NASCAR: For Matt Kenseth, Retribution Comes With A Cost

The crash that has NASCAR and it's fans divided on the future.

The crash that has NASCAR and it’s fans divided on the future.

Last weekend, NASCAR experienced one of those defining moments, and I’m not just speaking of Jeff Gordon’s ninth victory on the historic track of Martinsville Speedway, thereby stamping his ticket straight to the Championship 4 round at Homestead Miami Speedway in three weeks.

I’m referring to Matt Kenseth, while lurking in the shadows nine laps down, taking aim with his Joe Gibbs Racing #20 Toyota at the rear quarter panel of race leader Joey Logano’s Team Penske Ford and shoving him directly into the wall, ending Logano’s bid to win four races in a row and perhaps quelling his bid for the Sprint Cup Championship.

Today, NASCAR reacted in a big way by suspending Kenseth for two races and placing him on probation for six months to recognize that Kenseth’s behavior had crossed the proverbial line, which sometimes needs to be redrawn to recognize the specific circumstances.

NASCAR felt that it had to do something. In Kenneth's case it was to sit out the rest of the season.

NASCAR felt that it had to do something. In Kenneth’s case it was to sit out the next two races of the season.

Kenseth’s unsanctioned assassination of Logano, for what he considered inappropriate contact two weeks ago between these two drivers as they battled for the lead at Kansas, was retribution, pure and simple, and wrong on so many levels:

  • Reflecting back to Kansas, Kenseth chose not to seek out Logano to directly express his stance on Logano’s on-track actions that day. There is nothing wrong with a spirited post-race discussion in pit lane or the motorcoach lot; at least these two drivers would have had the opportunity to vent directly to one another. Instead, Kenseth waged his battle through the media, accusing Logano of “lying” about the on-track contact at Kansas. As such, nothing was resolved and the feud continued to simmer
  • NASCAR judged that the Kansas contact was acceptable, with Chairman Brian France even endorsing Logano’s “bump and run” to win the race as a quintessential NASCAR move. However, Kenseth instead chose to disregard the sanctioning body, and appointed himself both judge and jury, extracting his own vigilante punishment on Logano by booting him to the bottom of the eight remaining Chase playoff contenders
  • Premeditation was obvious in Kenseth’s on-track conduct at Martinsville, and clearly not incidental contact under race-like conditions. His actions were methodical and deliberately measured for an expected result of taking out another driver, without competing for position on the track, which is simply unacceptable
  • After the incident, Kenseth told his own whopper, alleging that he had a mechanical issue where the splitter was dragging and his car wouldn’t turn, while the rest of NASCAR nation could easily see that Kenseth had dropped the accelerator to wreck Logano right into the wall. Frankly, be bold enough to own up to it, Matt, and let the fans know that you ordered the “Code Red”
  • Kenseth’s actions manipulated the final race result, and surely did himself no favors on the track. For those fans that consider what Kenseth did acceptable, would you feel the same if Kenseth was being paid by a gambling syndicate to illegitimately “throw the outcome” of a race where the sport’s Championship was at stake?
  • Kenseth showed no remorse and did not apologize for his poor unsportsmanlike conduct after the Martinsville clash. His actions are damaging to the sport and he should be embarrassed as a former Cup Champion

By suspending Kenseth, NASCAR has placed Joe Gibbs Racing and its drivers on notice that hunting season is officially over. This modern Chase format has raised the stakes of a small trio of races for such silliness to compromise the sport’s integrity.

Otherwise, NASCAR falls into the trap of being seen as manipulating race outcomes, bordering on WWE histrionics. If Logano were to lead again at this weekend’s upcoming race at Texas Motor Speedway, we could witness a replay where Kenseth would have the same motivation to extract revenge again to ensure Logano does not win the Championship. Or Denny Hamlin, another eliminated JGR teammate, who is still stewing over the wreck fest at Talladega, could take aim at Kevin Harvick at Phoenix or Homestead, where Harvick won both races last year to secure his Championship.

