Chase leader Kenseth gets second shot at ‘Triple’
For Matt Kenseth, the third time was not the charm. The 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion failed last Sunday to fashion a record, third consecutive victory to start the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ but finished seventh to maintain his championship lead.
Kenseth, who heads five-time champion Jimmie Johnson by eight points and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch by 12 markers gets a second shot at a “triple” in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway (2 p.m. ET, ESPN, Motor Racing Network Radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio).
The Wisconsin veteran is the reigning winner of Kansas Speedway’s fall event and returned earlier this year to capture the STP 400. He won in a Roush Fenway Racing Ford in 2013, and in his current No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota this April.
Chase rivals looking for Kenseth to stumble in the nation’s heartland may have a long wait.
Kenseth has finished among the top five in four consecutive races and top 10 six straight times. He’s also led nine of the track’s most recent 11 races and owns a third-best Driver Rating of 110.0 trailing only Johnson and two-time Kansas winner Greg Biffle. He’s also won two Coors Light Poles.
Kenseth, Busch and the Gibbs organization have dominated the schedule’s intermediate tracks in 2013, the debut season for NASCAR’s Gen-6 race car. Their Toyota Camrys have won nine times on intermediate tracks with Kenseth visiting Victory Lane at Kansas, Chicagoland, Kentucky and Las Vegas; six of those came at tracks measuring 1.5 miles.
Beginning with Sunday’s race, four of the post season’s final seven events will be conducted on 1.5-mile tracks.
“We had probably one of the best cars I’ve ever driven at Kansas and in the spring we were able to turn that into a pole and a win,” said Kenseth. “Things change a lot though and going back this weekend, they’re bringing a different tire and we all have a test there on this Thursday.
“You always look forward to going back to tracks where you’ve had some good fortune and some success. Hopefully, we can get the car dialed in and have a good day again.”
Johnson Summons Statistics From Title Seasons Past
Matt Kenseth and Joe Gibbs Racing are having a sensational season.
Jimmie Johnson, however, says don’t forget about me – and emphatically so.
Johnson’s Dover International Speedway victory on Sunday was his 23rd in 93 Chase races, a winning percentage of 24.7. His record-setting eighth win set a Dover record, separating Johnson from NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Allison and Richard Petty.
It also moves the five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion to second in standings, eight points behind Kenseth.
Johnson’s fifth victory of the season – and first in this year’s Chase – may have additional implications. In each of his championship campaigns, the 38-year-old Californian won at least five times overall and once during the postseason.
In other words, Johnson and the No. 48 Hendrick are on track to win title No. 6.
“We came to a good track,” said Johnson, “And we got what we needed to get done.
“You’ve got to win when you’re at your best race track.”
Statistically speaking, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus can look ahead to Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 with continued optimism. The 1.5-mile track also is among the team’s best with two wins (most recently in fall 2011) and nine consecutive top-10 finishes for an overall average finish of 7.6.
Johnson also has led eight of the last 10 Kansas races, contributing to a series-best Driver Rating of 119.1.
“The bigger, faster tracks, I feel really good about our equipment,” said Johnson, who finished third in April’s STP 400 and ninth in last year’s Kansas Chase race.
Neither Johnson nor his Hendrick Motorsports teammates have been able to score on tracks measuring 1.5 miles in 2013 – the first season for their Gen-6 Chevrolet SS race cars. Conversely, Kenseth and teammate Kyle Busch have scored six such victories.
Busch Must Avoid Previous Kansas Speedway Pitfalls
With a trio of top-five finishes – two of them seconds – and an average Chase finish of 3.0, Kyle Busch very well could be on the way to his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. Busch’s best previous average finish over the first three Chase races, 12.0, came in 2010.
To maintain the momentum, however, he’ll have to survive this weekend’s round at Kansas Speedway.
The 1.5-mile track has been anything but kind to the 28-time premier series winner. Besides being one of six tracks where Busch hasn’t won, Kansas truly has been a thorn in the 28-year-old driver’s side.
Busch has no top fives and just two top 10s – the best a seventh in 2006 – in 12 visits to Kansas Speedway. His average finish of 22.4 is third-worst in Sprint Cup competition behind two other Chase tracks, Homestead-Miami Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.
