Clutch City: Kenseth Holds Serve, Looks To Make More ‘Magic’
Kenseth won the opening Chase for the NASCAR Sprint race as the No. 1 seed – only Mark Martin in 2009 had done that before. Now he looks to join another all-time great, Terry Labonte. Labonte’s the only driver that had gone a decade or more between his first and second championships (his first came in 1984; second in 1996).
If history serves as a blueprint, that very well may happen. Since Chicagoland became host of Chase race No. 1, the race winner went on to win the championship each year (Tony Stewart in 2011; Brad Keselowski in 2012).
Two major roadblocks stand in Kenseth’s way, however. First, and most immediately: New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Kenseth has just two top 10s in the last 11 races. His average finish over that span: 18.6. On the bright side, all but one of those finishes were in Roush Fenway Racing equipment. His lone race with Joe Gibbs Racing resulted in a ninth-place finish, in July.
Second: The rest of the Chase field put Kenseth on notice – he may be the favorite, but in no way will he breeze to a second championship
To wit: The top six in Sunday’s race were all Chase drivers. And even with the max-point win, Kenseth’s points lead grew by a mere five points – from three to eight over Kyle Busch. And he didn’t pad his cushion over many other Chasers either. The top seven are all separated by just 25 points.
So, give Round 1 to Kenseth. But the likes of Jimmie Johnson and Busch – the second and third seed entering the Chase, respectively – aren’t far behind.
Busch finished second at New Hampshire in June, leading 53 laps. And Johnson has 11 top 10s in the last 13 races, including a runner-up finish in last year’s New Hampshire Chase race.
Message To Earnhardt, Logano: Don’t Worry Be Happy
Engine troubles ended Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Joey Logano’s night early at Chicagoland on Sunday, dropping the two drivers to 12th and 13th in the standings.
Heading to New Hampshire for the SYLVANIA 300 and the second round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup fight, Logano and Earnhardt sit 52 and 53 points, respectively, behind points leader Matt Kenseth.
And guess what: Big deal. There’s plenty of Chase left; just ask Jimmie Johnson.
While those in Logano and Earnhardt’s camps might sound the alarms, the drivers should at least find solace in that Johnson started off the 2006 Chase on a rather sour note, finishing 39th in the first Chase race, which coincidentally was in New Hampshire. The lackluster showing dropped him from second to ninth in the standings, in a year where there were only 10 Chase contenders.
As everyone knows, Johnson rebounded after the opening race to capture the first of his record five consecutive titles on the strength of one win and four runner-up finishes in the last nine races. It was the worst finish in the first Chase race by an eventual champion.
In 10 starts at the 1.058-mile oval, Logano has one win (June 2009) and four top 10s. The win was the Connecticut native’s first trip to Victory Lane in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Earnhardt has collected seven top fives and 11 top 10s in 28 starts at the track, his best finish a third in September 2004.
Clearly, Earnhardt and Logano would have preferred a strong start. History indicates a top-10 finish in Chase race No. 1 is ideal for championship hopes. The average finish in the first Chase race for the eventual champion is 9.0, with seven of the previous nine eventual titlists finishing in the top 10.
Here’s the breakdown:
2004 – Kurt Busch – Won, New Hampshire
2005 – Tony Stewart – 2nd, New Hampshire
2006 – Jimmie Johnson – 39th, New Hampshire
2007 – Jimmie Johnson – 6th, New Hampshire
2008 – Jimmie Johnson – 2nd, New Hampshire
2009 – Jimmie Johnson – 4th, New Hampshire
2010 – Jimmie Johnson – 25th, New Hampshire
2011 – Tony Stewart – Won, Chicagoland
2012 – Brad Keselowski – Won, Chicagoland
12 For 12: Harvick Could Make It A Dozen
Over the past 11 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, dating back to June 2008, 11 different drivers have visited Victory Lane. Of those 11, seven of them are contenders in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup – Kurt Busch, Greg Biffle, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne. Mark Martin, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin and Brian Vickers are the other four most recent visitors to Victory Lane.
One of the Chase drivers not among the 11 most recent winners in Loudon, N.H., is Kevin Harvick, who finished third in the opening Chase race last Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. This Sunday during the SYLVANIA 300 he will try to add his name to that list as the 12th consecutive different winner.