NASCAR had to counter in a big way to redraw the line for its competitors and restore credibility. Auto racing, particularly a format that embraces “rubbing is racing”, challenges a driver’s patience and requires a certain degree of tolerance of fellow competitors. With the Chase elimination rounds compressing the intensity into three race segments, all of the sports’ stakeholders are “learning on the job” as unforeseen consequences keep materializing. As such, drivers’ actions can have big-time consequences on Championship outcomes, and NASCAR was forced to clarify the rules of engagement.

By Ron Bottano. Follow me on Twitter @rbottano and @motorsportsunplugged

 

NASCAR: Kenseth Defends, Logano Attacks and Wins

Logano may not have made any friends, but Kenneth had to defend with a block, it didn't work out.

Logano may not have made any friends, but Kenneth had to defend with a block, it didn’t work out.

Let’s be honest, we can’t moan throughout the season about a lack of hard racing and then gripe about the finish of this weekend’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Halfway through the ten playoff races of the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup, we finally saw the “boys have at it” mantra play out on the track, with good hard racing between two of the top drivers in the sport. At the finish, we got two competitors with opposing viewpoints of the on-track action being pushed to win at all costs, which is exactly the drama that the Chase playoff system was meant to inspire.

Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, might want to click his heels together and repeat the phrase “there’s no place like home”, as he looks to escape from a devastating combo of races in Kansas this weekend.

Going for the race win with less than five laps left in Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400, Joey Logano, pilot of the #22 Ford for Team Penske, bumped (or “dumped”, depending on your fandom) Kenseth in turn 2 to take the checkered flag and demonstrate his bravery that he is indeed a force to be reckoned with in the pursuit of the Championship.

Matt Kenneth, dejected and now having to perform at Talladega, the black hole of NASCAR.

NASCAR, unlike open wheel racing, is a contact sport, and Kenseth was making his car as wide as possible, blocking every line that Logano attempted to pass on the track. Logano stalked his prey like a lion with the courage of last week’s race victory under his belt, so Kenseth had no choice but to use his rear bumper to block and bump Logano’s efforts to get by. As anticipated, the competitors’ viewpoints of the on-track contact were widely divergent:

  • From Kenseth’s viewpoint, “he just plain wrecked me.”
  • From Logano’s viewpoint, “we were racing each other really hard, and I got (put) in the fence twice on the straightaways. He raced me hard, and I raced him hard back. That’s the way I race. If I get raced like that, I’ll race the same way.”

From the sanctioning body’s perspective, it was the aggressive racing and risk taking that the Chase playoffs are meant to inspire, with both drivers going for the same piece of real estate, and points racing the furthest from their collective psyches. As Logano pursued Kenseth during the decisive run, Logano was squeezed into the outside wall at least twice, scraping the right side of his car and surely setting up the ultimate confrontation.

As one of the original favorites to make the Sprint Cup Championship round at Homestead, Kenseth now finds himself on the outside of the Chase cut-off with one race remaining in the Contender round next Sunday at the wild, wide-open Talladega.

In essence, blocking giveth, and blocking taketh away. Reminiscent of a black #3 Chevrolet that prowled NASCAR tracks over 27 seasons, where tracks with a single groove often required that racers “rattle a driver’s cage” to make a skillful pass.

Flashback now to Saturday’s XFINITY Series Kansas Lottery 300 support race, where Kenseth led almost 75% of the laps, but was chased down by his JGR teammate Kyle Busch who ran him down with 19 laps to go to take his 75th career XFINITY series win.

The contrast of these two weekend races was all about the stakes in play.

In the XFINITY race, Matt ceded the lead to his JGR teammate without much drama and did not display the same banzai efforts in holding off Kyle Busch, instead seemingly content to take a 2nd place finish in a series where he is ineligible to compete for the XFINITY Championship.

Said Kenseth, who has finished second in each of his last four XFINITY Series starts, “It’s frustrating to get beat again. We were out front in Chicago and had the better car, but second is the (next) best place to finish, I guess.”

However, the stakes were astronomically higher in the Sprint Cup Sunday race, where Kenseth virtually had to win to ensure he would advance to the next round, after his previous week’s crash in Charlotte led to a 42nd place finish and his position at the bottom of the Chase playoff grid.