The Las Vegas driver has finished on the lead lap just 50% of the time and has failed to complete three starts – among them this season’s STP 400 and last fall’s Hollywood Casino 400 in which his No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was felled by accidents.
His Driver Rating of 79.0 is 18th best in the series and 11th among Chase qualifiers. Busch, however, is not deterred by his previous lack of success.
“I’m looking forward to Kansas with the roll we’re on,” he said. “I thought we were running decent there last fall. Actually, I was leading and I spun myself out while I was leading. So, hopefully, we have a good car like that this time around and I don’t make a mistake.”
Mantra For Harvick, Gordon, Biffle: Nothing Is Over ’Til We Decide It Is
After three Chase races In 2006, Jimmie Johnson sat eighth in the standings, a whopping 165 points behind then-leader Jeff Burton. That, of course, was under the “old” points structure. Under the current one, that 165 figure roughly equates to 33 points.
Over the next seven races, Johnson slashed that deficit to shreds, winning his first championship.
So for the likes of Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon and Greg Biffle, there’s a precedent for major comebacks. Over? Nothing is over until they decide it is. Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor? Heck no.
A look at the aforementioned three, and how their prospects look at Kansas…
Kevin Harvick: Currently 39 points behind leader Matt Kenseth, Harvick has yet to score a win at Kansas. He has six top 10s at Kansas, but only one top five (a third in 2010).
Jeff Gordon: Currently 39 points behind Kenseth, Gordon won the first two NSCS races ever held at Kansas, in 2001-02. More recently, his results have dipped, with only one top 10 in the last four races.
Greg Biffle: Of the three, Biffle is probably the favorite to take home the Kansas trophy. Currently 41 points behind Kenseth, Biffle has two wins at Kansas, as well as seven top fives and nine top 10s.
Spoilers Sporting K.C. Swagger
Throughout the Chase’s nine-year history, Kansas Speedway has often offered a welcome opportunity for non-Chase drivers to enter back into the spotlight.
Joe Nemechek boasts the title as “first-ever spoiler,” becoming the first non-Chaser to win a Chase race – at Kansas Speedway in 2004. The trend continued in 2006 and 2007, with Kansas Chase victories by Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle, respectively.
So we may be in store for a surprise this Sunday in Kansas – but the odds remain heavily in favor of Chasers going 4-for-4 to open the Chase. For one, it’s been almost two years since a spoiler won a Chase race. The last came at Phoenix in November of 2011, when Kasey Kahne won while driving for Red Bull Racing. And secondly, Chase competitors are dominating in an unprecedented fashion. At Dover last Sunday, Chase drivers made up the entire top-10 – the first time in Chase history that has happened.
But two names, in particular, could play the spoiler role on Sunday: Brad Keselowski and Denny Hamlin.
Hamlin, who missed the spring Kansas race with a back injury, won at the 1.5-mile track in 2012, and has three top five finishes there in the last six races. Keselowski won at Kansas in 2011, and has finished in the top 10 at Kansas in four of the last five races.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Etc.
Justin Allgaier, currently sixth in NASCAR Nationwide Series points, will make his second career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start his weekend at Kansas in the No. 51 Phoenix Racing Chevrolet. He finished 27th in his first start, at Chicagoland Speedway in September. … Kyle Larson, currently ninth in NASCAR Nationwide points, will make his NASCAR Sprint Cup debut the No. 51 Chevrolet at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Oct. 12. In addition, he will run the NSCS race in Martinsville on Oct. 27. In August, EGR announced that Larson would take over the reins of the No. 42 Target Chevy SS beginning in 2014.
Dillon Within Striking Distance Of Hornish
With only four points separating NASCAR Nationwide Series points leader Sam Hornish Jr. and runner-up Austin Dillon, a solid showing in Saturday’s Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway could propel the 23-year-old driver into the lead for the first time since the Watkins Glen race in early August.
If Dillon is able to improve upon his finishing position in his only series start at the 1.5-mile track, which came last season, the North Carolina native should find his way into Victory Lane for the first time in 2013 and back atop the standings. In 2012, he led five laps after starting on the outside of the front row and went on to finish second, 0.288 seconds behind race winner and eventual back-to-back series champion Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
Dillon has gradually crawled back up the standings and into the title conversation since a 21st-place finish in the inaugural series event at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in mid-August dropped him from the points lead all the way back to fourth. After Chicagoland, he was 17 points in arrears, but has whittled 13 points off the lead in the two races since.
