Kenseth pursues Chase history in Dover
Okay – maybe not so quietly. Winning the opening two races of the 2013 Chase qualifies as making some noise; a lot of noise.
A victory in Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway (2 p.m. ET ESPN, MRN Radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio) will give Kenseth title to the Chase’s first opening “triple.”
Others have tried and failed: Greg Biffle in 2008 and Tony Stewart in 2011. Biffle’s streak ended in Kansas, where he finished third. Stewart, despite finishing 25th at Dover, went on to win his third championship.
Kenseth twice has won at the “Monster Mile,” most recently in the spring of 2011. He’s led four of the past five races and logged eight top-five finishes from 2008 through spring of 2012.
That was then – with Roush Fenway Racing, in whose Fords Kenseth won the 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion – and this is now. Kenseth’s first trip to Dover in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was a tease. He qualified fourth and led 29 laps before being relegated to a 40th-place finish by engine failure.
Kenseth’s New Hampshire victory was his seventh of the season extending a record campaign. His previous best season was 2002 in which Kenseth won five times. JGR teammate Denny Hamlin is the most recent NASCAR Sprint Cup driver to win eight times in a season (2010).
To reach that number Kenseth will have to keep the pressure on JGR partner Kyle Busch, who just as easily could be the driver on the long end of a two-race Chase winning streak. Busch chased Kenseth to the checkered flag at Chicagoland and again in New Hampshire and stands second in the standings, 14 points off the lead.
Busch obviously has the fire power to end his teammate’s streak – especially at Dover, where he likewise has won twice, finished fourth in June and led 302 laps of last September’s AAA 400.
Right now, second place is just fine with Busch, who has more than made up for failing to qualify for last year’s Chase with his best-ever postseason start.
“I’ve said it for years, if I could finish second in every single Chase race, I’d take it and win a championship – than to win just one Chase race,” he said. “It’s all about the prize at the end, and I think this team is really focused on that.”
Biffle: Fast Start Doesn’t Always Mean Championship
With two victories, a pair of seconds and four top-five finishes, top Chase seeds Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson have confirmed their status of NASCAR’s postseason elite.
But is this year’s Chase already a three-driver shootout?
Roush Fenway Racing veterans Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle – both with runner-up championship finishes on their resumes – say absolutely not.
Edwards stands fourth, 36 points behind Kenseth. Biffle, who finished a solid third last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, is two points further back in fifth. The top-five teams represent all three NASCAR Sprint Cup Gen-6 manufacturers: two Toyota Camrys, a pair of Ford Fusions and a Chevrolet SS.
Kenseth’s advantage over the Roush Fenway pair is nearly a race worth of points. But the ebb and flow of past Chases suggest the lead is hardly a safe one. Example: In 2006, Johnson trailed by 136 points after the Chase’s second race – roughly a 32-point deficit under the current system – and rallied to win his first of five consecutive championships.
Biffle can speak to that. He’s been there and – unfortunately – done that.
“I’ve won the first two Chase races before and then didn’t win the championship,” he said, referencing the 2008 season in which he ultimately finished third. “Anything can happen.”
Biffle, a NASCAR Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck champion, continues his pursuit of an unprecedented sweep of NASCAR’s three national series.
Edwards, who failed to qualify for last year’s Chase, finished second in 2008 and lost the 2011 title to Tony Stewart on the first championship tie-breaker in NASCAR premier series history. He won the regular season finale at Richmond and finished ninth in New Hampshire, 11th in the Chase opener.
RFR co-owner Jack Roush is optimistic the team’s Fords can challenge the current leaders – especially if they dodge some of the uncontrollable issues the team has faced in 2013. “I think there’s a very good chance that the kind of things that have happened to us in the recent past with bad luck that we couldn’t control, if those things visit the 18 (Busch) and the 20 (Kenseth) in one race, then we could be right back in it,” Roush said.
Chase Time Is Go Time For Johnson, Knaus
Have Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus flipped the switch to “go?”
Back-to-back top-five performances to begin the Chase certainly point in that direction. Johnson’s finishes of fifth at Chicagoland and fourth in New Hampshire mark only the third time this season the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet has fashioned consecutive top fives.
The five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion had ended the regular season with four consecutive finishes of 28th or worse.
Johnson, the Chase’s No. 2 seed, trails two-race leader Matt Kenseth by 18 points and current runner up Kyle Busch by four markers. As the modern-day master of Dover International Speedway’s 24-degree concrete canyon, Johnson can erase much of the deficit on Sunday.