Conversely, in Sunday’s Sprint Cup race, Kenseth found himself back in the magical world of Oz seeking a storybook ending, in a race where he had already led 57% of the laps and was carrying the lead into the final long run segment of the race. Logano, though, was looking to spoil Kenseth’s trip to the Emerald City, closing the gap with each and every lap.

For Kenseth, a race victory would deliver the golden ticket to the next round, while a second place finish would still leave him below the Chase cut-off for the Contender round heading into Talladega.

For Logano, already assured of moving to the next round with last week’s Charlotte victory, a win would virtually eliminate one of his formidable Championship rivals from Chase contention.

What more could fans ask for? Two of the best drivers racing hard for the win, where second place mattered in the least to both; the Chase playoff having adjusted the drivers’ mindsets exactly as intended and social media exploded with polarizing conversations among the NASCAR nation. As Dorothy said to her beloved friend Toto, “I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

By Ronald Bottano. Follow me on Twitter @rbottano and @motorsportsunplugged

Talladega: Every Lap Could Be Heaven Or Hell

It may be hard to believe, but three Cup Champions are on the bubble for elimination for the Championship under the new NASCAR rules at Talladega this weekend.

It may be hard to believe, but three Cup Champions are on the bubble for elimination for the Championship under the new NASCAR rules at Talladega this weekend.

By virtue of the storied Alabama mega-track´s existence as the sole restrictor plate race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, Talladega’s fall date has been circled twice on many fans and teams calendars this year-and for good reason. Talladega is, after all, a track where fortune and dismal fate consistently collide with regularity at over 200 miles per hour, taking hopes and dreams of glory and leaving twisted sheet metal and bent emotions. After last weekend’s shenanigans following the closing laps of Charlotte, the inherent drama Talladega provides will only be exponentially multiplied. Heaven or Hell.

Adding to the normal blood pressure spike, four drivers are going to be eliminated from Championship contention following the 500 miler this weekend and, absent a miracle, those four are Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth. It almost seems heretical.

In a way, racing at Talladega has always been a race of nail biting decisions. Talladega’s wide racing surface makes handling and tire wear less an issue than at the high banks of Daytona and the use of horsepower-robbing restrictor plates virtually levels the field putting the race in the drivers’ hands. Or their minds.

Glorious victory or smoky demise depends on making the correct decisions at the correct time. Imagine a 200 mile an hour chess match against 42 other hungry opponents with the same goal: Victory Lane. Chase or not.

The "Big One" always looms, but it´s almost a guarantee this year at Talladega.

The “Big One” always looms, but it´s almost a guarantee this year at Talladega.

The first, and truly only, decision a driver can make before strapping into the race-car is strategy during the first half to 3/4 of the race. More specifically, the car must have some vital components intact to complete the event, so keeping the fenders intact and the toe (alignment) correct means avoiding the big one (unlike years past, the question now isn’t ‘when’ the big one occurs, but ‘how soon’). So the possibility of some teams ‘laying back’ towards the rear of the field is a distinct possibility, although a strategy that will be employed by very few, if at all.

In fact, the savvy and experienced drivers who can and need to win at Talladega know that most wrecks occur in the middle of the field, and will attempt to stay up front for the duration of the race.

Racing up front means clean air and fewer obstacles, so a vital decision is choosing who your dance partner is going to be. Jimmie Johnson and Earnhardt Jr. have proven to work well together at this track, and both have the same amount to gain or lose, so they will no doubt find each other early and attempt to stay together towards the front. They will both be early and strong contenders for this event, and they are two of the most capable and experienced drivers at this monster track.

Another pair of drivers whose decisions could impact the Chase field on every lap of this event, are Joey Logano and Kevin Harvick, both of whom are locked into the Eliminator round of the Chase by way of victory in the Contender round. Much like the popular girls at a middle school dance, they are being and will be courted frequently by the rest of the Chase field.

"Roller Girl"

“Roller Girl”

Case in point: Logano may be Keselowski’s sole hope to consistently run up front, as Brad may find trouble keeping a partner with him to maneuver through the field after last week´s dust-up. The 22 doesn’t have to win, he just has to start to advance, so they will almost surely team up and stick together through the entirety of the event. Roger Penske, legendary team owner, might have “suggested” that already.

