NASCAR Cup Series

Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth Upset with No Caution, Driver Etiquette at Dega

TALLADEGA, Ala. — In an era of increased safety initiatives in NASCAR, Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth brought up yet another talking point in the form of how drivers navigate incidents, zooming by spun or otherwise wrecked cars at full speed on restrictor plate tracks.

That’s what happened to Carl Edwards on the final lap of the Sprint Cup race at Talladega on Sunday as he was spun out and slid sideways for several seconds with cars zipping by and racing to the finish with NASCAR officials opting not to throw a caution. While no one made contact with Edwards, the veteran contender was concerned that someone could have drilled him on his driver side door, injuring him in the process.

“NASCAR does such a good job of making these cars safe and these tracks safe but the biggest cause of injury is going to be one of us not checking up when a guy is sideways,” Edwards said. “I had my door facing the field and (Justin Allgaier) comes by at like 160 mph and that’s not the way I want to these guys to race around me.

“It’s frustrating.”

Kenseth was one of the drivers that let off the throttle to avoid hitting his teammate and was in disbelief that NASCAR didn’t throw a caution for the apparent safety hazard.

“I had to lift so I didn’t send Carl (Edwards) to the hospital and I’m just dumbfounded that NASCAR didn’t throw a caution,” Kenseth said. “We were driving past wrecked cars for half a lap at 180 mph – it was a crazy ending.”

Edwards says he plans to talk to his fellow drivers over the next couple days because he’s seen this happen several times over the past couple of years. A similar incident unfolded at the Daytona 500 when Jeff Gordon spun on the final lap and several drivers raced by him at full speed until NASCAR called for the caution.

Edwards was one of the drivers that lifted and said he did so with regards to driver safety. He wishes he had been afforded the same luxury on Sunday at Talladega.

“People will say its my job to stay in the throttle and go race but we’re all human beings out here, and when a guy is wrecking you can’t just lay into his door,” Edwards said. “That’s pretty dangerous.

“I can do all this complaining but no one ran into me. But, man, it’s tough.”

Ryan Blaney finished fourth on Sunday and said that it’s the natural reaction of a driver to speed up through an incident to avoid getting caught up in the ordeal.

“The only thing I can say about that is half of it is the guys want to get past the wreck as quick as possible,” Blaney said. “I think that’s half the reason why you see them wide-open is because they’re afraid of him coming back down the race track or coming up the race track.

“They don’t want to get collected in it.  I didn’t see how he spun, if he was right in the middle of the track or what, but I think that’s really most of the reason is guys just want to get by it and they don’t want to get caught up in it.”



NASCAR Cup Series

Pit Road Miscue Costs Jeff Gordon Martinsville Triumph

MARTINSVILLE, Va. — A pit road speeding violation on his final stop of the afternoon cost Jeff Gordon a chance to post his ninth career victory at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday.

The four-time Sprint Cup champion, who is arguably the greatest modern performer at the Virginia half-mile, struggled to find the handling on his No. 24 Chevrolet during the first half of the race. However, a series of adjustments and changing track conditions again placed Gordon in contention, with him taking the top spot for the first time on lap 442.

However, a debris caution on lap 459 drastically changed the course of his afternoon as Gordon was caught speeding in sector five of pit road, heading towards his stall.

After the race, Gordon said he wasn’t sure how he was speeding because his dashboard said he was clear — just like it was throughout the day.

“I knew I was pushing the limit,” Gordon said. “Although, I didn’t do anything differently than I had all day long when I was behind other guys so we need to look at that. I’m very very disappointed.”

Gordon started the race fourth but quickly found himself outside of the top-10 when a series of restarts pitted him on the treacherous outside lane, only confounding his loose handling machine. But his team, led by crew chief Alan Gustafson, kept working on it and Gordon methodically worked his way back to the front and in position to win his ninth Ridgeway Grandfather Clock prior to the mistake on pit road.

“I felt like we finally got our car, got ourselves, in position to win the race,” Gordon said. “It was a struggle. We were really struggling with tire wear and just getting really really loose. I thought (eventual winner Denny Hamlin) had the best car but I thought, with our track position there at the end, that we had a shot at it.”