On the season, the 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion has compiled 10 top fives, 18 top 10s and six poles, including a record-streak of four in a row. He’s already set a personal season high of 526 laps led with five races still remaining on the schedule. Dillon has been running at the finish of 27 of the 28 races; an accident in the April Richmond race left him 35th.
In order to take over the top spot at Kansas he’ll need to earn five more points than Hornish, who has put together a solid season. Hornish visited Victory Lane at Las Vegas in March and has collected 13 top-five and 21 top-10 finishes with three poles, including five runner-up performances and nine races in which he was the top-finishing, points-eligible NNS driver. His 488 laps led in 2013 are more than triple his previous best (134 in 2012). His average finishing position of 9.3 is also a personal best for the Ohio driver.
Winning Machine: Penske’s No. 22 Continues To Roll
Penske Racing and its No. 22 Ford entry in the NASCAR Nationwide Series continue to roll on, regardless of who’s in the seat.
The four drivers who have piloted the No. 22 to Victory Lane 11 times this season – including Joey Logano’s win last Saturday in Dover – have kept the team in contention for the owners’ championship standings – leading Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 54 Toyota primarily driven by Kyle Busch.
Although the No. 22 Ford took its largest owner’s points lead of the season, the car failed post-race inspection at Dover and was docked six owner points. Its lead now stands at 28 points.
Logano has won three times in the No. 22, while Brad Keselowski leads the groups with five wins, AJ Allmendinger has two trips to Victory Lane and Ryan Blaney scored his first series win in the Penske-fielded Ford at Kentucky.
Keselowski, who won the 2011 event, takes another turn behind the wheel at Kansas Speedway in search of victory No. 6. His win tally trails only Busch, who has grabbed 10 checkered flags. Busch will make his 700th NASCAR national series start this Saturday at Kansas.
The track has hosted 12 NNS events, dating to September 2001, with Penske Racing claiming one trophy – Keselowski’s 2011 win – and Joe Gibbs Racing drivers celebrating in Victory Lane three times, including two wins by then JGR driver Logano.
Can Bayne Return The No. 6 Ford To Victory Lane At Kansas?
A little more than a year ago Ricky Stenhouse Jr. passed Kyle Busch on the last lap to steal away the victory in a green-white-checkered finish in the Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway.
Stenhouse, who sat second in the standings with three races left, was able to use the momentum gained that weekend to claim a second straight NASCAR Nationwide Series title. He closed out the season with finishes of fourth, third and sixth in the final contests to claim the crown by 23 points over Elliott Sadler.
Stenhouse since has moved on to compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, but his NNS team and driver Trevor Bayne are hopeful they can return the No. 6 Roush Fenway Racing Ford to Victory Lane and build momentum for next season. Although not mathematically eliminated from this year’s title hunt, Bayne is currently eighth in the standings, 86 points behind points leader Sam Hornish Jr.
NASCAR Nationwide Series Etc.
Brian Scott will be making his 200th NASCAR national series start in the Kansas Lottery 300. … Austin Dillon will be donning a pink fire suit, helmet and accents on his cowboy hat. His No. 3 Chevrolet will carry a special “Pink Lemonade Spark” paint scheme in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness month. He will donate the fire suit and helmet to the National Breast Cancer Foundation for auction. … On Tuesday, Elliott Sadler and his brother, Hermie Sadler were joined by their mother Bell, a breast cancer survivor, in painting Charlotte Motor Speedway’s start-finish line pink in support of Breast Cancer Awareness.
Crafton’s Streak Ends, But Points Lead Remains Healthy
Although Matt Crafton faded late in Saturday night’s Smith’s 350 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway and finished outside the top 10 for the first time this season, the ThorSport Racing standout was able to maintain his 41-point lead in the drivers’ standings over James Buescher. Ty Dillon sits third, 53 points behind Crafton.
With five races remaining on the schedule, one might think that Crafton and his team would start counting points each week and calculating how to retain his advantage heading down the homestretch. That is not the case with the California native.
