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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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Commentary NASCAR Cup Series

Harvick ‘Disgusted’ with Recurring Pit Road Mistakes

After four races that featured a road course, restrictor plate racing, a repaved track and the all-new low downforce package, Sunday’s race at New Hampshire looked to be a preview of what’s to come when the Sprint Cup Series returns in September during the Chase.

Along with a return to the standard 2016 rules package and Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas dominating the top five, the New Hampshire 301 also saw the return of Kevin Harvick’s frustration on pit road.

The Bakersfield, Calif. native started in eighth and quickly worked his way into the top five. When the competition caution flew on Lap 35, Harvick found himself third behind Kyle Busch and Martin Truex, Jr.

The No. 4 Chevrolet exited the pits in 13th after a reported problem with the rear tire changer’s air gun. When the race restarted, Harvick again worked his through the back half of the top 10 despite reporting water temperature in excess of 260 degrees.

On the second round of pit stops, Harvick came to pit road in fourth and left in 11th. Crew chief Rodney Childers radioed to his driver that the team had an issue removing the left rear tire, which caused a longer stop on pit road.

Harvick’s team did hold serve during a round of yellow-flag pit stops just after Lap 220, keeping their driver in the fifth position with an opportunity to race with the leaders down the stretch.

After a spirited battle with Kyle Busch in the closing stages, Harvick settled for a fourth-place finish in the Granite State. Most drivers would consider themselves fortunate to leave with a top-five finish after experiencing some setbacks in one of the season’s shortest races. Not Harvick.

“I’m disgusted to tell you the truth. It’s the same thing every week,” Harvick told PRN. “We just make mistake after mistake and until we clean that up we don’t have a chance to win races putting ourselves in a hole every time we make a mistake. It sucks because the cars are plenty fast, but we are just not executing.”

The numbers support Harvick’s claim, too. The 2014 Sprint Cup champion has led 829 laps, which is third behind Kyle Busch and Truex. He boasts the series’ best average finish at 8.7 and holds a 14-point gap over Brad Keselowski. Unfortunately for Harvick, that will be rendered meaningless when the Chase grid is set by wins, as he currently has just one victory in 2016.

After the race, Harvick said changes will need to be made by the organization if they want to contend for another championship.

“It’s really going to have to come from the top. I mean, they are going to have to clamp down and there is no way we can win a championship like this unless they straighten some of this stuff out.

“We just have to perform better. We under-execute as a team on a weekly basis and got to do a better job.”

EMAIL HANK AT editors@popularspeed.com

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News

Childers to Remain at Stewart-Haas Long Term

Rodney Childers will be calling shots atop the pit box for Stewart-Haas Racing for several more years to come. The organization announced Friday morning that they signed the veteran crew chief to a multi-year contract extension, though the total of years was not specified.

There is no doubt that Childers is one of the best crew chiefs in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series at the moment. His success at SHR in a short span of time makes Monday morning’s announcement come as no surprise.

“Rodney Childers and Kevin Harvick set a new standard of excellence in 2014 that they’ve carried into this season,” team co-owner @TonyStewart said. “Keeping Rodney and Kevin together was a high priority, and we’re obviously very happy to have the two of them at Stewart-Haas Racing for many years to come.”

The Mooresville, North Carolina native made the move from Michael Waltrip Racing to SHR during the 2013 season and was paired with @KevinHarvick to lead the No. 4 team in 2014. In their first year together, the duo notched five wins, 20 top-10 finishes, and eight poles in route to the Sprint Cup championship. Their success has carried into the 2015 season as they’ve already visited victory lane twice and finished in the top-10 in 12 of the first 13 races.

The yearning for excellence from Harvick and his entire team allows a dream situation to continue to bloom for Childers.

“I knew when I came to Stewart-Haas Racing that this was a special opportunity,” Childers said. “Kevin’s skills have always been evident, and his hunger and desire to be the absolute best he can be in every practice, qualifying session and race motivates our entire team. We have great leadership at Stewart-Haas Racing along with a deep commitment toward success, excellent people, and strong partners. If you want to win, this is where you want to be, and I’m happy to be here for a long time.”

As SHR continues to grow and build, Childers has established himself as an integral part of the organization and its future. As the No. 4 team is once again strong favorites to win the championship, team founder and co-owner Gene Haas couldn’t be happier with the results.

“I’ve always believed in investing in exceptional, individual leaders and then providing the resources necessary for them to pave their own path and deliver results,” Haas said. “Rodney’s results speak for themselves, and we’re glad to have him helping this organization shape its future.”

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Harvick’s Momentum Likely to Continue

As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Phoenix International Raceway, California’s Kevin Harvick has every reason to live up to his nickname.

Harvick, known as “Happy” by many, is coming off a dominant performance at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leading 142 of 267 laps in his first win of the season. The win marks his sixth-consecutive top-two finish, dating back to the AAA Texas 500 November 2. Harvick’s hot streak started at the right time last year, powering him to his first career Sprint Cup championship. This year, it will more than likely earn him a spot in the chase.

“For the No. 4 team it just opens up a lot of things,” Harvick said this week. “When you win early, you can really start thinking about race 26. It allows us to, really just throw caution to the wind, and you go for wins.”

Richard Petty holds the record for most consecutive top-two finishes in 1975 with 11. Harvick has a challenge on his hands if he’s to break that record, but he’s heading to a track he’s strong at. Nobody will question Harvick’s strength at Phoenix International Raceway, winning the past three races there, dating back to the fall of 2013. With a year at Stewart-Haas Racing under his belt, whether he breaks the record or not, he said he’s in a lot better position with the team at this point than last year.