Immediately after the race, Gordon walked over to Matt Kenseth and hugged the 2003 champion, sharing a smile and a laugh. On a late race restart, Kenseth let Gordon down in line after he startee on the outside.

Gordon joked that it was akin to a going-away gift.

“We were racing earlier and I let him go to the inside of me and he kind of body-slammed me,” Gordon said. “So on that restart, I was just pulling at straws. I really wanted the inside and said, ‘Hey, ask Kenseth if he’ll let me over — that’s the least he can do for body-slamming me.

“Somehow the message got across. So, that was way cool and it worked out pretty good.”

Gordon is competing in his final full-time season as a Sprint Cup Series championship contender. While he has had the speed to battle for wins, capturing two poles, Gordon has also struggled to make it to the finish.

He has crashed out of three races and is currently 17th in the standings entering the first off-weekend of the season.

“We’re going to get it all together, we’re going to start clicking,” he said. “We just haven’t been clicking all at one time. As hard as everybody worked, gosh, I hate it that I made that mistake.”​



NASCAR Cup Series

Tony Stewart, Matt Kenseth Suffer Damage in Lap 41 Incident

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. –Tony Stewart will have to wait at least one more year for his date with the Harley J. Earl trophy.

Stewart triggered the first incident of the 2015 Daytona 500 on lap 41 when he drifted up from the bottom line in Turn 4, making contact with Rta Blaney and sending himself and Matt Kenseth into the outside retaining wall. The three-time Sprint Cup Series champion conceded fault but over his radio but wasn’t sure why he inexplicably got tight in the middle of the corner.

“That was 100 percent my fault,” Stewart told his team. “I can’t say anything. It just got tight and there wasn’t a problem that I was aware of.”

Stewart drifted high into Blaney, who only received minor cosmetic damage, but the chain reaction mostly affected Kenseth who was forced into the wall after slamming hard on his brakes.

The incident sent Stewart behind the wall to address major suspension damage while Kenseth lost two laps on pit road while his Joe Gibbs Racing team replace his right front fender. Stewart returned to the track but was unhappy with the handling of his Chevrolet and retired for good by lap 120. Stewart declined interview and walked immediately from his car to the team hauler.

Stewart finished 41st while Kenseth finished 35th.

This was the 17th time that Stewart has participated in the Great American Race without a single victory to show for it. Kenseth entered the race as one of the favorites having won the Sprint Unlimited and had dominated his Daytona Duel before sliding back late to protect his Toyota Camry.

Kenseth could not be reached following the conclusion of the event.



NASCAR Cup Series

Carl Edwards Brings Improved Team-Based Approach to JGR

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — “Teamwork” is the watchword for Carl Edwards in his first season at Joe Gibbs Racing this season.

The suddenly 35-year-old veteran conceded that he wasn’t always a great teammate to Matt Kenseth when the two were at Roush Fenway Racing together from 2004-to-2012. Edwards has since grown into a leader at Roush and now looks to bring that experience and perspective with him to Joe Gibbs Racing, where he will be reunited with Kenseth for the foreseeable future.

“I’ve said it before, I was not a great teammate,” Edwards said. “I was an ‘every man for himself’ type of driver. But over time and after working with great drivers like Matt, Mark Martin and Jeff Burton — everything they did for me — Greg Biffle, Kurt Busch and Ricky Stenhouse, I learned the value of what everyone contributes.”

Edwards explained that Kenseth has played a pivotal role during his transition from Roush to Gibbs and that the 2003 champion has looked out for him over the past few weeks.

“He’s subtle guy, not only in his wit but he’s picked up the phone and said ‘hey we’re setting up a meeting here. I’m hearing some things,’so that I can talk to the right people and do the right things. He’s been selfless in that respect and I’m really grateful to that effect.”

Kenseth has spent a good bit of time with Edwards during the winter at a variety of competition meetings and media functions and acknowledged the ways his once and future teammate has changed over the past decade.

“I don’t know that he needed to mature,” Kenseth said when asked about Edwards’ debut in the Sprint Cup Series. “But when you’re in this sport for a long time, you go through some changes. You get married. You have kids. You do that stuff and it really changes you as a person. You become more patient as you’re around longer and the older you get.”

