Kasey Kahne’s Hendrick resume gets better and better
Call it motivation from within. And Rick Hendrick likely wouldn’t have it any other way. Jimmie Johnson’s road to a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship well might converge with those of one or more Hendrick Motorsports teammates.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., in fifth place, headed the standings earlier this year.
Now the pressure comes from Kasey Kahne, who ended the 2012 season with a flourish and has yet to lift his foot from the accelerator of the No. 5 Chevrolet.
Kahne’s third top-two finish of the season last Sunday at Kansas Speedway boosted the Washington native to the No. 2 spot in rankings entering Saturday night’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Kahne trails Johnson by 37 points.
A year ago – his first with the Hendrick organization – Kahne had just begun his climb from the purgatory of four finishes of 29th or worse in the season’s opening six races. A fifth-place finish at Richmond was part of a 10-race run of top 10s that included a Coca-Cola 600 victory in Charlotte.
Kahne made the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ and finished fourth in points. His current second place matches a career best, and he’s never been this high in the points this late in the season.
“I feel like we have a great team and we’re in a really good spot right now,” said Kahne after running second to Kansas winner Matt Kenseth.
Statistically speaking, Kahne has been hot and cold at Richmond. He scored his first Sprint Cup victory at the 0.75-mile track in spring 2005 leading 242 of the 400 laps.
Kahne’s Driver Rating of 87.8, however, ranks 12th among current competitors and his average finish is 18.0.
Judging a driver’s present with his past can be deceiving. Kahne’s Richmond statistics are a mix of 18 races with Hendrick, Red Bull Racing, Richard Petty Motorsports and Evernham Motorsports.
Better to consider what Kahne has done on short tracks in 2013: a victory at Bristol and fourth at Martinsville, where he qualified second and fifth, respectively.
Hendrick Motorsports is tops among active Sprint Cup owners at Richmond with 10 wins. The team’s drivers – Johnson, Kahne, Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon – combine for nine Richmond victories.
Stenhouse Ready To Put Rookie Stripe Among Top 10
Things didn’t break Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s way at Kansas Speedway.
But they knew the Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate was there.
The race report shows the two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion finishing 11th – which matches his career-best finish, one position away from his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series top 10.
But it also notes that the Mississippi competitor qualified his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford third and led twice for 26 laps. Before being bitten by the race strategy bug late in the race, it appeared Stenhouse could be visiting his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Victory Lane to become the first Sunoco Rookie of the Year winner since Joey Logano accomplished the feat at New Hampshire in 2009.
“We are coming off a weekend where we led laps and ran near the front so we need to carry that momentum into this weekend,” Stenhouse said. “We keep getting closer to the top 10 each week, so hopefully we can get our first top 10 this weekend.”
Stenhouse never has competed in a Sprint Cup race at the 0.75-mile track. But he has plenty of experience there in Roush Fenway Racing NASCAR Nationwide Series Fords. He logged four top-five finishes in six Richmond starts. He won the pole and finished second in last September’s event.
“Richmond is the typical short track racing, which is a lot of fun,” said Stenhouse, who finished 16th at Bristol and 25th at Martinsville in the season’s two previous short track races.
Stenhouse ranks second in Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings two points behind Danica Patrick, who likewise will be making her first Sprint Cup start in Richmond. Stenhouse is 18th in overall Sprint Cup points; Patrick 25th.
Consecutive Top 10s Give Almirola Optimism
It’s been a long dry spell for the No. 43 car at Richmond – 38 years since Richard Petty’s last of 13 victories in Virginia’s capital, if you’re counting – but this week The King’s team is arriving with momentum.
Aric Almirola posted his second consecutive top-10 finish, a career best, in Kansas and is looking for more. Almirola ranks 13th in the standings and is hopeful of giving Richard Petty Motorsports its second berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™. Petty’s team has qualified for a single Chase, in 2009 with Kasey Kahne. The 29-year-old Almirola has competed twice in Sprint Cup competition at Richmond, finishing 26th in both races a year ago. The Tampa, Fla., native feels this time will be different.
Almirola’s No. 43 Ford finished 37th and 20th in the season’s two short track events at Bristol and Martinsville. He was fourth at Martinsville last fall.
RCR Rebound Ready At Richmond
Richmond may spell the end to a slow start by Richard Childress Racing.