A victory – his eighth at the “Monster Mile” – will make the 38-year-old Johnson Dover’s all-time winner, breaking the track record he shares with NASCAR Hall of Fame members Bobby Allison and Richard Petty.
It also will swing the Chase conversation back in a familiar direction.
Johnson capped his five-season championship reign with Dover Chase victories in 2009-10. He’s led each of his past dozen starts at the track and headed 2,066 laps – 30.4% – of the track’s most recent 17 races. Johnson’s average finish, 7.1, is two positions better than his closest rival Kenseth. Johnson’s Driver Rating of 119.6 is 12 and 14 points higher, respectively than that of Kenseth and Busch.
“We’re in a good spot and we’re going to one of my best tracks,” said Johnson, who finished 17th in June’s Dover race after being assessed a restart penalty with 19 laps remaining. “I certainly hope to have (us) in Victory Lane over there.”
Harvick, Gordon and Busch Looking for ‘Monster’ Comeback
Three drivers with legitimate championship hopes leaving Chicagoland Speedway stumbled in Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race No. 2 at New Hampshire. But hope is not lost.
Kevin Harvick’s title aspirations took a major blow, thanks to a 20th-place finish that knocked him from fourth to sixth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings.
At Chicagoland, Kurt Busch chipped in his third consecutive top five finish, only to stumble at NHMS with a 13th to fall from sixth to seventh.
And Jeff Gordon finished 15th at New Hampshire to drop from seventh to eighth.
All three drivers finished in the top six in Chicago to open the Chase, but saw their championship hopes deflate on the flat one miler in Loudon.
But, none of the three need to fret … yet. Harvick is 39 points behind standings leader Matt Kenseth; Busch is 40 points back; Gordon is 42 points out.
Daunting? Yes. Impossible to overcome? Not yet. The mulligans, however, are over. Wins are paramount.
And Gordon and Busch know exactly how. Gordon has four wins – the last of which came in 2001. Busch has one Dover victory, while racing for Penske Racing in 2011. Harvick is still looking for his first Dover win, but has scored three top 10s in the last four races at the one-mile concrete oval.
Who Is The Best Pick To Spoil The Chase Party?
Since the inaugural 2004 Chase, championship contending drivers typically have won the final 10 races. In fact, Chase drivers won the entire 10-race Chase last season. Kasey Kahne’s victory at Phoenix in 2011 was the last time a driver outside the Chase saw victory lane in a Chase race. The question is who will break that Chase driver dominance this year?
Heading into Dover, Brad Keselowski would appear to be the best pick. The 2012 champ won the fall Dover race in last year’s Chase and scored a top-five at The Monster Mile this spring in the new Gen-6 car. Jamie McMurray is another driver to watch down the stretch. His Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing team has shown strength in recent weeks and McMurray was the only non-Chase driver to finish inside the top five this past week at New Hampshire. McMurray is always one to watch at Charlotte Motor Speedway, with two previous wins at the track in the fall race.
A few less obvious picks to play spoiler in this year’s Chase would be Brian Vickers and rookie Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Vickers quietly finished seventh at New Hampshire, despite not qualifying or practicing on Friday and starting the race from the rear of the field. Dover will be a place to watch Vickers. The driver of the No.55 car has already played spoiler once this year, winning the July New Hampshire race as a part-time driver. Stenhouse Jr. and his Roush Fenway Racing team have shown potential, especially recently, scoring two top 10s in the last three races.
Hornish Needs “A” Game In Dover
Sam Hornish Jr. hasn’t necessarily performed terribly in four NASCAR Nationwide Series starts at Dover International Speedway, the site of Saturday’s 5-Hour Energy 200 Benefiting Living Beyond Breast Cancer. The issue is he hasn’t shined at the one-mile concrete oval either.
In four starts, he’s finished in the top 10 once – this past June when he placed seventh. Last season he scored 13th- and 18th-place finishes. His first series race at the track came in May 2008, resulting in a 23rd-place showing. He’s never led a lap in Dover, and although he’s been running at the end of all four races, he’s only finished on the lead lap once – earlier this summer. His average finishing position is 15.3.