Harvick has found success at the 1.058-mile oval previously. In 25 starts, he has been running at the finish in all 25 races, finishing on the lead lap in 19 of them. He has compiled five top fives and 13 top 10s. He crossed the finish line first after leading 196 of the 300 laps in the September 2006 event, the opening race of that year’s Chase. In 17 races, his average driver rating at the track is 92.1, tied for ninth best among all active drivers.
When the Chase field was reset prior to the Chicagoland race, Harvick was seeded fourth, nine points behind leader Matt Kenseth. Harvick earned six bonus points for taking home trophies after the spring Richmond race and the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte. He remains fourth in points, 15 markers outside of first.
Busch, Gordon Show Championship Resiliency
For past champions Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch, overcoming adversity and rebounding from bad luck have defined their 2013 season. Race No. 1 of the 10-race Chase was no different.
Busch faced a pit road speeding plenty during green-flag pit stops early in Sunday’s race, but rebounded for a fourth-place finish – his career best finish at Chicagoland Speedway. Four-time champion Gordon fell victim to bad luck – a cut tire that trapped him one lap down – but charged back through the field to finish sixth.
The strong start for the former champions could spell trouble for other Chase contenders. Their resilience at Chicagoland placed them sixth and seventh in points, respectively. And this weekend’s race will be at a track where both drivers have been strong at in the past; they each boast three wins apiece at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
When Busch won the championship in 2004 his only Chase win during the playoff stretch came in New Hampshire. Busch ran in the top five during the July New Hampshire race before his tangle with Ryan Newman relegated him to a 31st-place finish. Jeff Gordon is at the top of just about every statistical category at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, including average running position and driver rating. Gordon also picked up a top 10 in New Hampshire earlier this year, the first NHMS event using the Gen-6 race car.
Spoiled: Hamlin And Vickers Plan To Crash The Party
In Denny Hamlin’s first seven years of full-time racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series he has earned a spot in NASCAR’s postseason – the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup – every season. In 2013, his eighth season, the streak ended, and for the first time in his career he’s on the outside looking in.
He has company though, in the form of Brian Vickers, who is driving the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota in preparation for his full-time return to NASCAR’s premier series in 2014.
Hamlin and Vickers are the two most recent drivers to celebrate at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the site of Sunday’s SYLVANIA 300, the second round of NASCAR’s 10-race playoffs. Although neither driver is in the Chase field, both drivers are expected to be gunning for the win and hoping to play the role of “spoiler.”
Hamlin, who is currently 27th in the standings, won this event last September, leading 193 of 300 laps. He also won in New Hampshire in July 2007. He has compiled seven top-five and 10 top-10 finishes in 15 starts. His average driver rating is 103.5, fourth highest among all active drivers.
NASCAR Nationwide Series regular Vickers has split seat time between the No. 55 and No. 11 this season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, competing in 13 events. In the premier series’ first trip to New Hampshire, Vickers scored an improbable win after leading only the last 16 circuits. In 16 starts at the 1.058-mile track, he finished in the top 10 four times. His average driver rating is 84.3.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Etc.
If Clint Bowyer has a solid run in Sunday’s race in New Hampshire and finishes in the top five, it will be the Kansas native’s 50th top-five finish in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. … Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth and David Gilliland will all hit milestones this weekend – 875th NSCS start for Martin, 500th NSCS start for Kenseth and 250th start for Gilliland. Martin, who is subbing for Tony Stewart, is fifth on the all-time series starts list behind only Richard Petty (1,185), Ricky Rudd (906), Terry Labonte (885) and Dave Marcis (883). … With 40 laps led at Chicagoland, Jimmie Johnson became the ninth driver to reach 15,000 laps led. Next on the list is Rusty Wallace, who led 19,971 laps in his 25-year career.
Center Stage: Kentucky Speedway Grabs Spotlight In Final Standalone
A third-place performance in Saturday’s race at Chicagoland Speedway helped add another point to Sam Hornish Jr.’s lead over Austin Dillon in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings. It could have been more, but Dillon finished one spot further back in fourth.
This Saturday, the NASCAR Nationwide Series heads back to Kentucky Speedway for the Kentucky 300 with Hornish looking to further extend his lead over Dillon, which currently stands at a margin of 17 markers.
The race is the series’ sixth and final standalone event of 2013, and without any NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers in the field, Hornish and Dillon have to be considered the favorites to visit Victory Lane. A win for either driver could go a long way in creating momentum for the final seven races of the season and a possible run at the championship.