RCR drivers have yet to score a top five in 2013, but that could change at RCR-friendly Richmond. Kevin Harvick won at Richmond in a Chevrolet in 2011, the only non-Toyota victory in the past eight Richmond races. In last year’s fall Richmond race, both Harvick and Virginia native Jeff Burton scored top-10 finishes.
Arguably the biggest surprise of the young season has been the performance of Paul Menard. Menard has won once in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, and it was a big one – the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2011. Thus far, he’s on pace for another major accomplishment – a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. Currently ninth in points, Menard has scored four top-10 finishes through eight races this season. His career best is nine, last season. Menard has yet to score a top 10 at Richmond; his best finish was 13th last April.
NASCAR Hall Of Famers, Nominees Share Richmond Link
On Monday, the month-long countdown toward one of the most important – and fascinating – days on the NASCAR calendar began. On May 22, five new members will be voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, N.C. – and many of those on the ballot and already in the hall have a direct connection to this weekend’s host track, Richmond International Raceway.
First among them is two-time series champion Joe Weatherly. In 1955, Weatherly partnered with Paul Sawyer to purchase a small dirt track in Richmond, Va., then known as the Atlantic Rural Fairground. Eventually, that track grew to become one of the most exciting and beloved paved short tracks in NASCAR – Richmond International Raceway.
In all, 53 of the 113 Richmond races were won by NASCAR Hall of Famers; another nine were won by nominees who will be voted upon on May 22. That list: Weatherly (three wins), Benny Parsons and Dale Jarrett (two each), and Tim Flock and Rex White (one each). Five NASCAR HOF nominees hail from Virginia: H. Clay Earles (Martinsville), Rick Hendrick (Palmer Springs), Wendell Scott (Danville), Curtis Turner (Roanoke) and Joe Weatherly (Norfolk).
The overall NASCAR Hall of Fame vote once again includes a nationwide Fan Vote, which is currently open and will run through May 21 on NASCAR.com: http://nas.cr/g7MY. Those with a ticket for admission into the NASCAR Hall of Fame can watch the announcement on May 22.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.
Milestone Watch: Jeff Gordon is still one top-five finish away from becoming the fourth driver to reach 300 top-five NSCS finishes. Gordon has two top fives in the last three Richmond races. … Kyle Busch is approaching two impressive laps-led milestones. With three more laps led, he’ll reach 9,000 laps led in the NSCS. He’s also nearing the 25,000 laps-led mark in his NASCAR national series career. He’s currently at 24,837, needing 163 laps led to reach 25K. … NSCS drivers Tony Stewart, Busch, Matt Kenseth, Michael Waltrip, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., along with NNS and NCWTS drivers Trevor Bayne, Regan Smith and NASCAR Drive for Diversity graduates Kyle Larson and Darrell Wallace Jr. will race in Thursday night’s Denny Hamlin Short Track Showdown charity race at Richmond. … Tommy Baldwin Racing’s JJ Yeley joins The NASCAR Foundation as the industry celebrates the 10th Annual NASCAR Day on Friday, May 17. Yeley is running a special ‘NASCAR Day’ paint scheme on his No. 36 Chevrolet SS in Saturday’s race at Richmond. Camping World, the Official Outdoor and RV Retailer of NASCAR, has joined the cause this year and will make available the limited-edition NASCAR Day pin, designed by NASCAR’s first officially licensed artist Sam Bass, until May 17 at Camping World SuperCenters nationwide for a $10 donation to The NASCAR Foundation. Visit CampingWorld.com/stores to find a location near you. NASCAR fans and supporters also can pick up their collectible pins at tracks during select race weekends or online at NASCAR.com/foundation.
Sadler Still Searching For First Win At Home
In 45 starts among NASCAR’s three national series at Richmond International Raceway, Elliott Sadler has never visited Victory Lane at his home track.
Sadler, who is from nearby Emporia, Va., will try to reverse his fortunes when the NASCAR Nationwide Series hits the asphalt for Friday night’s ToyotaCare 250 at the 0.75-mile short track.
In 19 series starts, Sadler’s best finish is a runner-up performance that came in the spring 2005 race. In last year’s spring event at Richmond, Sadler finished sixth; he finished 12th in the fall event. He has two top-five and six top-10 finishes and has led a total of 58 laps.
