where otherwise they would not. If gaining a valued position meant roughing up a teammate, so be it.

This type of racing seemed almost constant. Of course it was great television but it was also the source of much excitement and response on social media.

More than one post said, “If you don’t like this, you don’t like racing!” or something very similar.

I would not disagree with that sentiment.

For quite a while, though, while the race would indeed determine the championship contenders, it appeared Alex Bowman would cruise to victory.

Bowman, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement at Hendrick Motorsports, won the pole to indicate he had something for the competition.

He led three times for 194 laps in the 324-lap race. Each time it seemed another had taken the measure of him he would plow right back into the lead.

Bowman figured prominently in the two “overtime” starts that heightened the race’s melodrama.

It was the first that shaped the outcome of the race and the determination of the final four.

Matt Kenseth, the race leader whose only hope of advancement was to win, led the field to the first overtime start with Bowman to his inside.

Kyle Busch, another contender, moved to the inside of Bowman, who countered the move with a block.

Kenseth, thinking he had a clear path, moved down the track. He clipped Bowman and wrecked, which wiped out his hopes for the championship. He finished 21st.

Naturally, Kenseth fans were upset. To lay full blame on their favorite driver would not be right. He fell victim to circumstances.

“It looked like he (Bowman) got a little run on me and I was cleared. So I started looking to the corner to approach it then I got turned out of the way.

“I was just going off the information I had to try to get the best corner I could and lead the remaining laps.”

Kenseth’s and Bowman’s demises – Bowman would finish sixth – put Joey Logano at the point for the second restart and he went on to win for the third time this season. That guaranteed him title shot.

Busch finished second – he and Logano had been scrapping all day – and made the final four on points, the only driver not to have won during the Chase.

A few more words about Bowman. It was suggested by some that he’s a “second rate” driver who ran well and could have won only because he was in a “first rate” car.

Nothing could be further from the truth. If Bowman were truly a “second rate” driver he would have never been selected to replace Earnhardt Jr.

His talent and skill were recognized. And, after a period of adjustment, he was able to show them at Phoenix.

By itself a “first rate” car can never win without its driver’s appropriate skills.

It works the opposite way. A “first rate” driver can’t win in a “second rate” car – well, more appropriately, he can’t win with a team unaccustomed to success. Just ask Clint Bowyer.

The championship challenge at Homestead is set. Logano will be seeking his first career title. Carl Edwards would like to eliminate the disappointment of 2011, when he tied in points with Tony Stewart but lost the title because he had fewer victories.

Busch has a chance to win a second championship, and we can safely assume that’s something he strongly desired when the season began.

Finally, Jimmie Johnson has the opportunity to enrich his name in NASCAR lore. He will race for a seventh career championship, which will tie him with Dale Earnhardt and Richard Petty with the most in the sanctioning body’s history.

It appears we may have the opportunity to see more dramatics.

And the Chase has played a big role in that.

EMAIL STEVE AT steve.waid@popularspeed.com

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