Edwards says he understands the nuances of team racing better now than he ever did before and that is why he chose to be a part of a four-car group at JGR moving forward.

“The more we can work together as a group, the better off we are going to be,” Edwards said. “I’m in a much better spot to do that now that when I first came into the sport.”




Eliminated Eight: Where it Went Wrong

By Matt Weaver– In an era where NASCAR promotes every race as a potential Game 7 moment, it’s easy to pick out just one instance or one lap on Sunday at Phoenix where a championship was won or lost amongst the Eliminator Eight.

But the reality is that the final contenders had three races to make it to Victory Lane or secure enough points to advance to the final round and four failed to do so. That result was the accumulation of several failed moments.

In that spirit, here are the moments where the Eliminator Round went wrong for the four drivers eliminated at Phoenix — Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Carl Edwards and Matt Kenseth.

@JeffGordonWeb While most will point to the contact with Brad Keselowski at Texas and the eventual 29th-place finish as the turning point against the Drive for Five, the fact that Hendrick Motorsports had two ideal opportunities to advance its senior driver into Homestead and did not take it.

The first was at Martinsville where Gordon finished second to eliminated Dale Earnhardt Jr. while the other scenario occurred at Texas, on that final restart, when eliminated Jimmie Johnson raced his mentor close, perhaps allowing Keselowski to shoot the middle.

That’s not to say that teams should promote team orders but there is something to be said of the Team Penske way of working together push Keselowski to the win at Talladega and perhaps giving Logano the advantage next week in South Florida.

One thing is absolutely clear and that is the fact that this Chase requires a different approach to teamwork and the old-school every man for himself approach cost Jeff Gordon an opportunity to win his fifth championship.

Brad @Keselowski It all comes down to Martinsville.

Team Penske tested at the Virginia paperclip but saw both cars struggle in the first half. The 2012 champions started to rebound and then suffered a mechanical failure with 35 laps remaining that caused Casey Mears to plow into the back of the Blanco Deuce.

Then placed into a must-win scenario, Keselowski and crew just came short of their over the final two Eliminator Races, despite every best effort to win at Texas and Phoenix. All told, it leaves the team with a league-leading six wins on the outside looking in at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

#CarlEdwards — It was a strange conclusion to a strange championship season for Carl Edwards in his swan song with Roush Fenway Racing.

Traditionally a contender on speedways, Edwards earned much of his success on short tracks this season, including an early victory in March at Bristol while struggling on intermediate speedways. Then comes the Chase, where specifically in the Eliminator Round, Edwards struggled on short tracks Martinsville (P20) and Phoenix (P15) while ultimately gutting a top-10 at Texas to get himself within earshot of a transfer spot.

Ultimately, Edwards just lacked the handling he needed out of his Ford this season and his veteran leadership — alongside crew chief Jimmy Fennig — could only take the No. 99 team this far.

Onwards to Joe Gibbs Racing and retirement respectively for the Edwards/Fennig partnership.

@MattKenseth A lot like his former Roush teammate Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth just lacked the speed and handling required to Chase the Sprint Cup championship. The wins leader from a last year was placed into a must-win scenario after a P25 at Texas last week and then came up just short with a P3 at Phoenix.

There will be much debate in the coming weeks about the value of winning under the Chase Grid format but there is no doubt that Kenseth just couldn’t win this season and it ultimately led to his elimination after Phoenix.

NASCAR Cup Series

Kevin Harvick Vows to End Matt Kenseth’s Title Shot

By Matt Weaver (MARTINSVILLE, Va.) — Kevin Harvick solemnly swore that Matt Kenseth will not win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship this season following their on-track altercation on Sunday afternoon in the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

The ordeal began on the second lap after a restart on lap 226 when Kenseth dove underneath Harvick for sixth but his No. 20 Toyota did not stick to the racing surface. Instead, it slid right into the left-rear quarter panel of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet and brought out a caution. Both drivers backed into the SAFER Barrier but the damage was more severe for Harvick, sending his destroyed radiator behind the wall to the attention of his SHR racing crew.

Kenseth received light cosmetic damage and stayed on the lead lap after his team made minor repairs on pit road.