The winners of the first five standalones: AJ Allmendinger, who was victorious at Road America and Mid-Ohio; Joey Logano at Chicagoland; Brad Keselowski in the August race at Iowa. Amazingly, all four of these wins came in the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford. The lone outsider was Trevor Bayne, who won the first standalone event of the season at Iowa in June. Bayne was behind the wheel of the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford.
Hornish, who drives the No. 12 Penske Racing Ford, has three top-10 finishes in three starts at Kentucky Speedway. Last season he finished sixth and second in two trips to the 1.5-mile speedway. In June of this year, he placed ninth, for an average finishing position of 5.7.
Dillon has also started three NASCAR Nationwide races at Kentucky but has a slightly better record than Hornish, helped by a season sweep at the track in 2012. He followed that up with a sixth-place performance in the series’ first trip to the track in 2013. In three Kentucky races in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, he’s finished second, 14th and ninth.
Truck Drivers Spend Weekend Off Racing In NASCAR Nationwide Series
It is not uncommon for drivers to list “racing” as an activity they like to do during their down time. For many, a weekend off from their regular job has them itching to find a seat in a car for one of the series that is competing that weekend.
Such is the case for five NASCAR Camping World Truck Series regulars who will be moonlighting this weekend in the NASCAR Nationwide Series Kentucky 300 while the trucks head into an open week.
Jeb Burton will make his series debut in the NNS at the helm of the No. 34 Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolet this weekend. In one truck series start at Kentucky he placed ninth.
Dakoda Armstrong will make his fifth start in the series and Kentucky debut this weekend in the No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. In four NCWTS starts, his best finish is ninth.
Joey Coulter will make his NNS Kentucky debut behind the wheel of the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Coulter’s best finish at the track in five NCWTS starts is fourth.
NCWTS points leader Matt Crafton will compete in his third race in the NNS, driving the No. 33 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. In his series debut at Kentucky earlier this year, Crafton finished third after leading eight laps.
Ryan Blaney will pilot the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford in his 15th start in the NNS. Blaney finished ninth in this event last year and placed 15th in his only other series start at Kentucky.
Owners’ Championship Bout Tightens
Chalk up another victory for Kyle Busch and the No. 54 team as they slowly cut into the No. 22’s lead in the owners’ championship battle.
On Saturday afternoon, Busch piloted the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to a dominating victory at Chicagoland in the NASCAR Nationwide Series. In the race, Busch led 195 of the 200 laps and beat Joey Logano in the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford to the finish line by 1.615 seconds.
The win reduced the No. 22’s 18-point lead in the owners’ championship race to only 13.
In 26 races, three different drivers – Brad Keselowski, Logano and AJ Allmendinger – have all taken the No. 22 to Victory Lane for a total of nine trips. Busch has captured the checkered flag 10 times this season while driving the No. 54, which is tied for second on the all-time single-season wins list. Busch holds the record, with 13 wins in 2010.
NASCAR Nationwide Series Etc.
Elliott Sadler will make his 675th NASCAR national series start Saturday at Kentucky. The Virginia native has compiled 20 NASCAR Camping World Truck, 223 NASCAR Nationwide and 431 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts in 19 years. … Jeffrey Earnhardt will attempt to make his 25th career start in the NASCAR Nationwide Series this Saturday. It will also be his Kentucky debut in the series. … NNS regulars Joe Nemechek and Brian Vickers will be pulling double-duty this weekend, competing Saturday night in the NNS race at Kentucky and then running the Sunday afternoon NSCS race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Five NCWTS Drivers To Make Track Debuts At Las Vegas Motor Speedway
On Sept. 28, five drivers in the top 20 of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series points standings will make their Las Vegas debut in the series: Jeb Burton (fourth), Ryan Blaney (fifth), Darrell Wallace Jr. (ninth), Dakoda Armstrong (12th) and German Quiroga (14th) are all entered in the event.
Burton’s crew chief Mike Hillman Jr. won the 2005 Las Vegas race with Todd Bodine, and that experience might come in handy once again at the 1.5-mile track.
Burton will enter Las Vegas coming off his fifth pole of the season at Chicagoland, and second on intermediate tracks. The other came at Charlotte. Burton also qualified up front at Rockingham, Martinsville and Michigan in August.
