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NASCAR Cup Series

New Hampshire Winner Kenseth Fails Inspection

After winning Sunday’s New Hampshire 301, Matt Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota failed post-race inspection at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

According to NASCAR, Kenseth’s car failed the laser inspection station and will be taken to the NASCAR R&D Center in Concord, North Carolina for further inspection. Runner-up finisher Tony Stewart’s car passed the LIS platform after the race and will also be taken to the R&D center for evaluation, which is standard protocol.

Sunday’s win was Kenseth’s second victory of the season and third career win at New Hampshire.

Typically, the penalty for failing LIS has been 15 points and a fine for the crew chief. Kasey Kahne’s No. 5 failed after the Dover race, and Kyle Larson’s No. 42 was penalized after last month’s race at Michigan.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Kentucky Belongs to Generation Now

Kentucky Speedway opened with an ARCA race in 2000. Since then, NASCAR has held races in various series at the track. Greg Biffle won the inaugural Camping World Truck Series race at the track and Kevin Harvick, the first XFINITY race.

The history of the Sprint Cup series at Kentucky, meanwhile, is actually quite limited. With only six Cup races held at the Sparta track, there are but three drivers with Kentucky wins on their resume: Matt Kenseth, two-time winner Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski, who became a three-time winner this past weekend. It would be safe to assume (barring any major complications) every Kentucky winner will return to compete in next year’s race.

When the Cup series returns to the 1.5-mile track in 2017, those three winners should be joined by every driver with more than one top five at Kentucky, every driver who has recorded double digits in laps led and every driver who has sat on the pole. There is probably not another track that will be able to say the same.

Kentucky may lack in longevity, but there is an opportunity for this generation of Cup drivers to make this track their own. They need not worry about living up to the standards set by Richard Petty, David Pearson, Dale Earnhardt or Darrell Waltrip. Even Jeff Gordon failed  to win at Kentucky before retiring last season.

Instead, they will be the ones setting the standards and to do so, they will compete against the drivers next to them, rather than the legends they know only from studying NASCAR history.

The history of the Kentucky Speedway may pale when placed alongside Daytona, Talladega or Darlington, but if it is to be raised to sit alongside those tracks in esteem and prestige, it will be because of the exploits of those drivers we are watching on TV or at the track every week.

Right now, Brad Keselowski would be considered the man when it comes to Kentucky, the way Petty is considered “The King” of Daytona or the way Waltrip ruled Bristol. If there is a driver who knocks Keselowski off his Kentucky throne, it will be one of his current or future competitors.

Cup history in Kentucky may not be long, but it is being written before our very eyes.

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

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

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NASCAR Cup Series

Kentucky Could Put Toyota Back On Top

Toyota’s rise as one of the most dominant manufacturers in the Sprint Cup Series began one year ago at Kentucky Speedway. Kyle Busch scored his first of three consecutive victories that earned him a spot in the Chase and ultimately led to his first career championship.

The manufacturer maintained this momentum into 2016, winning eight of the first 13 races. However, since Martin Truex Jr.’s record-breaking performance en route to victory in the Coca-Cola 600, Toyota hasn’t been as strong.

Toyota teams haven’t found Victory Lane in the last four races. They also didn’t have a car finish inside the top five for the first time this season at Pocono.  Matt Kenseth was the highest-finishing Toyota in seventh.

This may indicate that other manufacturers have stepped up their games and discovered what advantage Toyota had early this season. These struggles could also be attributed to the absence of 1.5-mile tracks in the last month.

Kentucky will be the deciding factor this weekend. Toyota drivers will look to score a fourth consecutive victory on an intermediate track in the Quaker State 400.

Busch began this winning streak when he scored the victory at Texas in April. All Toyota teams had a strong showing that night as the manufacturer was out front for all but 15 laps.

Busch went on to capture the victory at Kansas in May as well. Toyota teams dominated again, leading all but 24 laps. Truex Jr. proved to have the strongest car that night as he led 172 laps, but a lug nut issue took the team out of contention late, and they finished 14th.

Charlotte was the strongest showing of all the intermediate track victories as Truex Jr. and Furniture Row Racing broke records by leading 392 of 400 laps on their way to the win in NASCAR’s longest race.

While Toyota teams haven’t won or been as dominant since Charlotte, Joe Gibbs Racing and FRR could still hold the advantage heading to Kentucky where they have a successful history.