The 2003 NASCAR champion finished the day in sixth while Harvick came home 33rd — 47 laps down and eighth in the standings — 28 points removed from a Chase transfer spot. As a result, Harvick is already blaming Kenseth for his potential missed championship opportunity.

“He won’t win this championship,” Harvick said about Kenseth. “If we don’t, he won’t.”

For his part in the situation, Kenseth says he understands how Harvick feels but maintains that it was merely an accident.

“I don’t blame him for feeling like that,” Kenseth said after the race. “It was a mistake. He was an innocent bystander. He was at the wrong place at the wrong time. I totally understand how he feels. I totally understand why he would say that. I totally get it. He knows it was a mistake, too, but that doesn’t really help him. I don’t blame him.

“He got taken out of the race for being at the wrong place at the wrong time.”

Now Harvick realistically finds himself in a must-win scenario over the next two weeks — more than likely needing a victory at Phoenix or Texas — to advance to the Championship Race at Homestead Miami Speedway. To his credit, Harvick has won the last two races at the 1-mile Arizona speedplan and doesn’t consider himself out of it by any means.

“It’s definitely not the way you wanted it to all play out,” Harvick added. “But that’s the great part about this format. You’ve got two more weeks and two racetracks we can win on. Everybody was so worried about us starting in the back and we wrecked at the front. Unfortunate.

“I definitely thought we had worked our way into where we needed to be, in a good position and wound up back in the points.”

NASCAR Cup Series

Joe Gibbs Racing Riding Wave of Momentum in Chase

By Matt Weaver (CONCORD, N.C.) — Joe Gibbs Racing has turned the corner at the most opportune moment of the season and the reversal of fortune indicates bad news for the remaining teams in the Chase for the Championship.

After nearly winning the Sprint Cup title last season with Matt Kenseth, JGR entered a deep slumber at the start of 2014. Sure Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin won races early in the spring but they were serendipitous in nature, coming at the tire-chewing Fontana event and spring Talladega crashfest respectively.

Meanwhile, Kenseth was the organization’s best threat throughout the regular season despite going winless a year removed from their seven-debut a season before.

The reset that put all the Chase drivers on equal footing has seemingly most benefitted Kenseth, Busch and Hamlin. Toyota promised JGR more horsepower for the playoffs and the drivers have responded, currently running second, fifth and seventh in the championship standings.

Busch has turned it around the most. By the end of the regular season, Busch was 17th in the championship standings and had posted a 19.9 average finish. The No. 18 team has looked completely different from Chicagoland onwards, posting a 7.3 average finish and is second with an 11 point cushion over eighth-place Jeff Gordon.

With the second chances provided by the new championship format, Busch believes he and his teammates have blossomed into title favorites based purely on recent trends, including a pole for the No. 18 team this weekend at Charlotte.

“With the way the eliminations are, yes I would believe we’re edging our way towards the top,” Busch said. “Anything can happen in this game. I believe it’s a fickle business so you just have to pick through it all and 500 miles here at Charlotte, we hope to have a good race.”

Hamlin looked just as helpless at times this season and the one time where it looked like they really had momentum, at Indianapolis, NASCAR slapped the team with massive penalties for unapproved firewall block-off plates. But through increased horsepower and old-fashioned good luck, Hamlin is feeling optimistic about his season too, especially after qualifying third on Friday night.

“We’re getting better — we’re definitely not at that peak yet, but we’re getting closer and closer to the field on speed,” Hamlin said. “We did test here and it was a good test. We felt like we were pretty good. Really our mile-and-a-halves have been our strong suit this year.”

Hamlin says he feels better about his championship chances but admitted that he is racing week-to-week with this new championship format. The team once again has the speed to contend for races but they’re also one instance of bad luck away from instant elimination, especially with Talladega looming around the corner.

“Obviously, I am encouraged about how we are running at some of these tracks that haven’t been our best in the past…,” Hamlin said. “I’m hoping we continue this trend and it’s heading in the right direction.

“I just hope it keeps going because we’re going to need that little bit of extra speed when we get to these last four.”