Las Vegas might also be just what Burton needs to get back to Victory Lane after picking up his first career win at Texas in June, another 1.5-mile track.
Blaney also has won already this season (Pocono) and has run well at comparable tracks this season. Blaney, who enters the Smith’s Food and Drug Stores 350 at LVMS in fifth place in the driver standings, already has won a pole this season at Kentucky Speedway, a sister track to Las Vegas.
After averaging a 17th-place showing in his first three races on intermediate tracks, the third-generation driver has improved to a fifth-place average over his last four starts at 1.5-mile tracks.
Wallace has also shown improvement and will continue his quest for his first series win at Las Vegas with a season-best showing of sixth at Texas. Armstrong and Quiroga could challenge for the win, as Armstrong’s best performance on an intermediate is ninth at Kentucky (2012) and Quiroga picked up a career-best finish of third at Texas in June.
Three Drivers Expected To Make Record-Tying Starts At LVMS
Three drivers expected to compete in the Sept. 28 Smith’s Food and Drug Stores 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway – Matt Crafton, Brendan Gaughan and Ron Hornaday Jr. – have each started 12 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series events at the 1.5-mile track. The start will tie all three drivers with Rick Crawford for the most series starts at the track. Of the three drivers, Gaughan was the first to visit Victory Lane at his home track during his six-win season in 2003, while Hornaday won there in 2011.
Of the drivers mentioned above, Hornaday has the best resume at Las Vegas with one win, six top-five and eight top-10 finishes at Las Vegas. This would be the second record held by Crawford that Hornaday will tie or break over the past three races. Hornaday passed Crawford at Iowa two races ago for the most starts in series history, and has 338 heading into next weekend.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers put on another record-setting performance at Chicagoland Speedway last weekend with a registered 50 green-flag passes for the lead. The previous record was 35, set in 2012. … Kyle Busch’s fourth win of the season gives him 34 for his career and also will guarantee his fourth season of at least four wins in the series. He won a personal-best eight in 2010. … Matt Crafton continues his quest for a record with his 16th consecutive top-10 finish to start the season. The record is 19 held by Ron Hornaday Jr. Crafton can break it at Texas Motor Speedway on Nov. 1. … Jeb Burton won his fifth pole of the season at Chicago, two short of the Sunoco Rookie record held by Austin Dillon in 2010 (seven).
Championship Season Gets Underway
Starting this month, six touring and weekly series champions will be crowned, with Lee Pulliam already capturing his second straight NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national championship.
The Semora, N.C., driver becomes just the third driver in the 32-year history of the series to win the championship in consecutive seasons joining NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Larry Phillips and Philip Morris. Pulliam outdistanced Deac McCaskill and Keith Rocco for the title.
The NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 crown is on the line at Kawartha Speedway near Peterborough, Ont., on Saturday, Sept. 21. Defending champion D.J. Kennington leads Scott Steckly by five points heading into the season finale. Jason Hathaway – third in the standings – also is mathematically alive. With two titles each, Kennington or Steckly can become the first three-time champion in series history.
Both the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will compete at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sept. 21. With three races left on the K&N East schedule reigning K&N Pro Series West champion Dylan Kwasniewski boasts a 40-point lead over Brett Moffitt, and continues his quest to become the first driver to claim both East and West titles. For the Modifieds, Ryan Preece took another step closer to his first tour title with a Sept. 14 win at Riverhead (N.Y.) Raceway and leads defending champion Doug Coby by 45 points with three races remaining. Both Kwasniewski and Preece are members of the NASCAR Next class.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
- Next Race: SYLVANIA 300
- The Place: New Hampshire Motor Speedway
- The Date: Sunday, Sept. 22
- The Time: 2 p.m. (ET)
- TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 317.4miles (300 laps)
NASCAR Nationwide Series
- Next Race: Kentucky 300
- The Place: Kentucky Speedway
- The Date: Saturday, Sept. 21
- The Time: 7:30 p.m. (ET)
- TV: ESPNEWS, 7 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: PRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
- Next Race: Smith’s Food and Drug Stores 350
- The Place: Las Vegas Motor Speedway
- The Date: Saturday, Sept. 28
- The Time: 8:30 p.m. (ET)
- TV: FOX Sports 1, 8 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 350 kilometers (150 laps)