Despite the fresh pavement and reconfiguration, Toyota brings confidence as they have won three of the five Sprint Cup Series races at the speedway. JGR also had all four cars finish inside the top five last July.

Last year’s Kentucky race featured the low downforce package for the first time, and JGR’s dominance showed their ability to adapt well to rules package changes. This could benefit them again on Saturday night with the new package featuring a shorter spoiler, smaller splitter, resized rear deck fin and zero rear toe alignment.

The past month has featured a more even playing field among manufacturers. However, the return of a mile-and-a-half facility could play into Toyota’s favor as they look to turn the momentum back in their direction.

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @NASCARJason

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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NASCAR Cup Series

Could There be Light at the End of the Tunnel for Roush Fenway?

It is safe to say that a few eyebrows were raised when Greg Biffle took the pole for the Coke Zero 400.

Biffle may be a respected veteran but it seems the Fords of Roush Fenway Racing have been written off since Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards parted ways in favor of Joe Gibbs Racing in consecutive seasons, beginning with Kenseth at the end of 2012. While 2016 may not be the year that all turns around, there is reason to believe that better days may be on the horizon.
Biffle finished eighth last weekend in Daytona, a finish that would otherwise serve as a highlight for Roush Fenway over the last few years. Instead, Biffle brought up the rear among his teammates. Trevor Bayne, returning to the site of his 2011 Daytona 500 win, topped the team’s efforts, finishing third and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was 5th, his second top 5 of the season and third top 10.

There was an inkling of a turnaround earlier this season when Bayne won the first segment of the Sprint Showdown and Biffle the second.  In the Sprint All-Star, Bayne came in 7th with Biffle one spot behind. While none of those accomplishments help the team in their quest for a championship, it does give them reason to believe they can compete with the big boys.

As it stands, three Roush Fenway drivers are on the outside of the Chase looking in. Bayne is the closest, 10 points back of Ryan Blaney for the last spot.  While not an insurmountable disadvantage, Bayne’s trip to NASCAR’s post-season hinges on Blaney making rookie mistakes we have yet to see and Bayne being able to leapfrog Jamie McMurray. With Stenhouse 21 points and six spots out and Biffle one more spot and 85 points back, Bayne is the real hope of preventing Roush Fenway from missing the Chase for the second straight year.

While 2016 doesn’t look to be the team’s year, 2017 could see a reversal of fortune. The teams need to look closely at the success they enjoyed in the Coke Zero 400 and Sprint Showdown (and we shouldn’t forget Chris Buescher won Roush Fenway a XFINITY championship last year), then figure out how to repeat it. If Bayne, Stenhouse and Biffle become frontrunners on a consistent basis, it will provide a confidence booster, a sign that they are on the right track, in turn leading to better finishes and better seasons ahead.

EMAIL: john.milner@popularspeed.com

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

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NASCAR Cup Series

Dover Victory Felt ‘Really, Really Good’ for Kenseth

CONCORD, N.C. – At least for one week, the black cloud has left Matt Kenseth.

With a victory last weekend at Dover International Speedway, Kenseth heads into the Sprint All-Star Race breathing a little easier. He went 11 races into the season finding trouble in numerous ways, keeping him not only from victories his teammates were scoring but decent finishes.

Last Sunday, Kenseth won for the first time since New Hampshire last September.

“It always feels good to win races. I will say that at least for me, the longer you’re around, the older you get, the more races you’ve run, all that stuff, I think you enjoy and appreciate the wins even more,” Kenseth said Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. “I think it feels like everyone I appreciate even more than the one previous.”

It could be argued Kenseth’s rotten luck began with the crash heard ‘round the world last Fall at Martinsville Speedway when he retaliated against Joey Logano. Since then, Kenseth has been passed on the last lap (Daytona), black flagged from the lead (Atlanta), sped on pit road (Fontana), shuffled out on a restart from second (Martinsville), and everything in-between.

None of it was for a lack of effort, though. The No. 20 Dollar General Toyota continued to experience misery while running at the front of the field. The results, however, were a different story as Kenseth led 350 laps but had just three top-10 finishes.

In Dover, Kenseth again ran up front and was the one taking advantage of an opportunity following an 18 car crash on Lap 356 of 400. It was his third win at the Monster Mile in 35 career starts.