Given the proximity to his hometown, where he still resides, a victory at Richmond is definitely among items he’d like check off his “To Do List” – preferably sooner rather than later.
During the offseason, Sadler, who is seventh in the standings (36 points behind Sam Hornish Jr.), switched teams, coming over to pilot the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota after two years with Richard Childress Racing. His new team has seen success in Richmond with Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin each winning two series events for JGR. Most recently, the pair swept the track’s two events in 2011 with Hamlin dominating the spring contest and Busch taking the fall race.
In the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Sadler has started 24 races, but only has one top-10 finish – a seventh-place showing that came in the spring 2005 event. He has finished on the lead lap in only four of the races and has only led one lap. In his two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts at Richmond he has finishes of 29th and 30th.
Sadler’s new team owner, Joe Gibbs, has also fielded race winners at Richmond nine times in the premier series, third most among owners – behind only Richard Petty and Rick Hendrick.
Earnhardt’s Time To Shine With Ride From Popular Uncle
With the Earnhardt name comes lofty expectations from the fans, media and … family.
Jeffrey Earnhardt, the son of Kerry Earnhardt and grandson of the late Dale Earnhardt, will pilot the No. 5 JR Motorsports Chevrolet in Friday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Richmond for 10-time NMPA Most Popular driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., who just happens to be his uncle.
The opportunity could be Jeffrey’s last chance to prove that he has the chops to succeed in one of NASCAR’s national series. He’ll be in top-notch equipment as JR Motorsports receives engines and support from Hendrick Motorsports. So, there will be very little room for excuses.
In five races this season, the youngest member in the Earnhardt NASCAR lineage has an average finishing position of 24.4, with his best finish (20th) coming at Phoenix. In 15 career starts in the NNS, his best finish is a 19tj in the July 2011 event at Daytona International Speedway.
In 10 career races in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Jeffrey’s best finish is a seventh in the 2011 season opener at Daytona. He hasn’t competed in that series since October 2011.
Friday night’s race will be his first competition at the track in one of NASCAR’s national series.
Pastrana Hits One-Year Anniversary
One year ago this weekend, Travis Pastrana finally made his NASCAR Nationwide Series debut – a debut that was supposed to arrive nine months earlier. After breaking his right ankle and foot in the Moto X Best Trick competition in the 2011 X Games in late July, the extreme sports star postponed his scheduled series debut at Lucas Oil Raceway.
Fast forward to April 27, 2012, at Richmond International Raceway, Pastrana finally made his long-awaited debut starting 25th. He finished the race 22nd, two laps back. On the year, he started nine races (eight with RAB Racing, one with Roush Fenway Racing) and posted a best finish of 13th (Indianapolis). In his final race of the season – his only race with RFR in 2012 – Pastrana finished 17th after starting fifth.
For 2013, he signed with RFR to drive a full season in the seat of the No. 60 Ford. After six races, he’s already captured a pair of 10th-place finishes (Daytona, Las Vegas) and is still searching for that elusive first victory. He currently sits 14th in the points standings, 67 points behind leader Sam Hornish Jr.
NASCAR Nationwide Series Etc.
This Friday at Richmond, Kyle Busch will attempt the rare feat of winning four consecutive races. Sam Ard (1983) is the only driver to have accomplished it. … Nineteen-year-old Ryan Reed of Bakersfield, Calif., will attempt to qualify for Friday night’s race in the No. 16 American Diabetes Association Ford for Roush Fenway Racing. Reed was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes two years ago. … Sam Hornish Jr. continues to lead the points standings, but the competition has tightened. Regan Smith (-2), Austin Dillon (-8), Justin Allgaier (-9) and Brian Scott (-9) are all within striking distance of Hornish.
Nothing Unlucky About 13 For Crafton, Kansas
Thirteen is a lucky number, for Matt Crafton and Kansas Speedway.
Crafton’s victory at the 1.5-mile track set a record with 13 different winners since the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series began its annual visits in 2001. The facility had shared the record with Homestead-Miami Speedway, whose streak ran from 1996-2007.
The SFP 250 was Crafton’s 13th visit to Kansas Speedway – the only driver to have run in each of the track’s races. His previous best finish, fifth, came in 2004.
Closing in on his 300th series consecutive start – Kansas was No. 298 – Crafton snapped a 39-race winless streak dating to July 2011 at Iowa Speedway.