“It’s a pretty tight knit group that it’s become and very supportive of each other and I think when you look at who everybody is and how everybody reacts it’s not a group that’s going to…puff their chest and tell everybody how great they are. It’s saying how do we get better,” Harvick said.

However, while the 4 team is starting where they left off last year, not all is well at the Stewart-Haas Racing stable. Two-time champion Tony Stewart has failed to finish inside the top-30 so far. Harvick said that it isn’t an easy fix, but that the whole team is behind getting Stewart back to peak performance.

“Right now you have to zero in on what they’re fighting…Whether it’s myself or Danica or Tony.” Harvick said. “I’m in a fortunate spot, but we’re all in on trying to figure out exactly what Tony needs and really help him get back to where he needs to be.”

It’s possible the addition of a familiar face will help get the entire team performing strong. NASCAR announced Wednesday that Kurt Busch has been reinstated and will race this Sunday at Phoenix.

“Kurt’s a car guy, and he understands what’s going on with his race car, and obviously at the end of last year they were very competitive and qualifying well and everything seemed to be flowing pretty good,” Harvick said.

Harvick said that these next two races are special to him, because of the interactions he has with his longtime fans.

“For me, going to Las Vegas where I’ve raced since the mid-90s and going to Phoenix… racing the Southwest tour and Winston West and Trucks and all the way through the mid-90s was something that was like our Daytona,” Harvick said.

When asked if he’d be surprised if comes right out of the gate at Phoenix and be the favorite to win, Harvick said, “It’s always one that you circle on the calendar that you think you should be competitive at.”

With momentum on his side, Kevin Harvick flies to Phoenix happy.

EMAIL RYAN AT ryan.decosta@popularspeed.com
FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @rsdecosta

Categories
News

“No Evidence So Far of Criminal Intent” in Stewart Incident

By Matt Weaver — Ontario County Sheriff Philip C. Povero held a news conference on Monday afternoon and stated that no evidence has been presented that would suggest that a criminal act took place during the incident between Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward Jr. on Saturday night at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Motorsports Park.

The turn of events claimed the life of Ward, a 20-year-old sprint car driver, and occurred when Ward climbed out of his car and walked down the banking to express his displeasure at Stewart following a racing crash. Stewart’s right rear wheel made contact with Ward, sending the driver hurtling several feet across the track.

Ward was transported to a local hospital where he was announced dead upon arrival.

Povero stated that Ward died as a result of blunt force trauma according to the Ontario County Coroner who released his findings to the sheriff’s office on Monday.

“The autopsy was conducted today,” Povero said. “The Ontario County coroner has stated cause of death was massive blunt trauma.”

Povero said that his office also had access to a second fan video shot during the race on Saturday night and that it provided a different angle than the one circulated immediately after the incident. The County is also seeking additional videos as the investigation continues. As a result, there is no timetable for the investigation to come to a close.

“No timelines set on this. We want to complete this investigation as quickly as possible … I have to stress that as of this time, there are no facts that exist that support any criminal behavior or conduct or support any probable cause in this investigation,” Povero added.

“There are no facts right now that would support someone committed a criminal act.”

Povero stated numerous times on Monday afternoon that Stewart and his representation has been in constant communication with the sheriff’s office and that the three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion remained available and cooperative. His office has also continued to seek out and speak to individuals who competed in the race, those involved in the event as well as attendees and spectators.

Povero also stated that he was not aware of any in-car footage from the Stewart car.

Stewart-Haas Racing has stated that the driver is not sure if he will compete in this weekend’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Michigan International Speedway. Stewart has withdrew his entry from Saturday night’s sprint car race at Plymouth Speedway in Indiana.

Categories
Development Journalists

Stewart Haas Racing Making Strides Despite Early Struggles

By Stephanie Adair – On Sunday, 2004 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion @KurtBusch won for the first time this season. His team, Stewart-Haas Racing became the first to have a repeat win. One could say that the organization has gotten off to a great start this year, but there is more to the story.

Just a few weeks ago, headlines after the Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway reported the struggles SHR seemed to be facing. Now, in spite of two wins all four of their teams are currently sitting outside of the top ten in the points standings. Co-owner and three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, @TonyStewart ranks the highest at 15th, while the organizations two winners, Busch and @KevinHarvick are placed 20th and 25th respectively.

Why is there such a stark contrast between the team’s successes and struggles?

Looking back over Stewart Haas Racing’s six year history, this pattern is normal. For example, within a span of 11 races in 2012, Stewart captured five top fives, but also had five finishes outside of the top 20. Two years earlier, former SHR driver @RyanJNewman gained four top fives including a win, and five finishes outside the top 15 in a period of 10 races.

Despite this tendency, Stewart Haas Racing has been present in the Chase every year with Stewart winning his third championship in 2011.

In the first six races of the 2014 season, the organization has continued to have mixed results. Along with the success of two strong wins, there has also been some adversity along the way with 13 finishes outside the top 20. Don’t be surprised if Stewart Haas Racing continues with the same dynamic until the Chase.

If Busch and Harvick make the playoffs like they are expected to under the new Chase format, look for both to be serious contenders in the final races. Keep an eye on Stewart as well. A win and possible Chase berth are easily within his reach after placing in the top five twice in the past three races.

Stephanie Adair is a Popular Speed Development Journalist