“Certainly the way our year’s been and the way we ended last year and everything, it felt really, really good to get that win,” said Kenseth, the 2004 winner of the All-Star Race.

Kenseth will be one of 20 drivers looking for a $1 million payday on Saturday night. It’s NASCAR version of All-Star weekend, where points don’t matter and the only thing on the line is bragging rights.

But when the series gets back to business next weekend in the Coca-Cola 600, the 2003 Cup champion plans to carry on as usual.

“As far as what we do from here on out, it hasn’t really changed my outlook or my goals or how we prepare or anything like that,” Kenseth said. “I think you still go each and every week, bring your best stuff and put your best foot forward and do the best job you can do and go out and compete.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

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NASCAR Cup Series

Kenseth Finds More Trouble with Logano

TALLADEGA, Ala. – Matt Kenseth and Joey Logano just can’t escape one another.

All was well for most of the GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway until Logano threw a block on Kenseth down the backstretch. The move forced Kenseth out of the racing groove and when he safely made it back in line – in front of Logano – he gave the Team Penske driver a gesture out the window.

Then came Lap 182.

After Danica Patrick had been turned sideways by Michael Annett, she body-slammed the right side of Kenseth’s Camry. The contact was enough that the No. 20 caught air, and it ended up flipping on the backstretch and riding the inside wall on its roof.

Nine other cars, including Logano, were collected in the accident. Upon being released from the infield care center, FOX cameras caught Kenseth exchanging words with Logano, who was waiting to be interviewed. The 2003 Cup champion also wagged his finger at Logano before walking away.

“We got behind a little bit there, and I went to pass the 22 (Logano), and he ran me off the racetrack and lost four or five spots and then got us back there where we didn’t want to be,” Kenseth said. “I don’t know; somebody must have gotten turned out of the top lane and just collected me. I was just going straight and then saw a car come from the right side and cleaned our clock.”

The two drivers have a history that dates back to the Chase last Fall. It began at Kansas Speedway, the site of next weekend’s Sprint Cup Series race, and led to a series of run-ins that eventually resulted in Kenseth retaliating on Logano at Martinsville and being served a two-race suspension.

During their exchange outside the care center, Logano smiled and shook his head, then said of Kenseth being upset, “OK. He can get in line with the rest of them.”

Patrick, meanwhile, was also released from the infield care center after having an x-ray done on her chest.

“I hit my foot pretty hard and hit my arm pretty hard. I have hit the inside wall at a superspeedway I think like four times now, and that was the hardest,” Patrick said. “You know these races are just – I get the running close and pushing, but the 95 (McDowell) was just drilling me every time.

“There is a high likelihood that he can take himself out. I’m all about bumping, and pushing and being close, but when you hit people with a certain amount of momentum, it is a problem. I can’t quite remember exactly what started it. I know I got drilled from behind and turned sideways and hello wall.”


EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

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NASCAR Cup Series

Kenseth Focused on Performance, Not Retirement

RICHMOND, Va. – Matt Kenseth understands why his name gets lumped into the retirement talk around the Sprint Cup Series garage.

At 44 years old and having already put in 16 full years at the sport’s highest level, Kenseth believes he and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who began his full-time career the same year he did, are naturally the next ones to be looked at to follow in the footsteps of Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart.

Last weekend at Bristol was not the first time the 2003 Cup champion was asked about stepping away, but he will joke about getting a complex because of it.

“It doesn’t bother me either way. Yeah, there was some questions about it last week, but I don’t know why or where they came from,” Kenseth told POPULAR SPEED on Friday in Richmond. “I don’t think it’s necessary negative or has anything to do with my performance; our results haven’t been there, but our performance has been good.”

Aside from his uncharacteristic start to the 2016 season, performance has never been an issue with Kenseth.

While driving for Jack Roush from 2000-2012 he won 24 races and a championship. Since joining Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013, Kenseth’s statistics have been just as good, if not better in the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota.

In addition to the 12 races he’s won – seven in 2013, five in 2015 – Kenseth went toe-to-toe with the Jimmie Johnson / Chad Knaus championship juggernaut in 2013 before ultimately falling short in the final two races. He’s also knocking tracks off the win list such as Chicago, Darlington, and Loudon.

There has also been the improvement on other, like Martinsville, following his transition from one organization to another. Although he’s still winless at the half-mile, Kenseth has tripled his laps led at the facility in just seven races with Gibbs.