NASCAR Cup Series

Winless Kenseth, Newman Rewriting NASCAR Script

By Matt Weaver (CONCORD, N.C.) –When NASCAR introduced the latest format to decide the Sprint Cup Series championship back in January, chairman Brian France insisted that it would offer an increased emphasis for winning races compared to previous versions of the Chase for the Championship.

So it is somewhat ironic that after the first four races of the Chase Grid era, the top six in the standings have 11 wins between them while the bottom six, flush with championship favorites, have 16 combined trips to Victory Lane.

Due to their various misfortunes at Kansas Speedway in the first round of the Contender Round, expected contenders Jimmie Johnson, Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon are all at risk of elimination with only two races remaining before the next elimination race at Talladega Superspeedway. Meanwhile, Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth are fourth and seventh in the standings despite not winning a single race this season.

Newman believes that consistency alone can win a championship this year but that the task will only get harder as the Chase field is thinned from 12 to 8 and ultimately four. At some point, every driver will more than likely need a victory, even if that’s not that only way to get to Homestead.

“Everybody needs to win but you do the math,” Newman said. “There are eight slots that are open and three races. So that means that three drivers will potentially get in at most. But there will be five guys who get in on points so consistency needs to be there. I think it’s the next bracket that will be the most challenging and where wins will be most important.

“Then obviously there’s Homestead.”

Kenseth feels the same way, even if he delivered it with his usual trademark Wisconsin wit.

“Sure, why not,” Kenseth said when asked about his championship chances without yet making it to Victory Lane. “We made it all the way to Charlotte without getting a win so we should be able to make it six more weeks.”

In a more serious tone, Kenseth said that drivers advancing on either consistency or wins added credence to the current format because there are now multiple paths to the Sprint Cup Series championship.

“I think it adds value to it,” Kenseth added. “I mean, you have six races left. I feel like we have the speed to win here every week but unfortunately there is one guy that is going to win and 42 that’s going to lose and we just haven’t been able to pull one off yet but I feel like we will and that this will keep us near the front.”

It is also ironic that Kenseth would be in contention for the championship without a victory because he is the reason that a NASCAR even has a playoff in the first place. He won the last championship before the advent of the Chase by winning only a single race in 36 starts. It’s even more fitting when considering that Kenseth has the opportunity to win the championship in this format after coming up short last year when he won a career-high seven times.

The Chase Grid provides various ways to win a championship but the format is going to draw criticism as long as Newman and Kenseth remain eligible during the season when winning was supposed to matter the most.

NASCAR Cup Series

Path to Championship Unknown Under New Format

By Matt Weaver (JOLIET, Ill.) — On the eve of the inaugural race of the Chase Grid format at Chicagoland Speedway, it now appears as if there are more ways than ever before to win championships in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Prior to the introduction of a playoff, drivers were tasked with consistency over 36 races to win the crown. Victories negated bad results but they were not a requisite to contend for the championship. Consider that @MattKenseth won the 2003 title with only a single victory and a 10.3 average finish, leading NASCAR to adopt a playoff format in the first place.

During the first decade of the Chase, victories were given extra weight and seeding for the playoffs were based on the number of trips to Victory Lane during the regular season. As a result, perennial winners, like @JimmieJohnson, held a major advantage entering the final 10 races of the season.

All told, the near-flawless Johnson and his 48 team won six of the 10 championships during the initial Chase era, mostly due to their ability to win in bulk, having scored 60 wins from 2003-to-2013. But Johnson was one of the first to admit this weekend that the new format could see a driver win the championship without winning a race in the Chase, if not altogether.

“The possibility is real,” Johnson said. “Against the way the whole premise of the Chase has been created and winning is so important, I feel that it’s good to have an opportunity to reward consistency. Let’s be honest: Everything about our sport revolves around consistency. Our races are marathons. We race (36) times a year, and to have it not be represented in our championship, I think would be wrong.”

To Johnson’s point, his teammate and four-time champion, @JeffGordonWeb says that perfection is no longer necessary in the Chase for the Championship.

“I think in the third round, you’re going to need to be near-perfect but you definitely don’t have to have 10 perfect races now,” Gordon said. “The third round and at Homestead, you’ll have to be at your absolute best. But the other ones? You can slip a little bit here and there if you’re strong enough to claw your way back.