While that shouldn’t be much cause for concern, his closest competitor in the points standings, Austin Dillon, has a better track record in Dover and is slowly cutting into Hornish’s lead. After the Kentucky 300 at Kentucky Speedway, Dillon was able to shave three points off of Hornish’s lead, which now stands at 15. Dillon finished second in the race to Ryan Blaney, while Hornish finished a strong fourth.
In three starts at Dover, Dillon has never finished outside the top 10. In the June race this year, he led 43 laps including the first 35 circuits after starting on the pole. He finished the race eighth. In the two races last season, Dillon placed sixth and 10th. His average finishing position is 8.0.
After 27 races in 2013, Hornish has put together an impressive stat line: one win, 13 top fives, 21 top 10s and three poles. Although Dillon is winless this year, his credentials are also noteworthy: 10 top fives, 17 top 10s and six poles, including a series-record four consecutive.
The only driver in the top five that has a NASCAR Nationwide victory at Dover is Brian Vickers, who is fifth in the standings (-60). The victory was one of three that came in 2003 on his way to the championship. Regan Smith (third place, -45) and Elliott Sadler (fourth place, -54) round out the top five.
Logano Goes For Fourth & 11th
Joey Logano knows what it takes to compete on the concrete surface of Dover International Speedway. In nine NASCAR Nationwide Series starts at the Monster Mile, his poorest finish was 14th, coming in September 2009.
In his last three starts, he’s visited Victory Lane each time and has led 404 out of a possible 600 laps in those trips, and could make it a fourth straight Saturday in the 5-Hour Energy 200 Benefiting Living Beyond Breast Cancer. In addition to his three wins, he’s compiled five top fives, six top 10s, two poles and an average finishing position of 5.9.
As he has done 11 times already this year, Logano will be piloting the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford (he drove the No. 48 Ford at Watkins Glen) this weekend in hopes of delivering another win.
Four different drivers have wheeled the No. 22 past the start-finish line first 10 times in 2013, including Logano, who won at Dover in June and Chicagoland in July. Brad Keselowski, AJ Allmendinger and Ryan Blaney, who won last weekend at Kentucky, combined for the other eight wins. The No. 22 holds a 23-point lead for Penske Racing over the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in the owners’ points battle.
Based upon past successes at Dover, Logano is the prime candidate to add win No. 11.
Success Of Young Drivers Parallels A Strong Future
The NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR is in good hands if the current crop of young, successful drivers in the series is any indicator. While NASCAR’s No. 2 series features a nice blend of veteran and up-and-coming drivers, it’s the latter that are turning heads.
There are currently six drivers in the top 15 in points 25 years or younger: Brian Scott (25), Austin Dillon (23), Parker Kligerman (23), Trevor Bayne (22), Kyle Larson (21) and Alex Bowman (20).
Between the six drivers Scott is the most experienced with 136 NNS races under his belt. Of the six, only Dillon and Bayne have victories over the course of their careers, both with two.
All six drivers have competed in all 27 events in 2013 and have compiled a combined season stat line that reads: one win, 31 top fives, 74 top 10s and eight poles.
Dillon is currently second in the standings, 15 points behind leader Sam Hornish Jr. Scott is seventh (-79); Bayne is eighth (-94); Larson is ninth (-140), Kligerman is 10th (-179) and Bowman is 11th (-223)
NASCAR Nationwide Series Etc.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for Kendall Park, N.J., native Phil Gould, who is the crew chief of the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet driven by Brian Scott, when the series visits Dover, his home track. … TJ Duke will try to make his track debut in the NNS this weekend at Dover in the No. 79 Ford. It would be his third overall start in the series. His previous two starts came in 2011. … Justin Allgaier, Michael Annett, Kyle Busch, Joey Logano and Josh Wise will all make their 10th NNS start at Dover on Saturday.
Hackenbracht Looks To Keep KBM In Owner’s Championship Battle
Chad Hackenbracht will make his fourth start of the season for Kyle Busch Motorsports and it comes at an important time for the No. 51 Toyota team. Thanks to Hackenbracht’s second-place finish in the truck at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park and team owner Kyle Busch’s victory at Chicagoland Speedway, the team has closed to within 18 points of the lead in the battle for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series owner’s championship.
Hackenbracht will try to keep the team’s streak of five consecutive top-10 finishes going at Las Vegas Speedway in Saturday night’s Smith’s 350. If his most recent performance is any indication, he could keep the pressure on the No. 88 ThorSport Racing Toyota driven by series points leader Matt Crafton.