Physically, he feels better now than he did 10 years ago and he’s even been working much harder at it. So, yes, while the questions are natural, there is no reason for him to retire anytime soon, nor does Kenseth think about it.

“I can’t predict the future,” Kenseth said when asked where he sees things going with his 20 team. “I feel like certainly our performance has been really good. Last year we performed well as a group, as a team. I feel like this year we’ve been performing really well, too.

“The numbers don’t show it or our finishing position, but we ran really well. So we’re just looking to keep building on that and get better, and hopefully, we’ll start getting some results.”

The Toyota Owners 400 on Sunday in Richmond will be the ninth race of the Sprint Cup season. Kenseth, a two-time Richmond winner, enters with a lone top-10 finish after leading in seven of eight races, including a week ago at Bristol when he blew a tire.

While many would call it bad luck, Kenseth said he doesn’t believe in that.

“There’s certain things that were out of our control but there’s a lot of things affected our finishes that were in our control as well,” he said. “You just keep trying to learn and keep trying to do the best job you can controlling the things you can control and the rest of it, if it doesn’t go right, you just don’t worry about it. You just keep working on it.”

Because just as Kenseth looks to remain behind the wheel for the next few years, he also hopes there are more wins and perhaps another championship left in him.

“There’s a lot of things that affect championships as you’ve seen the last couple of years with the new format, so I don’t know that you can even judge things by championships necessarily the way that you used to because it keeps leaning less and less towards a whole season’s performance and more toward a race or two or three or four or five,” Kenseth said.

“But I think on average each and every week we’re a contender more often than we’re not.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

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NASCAR Cup Series

Tire Issues Plague Matt Kenseth

It was a new week, but the same song and dance for Matt Kenseth, as once again he showed speed, but didn’t get a decent finish.

Kenseth started second, then led 142 laps before blowing a right front tire on Lap 186. Though he kissed the wall, there was no damage, so he restarted at the back and worked his way back to the top five. Unfortunately another brush with the wall sent him behind the wall for repairs, and he finished 36th

“Just blew a right front (tire) two different times, two different corners,” he said. “This one was a lot worse because the angle was a lot worse headed towards the wall. Honestly, that run I was backing up, and I wasn’t really going to go fast. Kurt (Busch) was catching me, and I was ready to kind of let him go around and pace it to see how long we could make it then just blew another one. Not sure why, we weren’t having any big handling problems or brakes hot. I don’t know why.”

Kenseth’s JGR teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch both suffered right front tire failures, too.

“I don’t think we’re doing anything much different than we’ve ever done here (previously),” Kenseth said. “Same tire and pretty similar setups that we always run. No major handling problems, so I honestly don’t know.”

Goodyear Racing stated they plan on investigating the tires this week.

For Kenseth, it marks the seventh weekend this year that he’s had problems. He dropped from the lead to 14th in the Daytona 500 on the final lap, and suffered a penalty for illegal fueling at Atlanta Motor Speedway. He crashed at Las Vegas, followed by a pair of pit road penalties at Fontana.

At Martinsville, he ran up front until the last restart, then fell outside the top 10, and last week at Texas a loose wheel relegated him to an 11th-place finish.

The 2003 Cup Champion currently sits 18th in the points standings.

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’s Season Continues to Break Down

Make it six out of seven for Matt Kenseth.

With his 20 laps led in Saturday night’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, Kenseth has now led laps in six of the seven Sprint Cup Series races this year. The downside for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver is he has just one top-10 finish, ironically coming in the one event – Phoenix – he did not lead.

Kenseth finished 11th in Texas, having yet again encountered a fit of bad luck. It’s been a theme for the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota, which like its teammates, have shown consistent speed only he’s failed to capitalized on it. In total, Kenseth has led 164 laps through the first seven weeks.

Texas was going well for Kenseth as he ran inside the top 10 throughout the night, until what should have been his final pit stop with less than 70 laps to go. Although he left pit road third, Kenseth had to come back down to the attention of his team because the left rear tire wasn’t tight. As it turned out, a lugnut became lodged between the wheel and the hub. The jackman also dropped the car too early after being hit in the eye.

Kenseth restarted 13th but had to make another trip to pit road after he received some rear end damage when he was run into from behind during the 13 car wreck on Lap 295.