“I don’t care about the points, I just want to go out there and win races,” Crafton said. “If we do that – and keep putting on these great shows for the fans while we’re at it – the points will be there at Homestead at the end of the season. Points are points and we’ll figure that out when we get to Homestead (season finale).”
Buescher entered the Las Vegas race having won twice since August, vaulting him to second in the standings. He couldn’t capitalize on Crafton’s 11th-place finish as he scored the same number of points as Crafton and retained his runner-up ranking.
Dillon gained six points in the race and remains in the hunt to join his older brother Austin Dillon (2011) as a series champion.
Crafton’s quest for the most consecutive top-10 finishes to begin a season ended three short of the 1996 record of 19 held by four-time NCWTS champion Ron Hornaday, Jr. Crafton has completed all 2,652 laps run in 2013.
Quiroga To Run A Different Race In Las Vegas
Are drivers athletes? The question has been asked many times throughout the history of NASCAR racing. For obvious reasons, the answer is yes since it takes a high level of physical stamina and hand/eye coordination to be a top-level driver in the sport.
Several drivers, including one who competed last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, have also taken up the sport of running.
German Quiroga finished 21st in his first start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but the Smith’s 350 is not his only race in Sin City this year.
Quiroga will return to Las Vegas later this year to compete in his first 26.2-mile race. The three-time NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series champion will compete on foot in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon on Nov. 17.
This will be the first race of this distance for Quiroga, who was invited on behalf of OtterBox, one of the sponsors this season of his No. 77 Red Horse Racing Toyota Tundra.
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.
More moonlighting for drivers on their off weekend from the truck series continues this week as James Buescher, Dakoda Armstrong and Bryan Silas will compete in Saturday’s NASCAR Nationwide Series Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway. … ARCA competitor Mason Mingus has announced plans to compete at Talladega Superspeedway in a truck entered by Win-Tron Racing. Mingus will also compete in races at Phoenix and Homestead.
Busy Weekend With Wins For Hill, Lia, Pursley, Seuss, Vilariño
Nineteen-year-old Austin Hill scored his first win in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East with a victory at Dover International Speedway on Friday. Dylan Kwasniewski, who led the championship standings by 40 points two races ago, was sidelined early by electrical issues and ended up 29th. He now leads Brett Moffitt by five points heading into the finale at Road Atlanta on Oct. 18.
In the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, Donny Lia dominated at Stafford (Conn.) Motor Speedway on Sunday. Ryan Preece carried a 41-point lead over second-place finisher Doug Coby into the race and had an opportunity to clinch his first tour title, but with a 17th-place finish his advantage over Coby is down to 26 points. The tour closes out the season on Oct. 20 at Thompson (Conn.) Speedway.
In the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West, Greg Pursley netted his fourth victory of the season with win at NAPA Speedway in Albuquerque, N.M., on Saturday and moved to second in the standings. Derek Thorn, who finished second, holds a 20-point lead in the standings with three races remaining.
Andy Seuss took the win in NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified action at Caraway Speedway on Saturday. Second-place finisher George Brunnhoelzl III extended his lead in the points to 30 over Kyle Ebersole with two races remaining.
Ander Vilariño returned to Victory Lane and moved a step closer to a second straight NASCAR Whelen Euro Series championship. He picked up his seventh win of the season over the weekend in the first Elite Division race at Autodromo di Monza. He now leads by 38 points.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
- Next Race: Hollywood Casino 400
- The Place: Kansas Speedway
- The Date: Sunday, Oct. 6
- The Time: 2 p.m. (ET)
- TV: ESPN, 1 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 400 miles (267 laps)
NASCAR Nationwide Series
- Next Race: Kansas Lottery 300
- The Place: Kansas Speedway
- The Date: Saturday, Oct. 5
- The Time: 3:30 p.m. (ET)
- TV: ESPN, 3:30 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)
NASCAR Camping World Truck Series
- Next Race: FRED’S 250 powered by Coca-Cola
- The Place: Talladega Superspeedway
- The Date: Saturday, Oct. 19
- The Time: 4 p.m. (ET)
- TV: FOX Sports 1, 3:30 p.m. (ET)
- Radio: MRN, Sirius XM Ch. 90
- Distance: 250 miles (94 laps)