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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.

Categories
Editorial

Analysis: Any Hendrick Rebound Will Likely Show Itself Sunday

If there is a championship level team lurking within Hendrick Motorsports with nine races remaining in the Chase for the Championship, this may be the weekend they come out of hiding.

No secret has been made of the recent dominance at Joe Gibbs Racing during the second half with the Toyota powerhouse having won three consecutive races (with three different drivers) and nine of the last 12 Sprint Cup events.

This has relegated the storied Chevrolet mega-power a complete afterthought, arguably slotting them behind JGR, Team Penske and its cousin team Stewart Hass Racing on the NASCAR totem pole. While much can change over nine weeks, the Sylvania 300 on Sunday after will be a very telling test for where Hendrick stands entering the most important stretch of the season.

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It’s important because New Hampshire has always been a good track for the four-car superteam. Even though HMS hasn’t won at The Magic Mile since 2012 with Kasey Kahne, NASCAR loop data suggests that all four current drivers are capable of winning every time the tour moves to the Northeast.

Jeff Gordon, one week removed from a renaissance effort but a typical result at Chicagoland Speedway, enters New Hampshire has the best driver on the tour at the one-mile speedplant. He has the highest NHMS driver rating in the Cup Series at 106.7 and also leads the league in average running order (7.6) and is third fastest on restart speed behind Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch.

Jimmie Johnson has three wins at the track and is fourth in driver rating (100.9), fourth on restart speed and fifth in average finish. The most popular driver in the series? Dale Earnhardt Jr. ranks well at New Hampshire too with the sixth best driver rating at New Hampshire (97.5) with an average finish of 13th.

In short, when Hendrick Motorsports is at the top of its game, it is typically reflected at New Hampshire. And true to form, all four HMS Chevrolets have been fast this weekend. All four entries made the pole round during Friday qualifying and thus will start inside the top-12.

Johnson was fourth in final practice while Gordon was 12th but only two-tenths off the fast time set by Kevin Harvick.

While it’s true that Hendrick hasn’t won since Daytona in July, it’s never a good idea to count out any of the four Hendrick cars at this point of the season. Both Johnson and Gordon were confident during the Chase Media Day event in Downtown Chicago that they would have extra speed during the playoffs and they showed it last week at Chicagoland.

No doubt, the benchmark has been set by Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske entering the Chase for the Championship. But if Hendrick Motorsports intends to join the fray, they will show their hand on Sunday at New Hampshire.

After all, they always do.

EMAIL MATT AT matt.weaver@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @MattWeaverSBN

Categories
Editorial

New Hampshire Sets Dover Up to Be “New Richmond”

By Matt Weaver — The second round of the Chase for the Championship took place at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday but the race itself played out a lot like Martinsville on steroids. The bright yellow that adorns the playoff entries became a target of sorts for the Magic Mile, the track seemingly waving a wand of disaster over those fighting for the championship.

There was a considerable amount of carnage on Sunday, mostly involving those fighting to advance to the Round of 12 in the new-look Chase for the Championship. The end result is that the elimination race at Dover has set itself up to be everything that the regular season finale at Richmond wasn’t.

Despite expanding the playoff field to 16 teams, Richmond lacked its usual dramatic flair as 15 of the spots were virtually filled entering the weekend with the 16th a near certainty. The race was a snoozer with Brad @Keselowski dominating the proceedings and @RyanJNewman and @GregBiffle silently earning the last two playoff berths to little fanfare.

Fortunately for fans, the new Chase Grid format is set to provide what Richmond lacked three more times with elimination races at Dover, Talladega and Phoenix. For this first elimination race, Keselowski and @JoeyLogano are locked-in purely based off their victories in the first two races of the Chase for the Championship.

Kevin Harvick is a near lock as he is 41 points ahead of 13th in the standings, the cut-off point for the next round. The next four drivers, a list that includes @JimmieJohnson, @DaleJr, @KyleBusch and @JeffGordonWeb have a little margin for error but likely cannot afford a DNF on Sunday.

Meanwhile, 18 points separate the bottom half of the field where a dogfight is set to break out between Carl Edwards, @MattKenseth, @AJDinger, @KaseyKahne, Newman, @DennyHamlin, Biffle, @KurtBusch and @AricAlmirola and it looks a little like this:

Edwards +8

Kenseth +8

Allmendinger +7

Kahne +6

Newman +6

Hamlin -6

Biffle -6

KuBusch -8

Almirola -10

Say what you will about how the status quo is a radical departure from previous championship formats but this version of the Chase certainly provides tangible drama and does so in bunches.

There have been surprises too.