It’s been a disappointing and frustrating start for a team that won five races a year ago and was in contention for the championship. It started with a heartbreaking loss in the Daytona 500 to his teammate, Denny Hamlin. Kenseth was leading on the last lap when he had to make a move to block the run Hamlin had on the outside in Turns 3 and 4.

Hamlin dove to the inside and beat Martin Truex Jr. to the finish line. Kenseth credited Hamlin for the “masterful job” he did while he had to settled for 14th.

A week later in Atlanta, Kenseth was leading again when his team was penalized for illegal fueling – the gasman had placed a wedge wrench on the decklid. As his team argued the call interim spotter Curtis Markham left Kenseth unaware, eventually resulting in a black flag and not be scored. He finshed 19th, two laps down.

Las Vegas was the site of his worse finish this season, a 37th, after he crashed on Lap 224. The 19th place finish in Fontana was a result of two pit road penalties. One was the responsibility of Kenseth when he was caught speeding when making an unscheduled stop because he thought had a tire coming apart. After getting back on the lead lap, Kenseth was penalized again when the team had an uncontrolled tire on a late stop.

Last week in Martinsville it was again teammate versus teammate. Both and Kyle Busch had an understanding early in the STP 500 to work together on restarts to ensure they wouldn’t lose their top two positions. Gibbs had dominated the day with Kenseth and Busch often trading the lead.

It was every man for themselves, however, late in the going. Busch took the bottom on the final restart and drove away as Kenseth had to fight all challengers from the outside lane. He was shuffled back to the 15th position as Busch went on to win the race.

The Sprint Cup Series returns to Bristol Motor Speedway next weekend where Kenseth is the defending winner. He currently sits 12th on the Chase Grid.

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@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 staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

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Development Journalists

Pit Road Miscues Change Texas Race for Teams

Drivers trying to recover from pit road mishaps was just one of the stories at Texas Motor Speedway Saturday night. Some drivers were able to recover while others struggled to just hang on for the night.

Carl Edwards had one of the dominant cars of the night, leading 124 laps in the Duck Commander 500. On lap 223, Edwards headed to pit road after reporting a loose wheel. Edwards was slow getting on pit road and lost two laps during the unscheduled stop.

With 46 laps to go, Edwards finally got back on the lead lap thanks to the free pass. The driver of the No. 19 Stanley Tools Toyota fought hard to finish in the seventh position.

Kevin Harvick had issues getting his car to handle properly during the race.

The driver of the No.4 Jimmy John’s Chevrolet also received penalties for an uncontrolled tire and speeding on pit road during a late-race stop.

“Everything from top to bottom was not good. We just battled the car all weekend and never really got it right.” Harvick said.

Despite an ill-handling car, the 2014 Sprint Cup champion was able to recover from his penalty with a 10th-place finish.

“We will chalk that one up to experience, and we’ll move on to something else and keep trying to get better. That’s really what it is all about, was trying to get better,” explained Harvick.

Brian Vickers, in what could’ve been his final appearance in the No. 14 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing, had a rough night trying to recover from a bad green flag pit stop. Vickers spun entering pit road on lap 114 after running in the top 10 early in the race.

“The No. 15 of Clint Bowyer just stopped. I had them [the brakes] locked up, but I had nowhere to go. He went to half pit road speed, and I just got into the back of him and locked it up. I just didn’t see that coming,” said Vickers of the incident.

“That put us behind the rest of the night. We were just trying to recover from that.”

Vickers’ night ended early after he was involved in the 13-car crash.

Matt Kenseth needed a rebound at Texas Motor Speedway. He ran in the top five for most of the night and led 20 laps.

As was the case at Auto Club Speedway and Atlanta, a potential top five was spoiled by a miscue on pit road.

A loose wheel on Kenseth’s Dollar General Toyota dropped him to the tail of the lead lap. Moments after the ensuing restart, Kenseth was swept up in a 13-car pileup with 40 laps to go, effectively ending his bid for a top five.

The No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team finished in the 11th position.

Former Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski’s night was also ruined by a loose wheel.

“It wasn’t as good of a night as we wanted, but we tried some out of the box things to prepare for this race in the Chase,” Keselowski said. “It just didn’t pay off.”

The No. 2 Miller Lite Ford struggled throughout the night and came home with an 18th-place finish.

 

Emily Spink is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist.

EMAIL EMILY AT emily.spink@popularspeed.com

 

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