“It’s definitely a different championship than we’ve seen in different years.”

The championship standings will reset after each round for the drivers that advance, meaning a team that just barely moves on would have an equal shot at again advancing as the top-seed from the bracket they just advanced from. As a result, it’s conceivable that a still winless Chaser, like Kenseth, could still top-10 himself into the championship race at Homestead and go all the way, a fact that he acknowledges.

“I still think this championship will require you to execute and be at the top of your game,” Kenseth said. “I feel like we need to win because of the momentum and confidence it will give us but also because that’s the key to advancing. So do we have to win? No. But we didn’t necessarily have to win before either.

The 2011 champion and number one seed in the Chase, Brad Keselowski, perhaps summed it up best.

“There are a lot of different ways you can win with this format,” he said. “I don’t think there’s one way you can win and I don’t think there’s one way you can lose. (Becoming champion without winning a race) is certainly one way you can win but it’s not the only way.”

More from Popular Speed

NASCAR Cup Series

Drivers Asking for Less Downforce and Softer Tires Next Season

By Matt Weaver (BRISTOL, Tenn) — NASCAR and a group of teams tested a collection of possible Gen-6 competition packages on Monday afternoon at Michigan International Speedway. The session resulted in several drivers wanting a high horsepower and low downforce formula that would make the cars harder to driver and perhaps generate additional passing.

In short, NASCAR tested two packages on Monday.

The first was a low downforce formula while the other was a prime package that included the use of dive planes on the nose, a 9-inch spoiler and three different power levels that varied anywhere from 800 to 700 hp.

The power was cut using a restrictor plate on Monday but next season could see the same effects with the use of a modified electronic fuel injector or a tapered spacer. NASCAR also experimented with a driver-adjustable trackbar from inside the cockpit.

Greg Biffle was not one of the drivers at the test but has a very clear stance on the direction that NASCAR should utilize next season.

“It’s the same thing we see over and over again when they take some of the downforce off these cars,” Biffle said. “It creates better racing. This is what I can tell you — when drivers have to lift in the corners, that creates better racing. It creates another chance to catch a guy.

“When you’re barely lifting off the throttle on these intermediate tracks, it doesn’t allow the guy behind you to catch up. So by taking some of the downforce off and softening the tire a little bit, that makes us pit and take four tires and that is how we see some of the best racing every single time.”

NASCAR eliminated the ride height restrictions during the off-season and increased the spoiler size on the Gen-6 car, resulting in additional downforce. The sanctioning body again increased downforce for part of the Monday test and Matt Kenseth opined that the results were not satisfactory from his perspective on the track.

“It was really singled out,” Kenseth said. “You couldn’t pass. You could draft a little bit more on the straightaway but you’re almost wide open in the corners and it was really bad.”

At the end of the test, NASCAR took off the downforce and gave back the horsepower and Kenseth says the package received unanimous praise from the participating drivers.

“It was awesome,” Kenseth said. “It was like going back in time 15 years or something. You could actually pass in the corner instead of worrying about drafting in the straightaway. You could get one guy on the bottom and one guy on the top and the air wasn’t so turbulent that you couldn’t get on the outside of people.

“So the track got really wide and it was like the track aged 10 years and it was awesome.”

His teammate, Denny Hamlin agreed, tweeting that the “2015 aero test was a bit disappointing … Right up until the end. We may have found something that actually moves the needle for passing.”

Jeff Burton has raced in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since 1993 and has competed under a variety of different competition packages. On Friday afternoon, he said that the only way less downforce will increase competition is if Goodyear develops a longer lasting softer tire to compensate for the lack of mechanical grip.

“Every time we’ve taken downforce away and not put on a better tire on the car, it’s always been worse,” Burton told Popular Speed. “The one thing we’ve never done is take downforce away and added extra grip with the tires and that’s what the drivers have been clamoring for.

“If Goodyear can build a softer tire — one that will last and stay soft, then it is a viable option. My question is that I don’t know if they can. I feel like that’s something we need to look at if we can. If they don’t feel like they can, then that’s not going to work. If you’re going to take downforce away you have to find a way to get grip in them because history has told that story.”