After blowing an engine at Chicagoland Speedway to open his playoff run, Almirola dropped to the bottom of the standings and 20 points out of a transfer spot. Following a sixth-place at New Hampshire, he gained 10 of the 20 back and another top-10 could be enough the scratch and claw his way into the so-called Contender 12 Round.

Meanwhile, Allmendinger and JTG-Daugherty Racing was perceived as the weak link entering the playoffs but surviving to finishes of 22nd and 13th has them in a provisional transfer spot against all odds.

Conversely … Hamlin, Biffle and Kurt Busch all drive for powerhouses like Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing respectively. The fact that underdog drivers and underpowered teams have gone toe-to-toe with the Big Boys of NASCAR and are thrived to eliminate them from contention is an engaging subplot as any to come out of the topsy-turvy 2014 season.

Teams proved willing to take chances in the new regular season to earn a playoff berth and now Dover will give them the chance to take one more in order to advance to the Contender Round. It has epic written all over it.

Team Penske on Verge of Perfection

Roger Penske is starting to put the final touches on the closest thing one can have to perfection as a team owner in the volatile world of motorsports. But with a Logano victory on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, it looks more achievable than ever before.

Team Penske has already won the IndyCar Series championship this season, finishing first and second in the standings with Will Power and Helio Castroneves. They’ve also scored a major coup this month in acquiring the services of Marcos Ambrose as the team embarks on their debut V8 Super Car Series journey.

Next up for Team Penske is scoring the second Sprint Cup Series championship in the organization’s history. And compared to their rivals, Penske has the best shot as both Logano and Brad Keselowski are the only two drivers locked into the second round of the Chase for the Championship.

As things currently stand, Team Penske are running first and second in the Sprint Cup standings after finishing 1-2 in IndyCar, an amazing combined display given the relative parity in both divisions.

Sometimes it’s just your year.

Categories
Trucks

Loudon Lowdown: Five Points Separate ThorSport Teammates

By Vito Pugliese – Saturday’s UNOH 175 at Loudon, NH marks the 16th race of the season, and seven to go as the Camping World Truck Series Championship looks to be decided between @Matt_Crafton and @JohnnySauter. Crafton edged ahead of ThorSport teammate Sauter by five points following last week’s race at Chicagoland Speedway. While @KyleBusch had to fight from the back twice, Crafton’s second place finish was reminiscent of his performance a year ago which garnered him his first Truck Series championship, after 13 years of full-time competition.

Absent from the Truck Series schedule the past two seasons, New Hampshire returns as a bright spot for Crafton. His last three finishes there are two fourth place finishes and a sixth place run in 2011. Teammate and points shadow Sauter has essentially the same record – two fifth place runs in 2009 and 2011 book-ending a seventh place run in 2011. Third place points driver @RyanBlaney22 trails by just 16 markers, but has yet to visit The Magic Mile. The series other flat one mile track in Phoenix produced results similar to those of his two points rivals – a seventh and fifth place finish.

While Kyle Busch added to his win total at Chicagoland winning for the sixth time in seven starts, he will not be in the field this weekend, given the rest of the regulars pause for reflection on how they might actually win this race. Erik Jones will in the No. 51, he has proven to be just about the equal to the boss should he not get caught up in anything not of his doing. Jones had a win this year at Iowa and finished third in his last start in this truck at the road course in Ontario. It’s worth noting that Jones did indeed score his first career win last season at Phoenix, which is also a flat one-mile track – at the ripe old age of 17.

Jones isn’t the only driver ineligible to drink in victory lane this weekend. @GrayGaulding, the 16-year old who has impressed in each of his starts this season will be in one of two Bob Newberry trucks this season. Gaulding finished fourth at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in his last start. Gaulding has two starts at Loudon in the K&N East Series, finishing 8th both times, but like @Erik_Jones, has a win at Phoenix a year ago in the K&N West Series – at 15 years of age. While Austin Dillon drove this No. 20 truck to a win at Pocono this summer, crew chief Chris Rice will not be. He was suspended for one race and fined $7,500 after the No. 20 failed post-race inspection at Chicagoland. Rice was already on probation from an infraction earlier in the season for a P3 level penalty. Owner Bob Newberry was fined ten owner’s points as well.

There are also other happening within the NTS team, as @RonHornaday is back in action next Saturday with his former NTS Motorsports team. The No. 9 Chevrolet will wear the Rheem colors that he started the year in the No. 30 at Turner Scott Motorsports. It is a two-race deal for now that will see the four-time champion in the seat for next weekend’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and next month at Texas Motor Speedway. Hornaday was fourth in the point standings before the events unfolded that saw the Steve Turner-owned portion of the team dissolve while the teams were en route to Canadian Tire Motorsports Park last month.

This weekend’s coverage begins at 1: 00pm Saturday on FOX Sports 1.