Thanks to team owner Busch’s four wins this season, the No. 51 team is within striking distance of the owner’s crown with six races remaining. Erik Jones has also collected a runner-up finish for the team at Iowa Speedway in July. The team’s nine top-five finishes in 16 events is best in the series in 2013.
Kyle Busch Motorsports won the NCWTS owner title in 2010 – its first season in the series.
Crafton continues to enjoy a comfortable, 41-point advantage in driver championship standings. He has one victory at Kansas Speedway in April. The Tulare, Calif. driver has finished second three times in his most recent four starts at Las Vegas Motor Speedway including a year ago when he was passed on the final lap by Nelson Piquet Jr.
Crafton’s worst finish in the past five races is a fifth. His average finish in eight LVMS starts in 9.0 – second among entered drivers to ThorSport teammate Johnny Sauter, the race’s 2009 winner.
Gaughan Comes Home In Search Of Season’s First Victory
Brendan Gaughan returns home to Las Vegas this weekend and is looking for his first series win since 2003, a season in which he won six races. One of those victories came at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and the veteran driver would like to get his next win at home in front of his family and friends. Gaughan has performed well at his home track through the years with two top-five, four top-10 finishes and one pole award.
If he does pick up the win this weekend he would help keep a rare record in place. There has never been a back-to-back winner at the track. Two drivers have won twice at the track (series champions Jack Sprague and Mike Skinner) but no other driver has been able to win more than once. Drivers entered for this weekend that have won at the track include David Starr (2002); Gaughan (2003); Johnny Sauter 2009); and Ron Hornaday Jr. (2011).
There have been six consecutive different winners and 14 different winners in the track’s most recent 15 races.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.
Second generation driver John Hunter Nemechek, son of 1992 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Joe Nemechek, will make his NCWTS debut at Martinsville Speedway in October. … Several series regulars took advantage of an off weekend to compete in the NNS race at Kentucky Speedway. Ryan Blaney led the group with his victory followed by Matt Crafton (third), Jeb Burton (eighth), Dakoda Armstrong (13th) and Joey Coulter (18th). … Armstrong also gets a new crew chief as Doug George will take over for the remainder of the season at Turn One Racing. Former crew chief Joe Shear Jr. moves to Ken Schrader Racing where he will take over and lead a planned effort next year for NASCAR K&N Pro Series East winner Cole Custer. … Sharp-Gallaher Racing announced this week it will relocate its shop from Denver, N.C. to Mooresville, N.C.
Steckly Battles Back For Third Series Title
Championship season continues in the touring and weekly series. A few days after NASCAR announced Lee Pulliam as the Whelen All-American Series national title winner, Scott Steckly became the first three-time champion in NASCAR Canadian Tire Series presented by Mobil 1 history, winning the Pinty’s 250 at Kawartha Speedway in Fraserville, Ontario, on Sunday Sept. 22.
After beginning the 2013 campaign with a pair of finishes outside the top 20, Steckly mounted a charge that included three straight wins in July.
Up next, Ryan Preece heads to Stafford Motor Speedway with a 41-point lead in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour standings. With two races left on the 2013 tour calendar, Preece can clinch his first championship title by gaining seven tallies on second-place Doug Coby. At Dover, Dylan Kwasniewski enters the penultimate NASCAR K&N Pro Series East event with a 23-point advantage in the standings. The defending NASCAR K&N West champion is in search of an east title in just his first year with the series.
It’s a busy weekend with five touring series on the docket. In New Mexico, Derek Thorn holds a 19-point lead over Cameron Hayley heading into the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West event at NAPA Speedway while George Brunnhoelzl III tries to expand on his 20-point lead over Kyle Ebersole as the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour heads to Caraway Speedway. Across the Atlantic, the NASCAR Whelen Euro Series enters its semifinals round on Sept. 28 and 29 at Autodromo Nazionale di Monza in Monza, Italy.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
- Next Race: AAA 400
- The Place: Dover International Speedway
- The Date: Sunday, Sept. 29
- The Time: 2 p.m. (ET)
- TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 400 miles (400 laps)
NASCAR Nationwide Series
- Next Race: 5-Hour Energy 200 Benefiting Living Beyond Breast Cancer
- The Place: Dover International Speedway
- The Date: Saturday, Sept. 28
- The Time: 3:30 p.m. (ET)
- TV: ESPN, 3:30 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 200 miles (200 laps)
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
- Next Race: Smith’s 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)