The victory gave ThorSport Racing a virtual stranglehold on the series through the schedule’s first four races. On Wednesday, Crafton inherited the series points lead after his ThorSport Racing teammate Johnny Sauter was penalized 25 points for an infraction at Kansas Speedway. Sauter fell to second place.
Sauter has won twice and finished fifth, the only driver to have posted top fives in each of the year’s opening events. Crafton has four top 10s. It’s the first time Sandusky, Ohio-based ThorSport has claimed the top two spots since becoming a full-time NCWTS team in 1998.
“Everybody said it can’t be done [outside Charlotte],” said Crafton. “We’re making fools out of all the ones that said it can’t be done.”
Coulter Calls ‘Near Miss’ Turning Point For KBM Team
Joey Coulter didn’t get his second NASCAR Camping World Truck victory at Kansas Speedway. But he was close enough to suggest that his first season driving the No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports Toyota had reached critical mass.
Coulter, winner at Pocono Raceway last summer, settled for a solid second-place finish – just 0.167 seconds behind SFP 250 winner Matt Crafton. The pair staged a furious duel during the race’s closing laps. The finish was Coulter’s first top 10 of the year and lifted him to ninth in the standings.
“I believe our strong run was a turning point for this team and we are heading in the right direction,” said the 22-year-old driver from Miami Springs, Fla. “Once we get in a rhythm of being at the race track every weekend, things will get even better.”
Coulter is in his third full season in the series having finished third in last year’s points with Richard Childress Racing. He was seventh overall as a rookie in 2011.
“Things have really started coming together quickly for the 18 team,” he said. “Most of us have never worked together before so considering we have only been at the track four times this year, I am very pleased with the progress.
“[Crew chief] Harold [Holley] and I have been working together for a long time so I think it helps speed up the process.”
KBM teammate Darrell Wallace Jr., who has a pair of top-10 finishes including a fifth at Martinsville, is eighth in the standings, two points ahead of Coulter.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.
Matt Crafton and his wife Ashley are expecting their first child this week. … Despite a 15th-place finish at Kansas to break his three-race streak of top-10 finishes to start the season, Jeb Burton remains in the top three of the standings 25 points out of the lead.
Moffitt Ahead Going Into Richmond
Brett Moffitt leads the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East contingent to Richmond International Raceway for a Thursday evening showdown in the Blue Ox 100. The 20-year-old Moffitt edged Chase Elliott in a thriller last year by .011-seconds at the line.
Moffitt is still looking for his first win of 2013, but is leading the points by nine over Dylan Kwasniewski and rookie Gray Gaulding thanks to three top-five finishes.
Gaulding, a 15-year-old from Colonial Heights, Va., has three top 10s in his three K&N Pro Series East races, including a runner-up finish the last time out at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Fla. Add to that a runner-up finish in the non-points UNOH Battle At The Beach on the short track at Daytona and a sixth-place result in the K&N Pro Series West opener at Phoenix in February, and the youngster has had quite the solid start to his NASCAR career.
Fellow rookie Kenzie Ruston is coming off back-to-back top fives and Ben Kennedy looks to keep his momentum going after leading every lap in the win at Pensacola.
Three to watch: Bristol winner Kwasniewski will look to get back on track as the series returns to the big tracks; rookie and Virginia native Michael McGuire will make his first start since winning the pole and dominating early at Bristol; and last year’s series runner-up Corey LaJoie makes his first start of 2013.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour heads to Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway for the 42nd CARQUEST Tech-Net Spring Sizzler Sunday. Four winners in the past eight seasons have gone on to win the tour title.
NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES
- Next Race: Toyota Owners 400
- The Place: Richmond International Raceway
- The Date: Saturday, April 27
- The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)
- TV: FOX, 7 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 300 miles (400 laps)
NASCAR NATIONWIDE SERIES
- Next Race: ToyotaCare 250
- The Place: Richmond International Raceway
- The Date: Friday, April 26
- The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)
- TV: ESPNews, 7 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 187.5 miles (250 laps)
NASCAR CAMPING WORLD TRUCK SERIES
- Next Race: North Carolina Education Lottery 200
- The Place: Charlotte Motor Speedway
- The Date: Friday, May 17
- The Time: 8 p.m. (ET)
- TV: SPEED, 7:30 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 201 miles (134 laps)