Harvick has the luxury of going with who he chooses and when he chooses. Harvick´s #4 has arguably been the best team week in and week out this season, and “Happy” has both the equipment and experience to find himself with more suitors than he can please. More like “Boogie Nights” than “Talladega Nights”. Whatever decisions these two drivers make have Chase implications on every level, on every lap.

However, just because the bottom four are carrying the most pressure heading into the Geico 500, that doesn’t mean that rest of the Chase field shouldn’t be concerned. Jeff Gordon has competed in, and won, many of these restrictor plate races. Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch know what it takes to get it done, as well. Those drivers, along with Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman know that each lap, each decision they make – and when they make them — could keep them in the Chase for the next 3 races, or suddenly place them on the outside looking in.

Think about, for a moment, the Talladega races we had in NASCAR before the Chase, where even a casual fan could tune into the race and know within a half a lap of watching how early or late in the race was. What fan, and even TV announcer has watched a particularly daring move and not said ‘No,no,no, that was way too soon’!!

Those days are long past. With every position important, every lap, the type of racing that was saved for the final laps of the race will now be the standard. The trick is to be aggressive, but not aggressively stupid. A fine line, which many drivers will either ignore or completely forget.

Decide well, and be rewarded.

Decide poorly, and Talladega will allow someone else to make the decision for you.

 

 

Two To Go For Two To Go – Fantasy Insight Phoenix 2

Jimmie Johnson

In NASCAR fantasy racing you have to be sure that your pick is really trying to win the race or at least finish up front. Once the championship battle is out of hand with one guy leading by a huge amount that team usually goes into “safe mode” and is no longer a top pick, despite being a top team all year. Thankfully we do not have that issue to factor in for the last two races since with two to go we have two to go for the championship.

Did you save your Jimmie Johnson and/or Matt Kenseth races on Yahoo Fantasy Racing? If you did so you have a very easy choice the last two weeks and you can’t really choose wrong either way.

Between Johnson and Kenseth they have won 13 of the 34 races for a winning percentage of 38%. They have 26 top five finishes and 41 top ten finishes between the two of them also. That is a top ten percentage of 60%. Only three drivers have a Power Rating over 270, which is considered superb and two of those drivers are Kenseth and Johnson.  

Good luck with your fantasy racing picks this week and don’t forget to send in your pick for “Whiteboard Fantasy Racing” this week for Phoenix.       

Send in your pick to win this week’s Cup race to dennis@racetalkradio.com for a chance to win a copy of the National Speedway Directory from SpeedwaysOnline.com.

National Speedway Directory

Hot off the press the 2013 edition of the National Speedway Directory is now available. For over 3 decades the NSD has given race fans and teams information about every track in North America. Order your copy today at http://speedwaysonline.com

Weather Report

Partly cloudy with a comfortable high in the upper 70s  

If you have a question about Fantasy Racing send it to dennis@racetalkradio.com and get it answered next week.

NASCAR by the Numbers

Using a proprietary race analysis technique we take the fans inside the numbers every week. DMIC’s rating system has been in use since 2002 and has proven to pick the contenders from the pretenders!

Consistency is King (Last Five Races)

Matt Kenseth

 

Driver

Last 5

J Johnson

94

K Harvick

93

D Earnhardt Jr

93

M Kenseth

92

C Bowyer

90

J Logano

89

J Gordon

89

B Keselowski

89

G Biffle

88

Ky Busch

86 

Horses for Courses (Track Rating)

Driver

Course

D Hamlin

94

K Harvick

92

B Keselowski

90

J Johnson

89

R Stenhouse Jr

89

C Edwards

88

G Biffle

88

K Kahne

88

Ky Busch

87

M Kenseth

87           

Type Casting (Track Type Factor)

Jeff Burton

 

Driver

Type

M Kenseth

96

C Edwards

93

J Gordon

93

Ky Busch

91

J McMurray

91

K Harvick

90

J Johnson

90

D Earnhardt Jr

90

G Biffle

90

J Burton

88 

Power Rating (240 Minimum to Qualify as Contender)

Driver

Power

K Harvick

276

M Kenseth

275

J Johnson

274

D Earnhardt Jr

268

D Hamlin

266

C Edwards

266

J Gordon

266

B Keselowski

266

G Biffle

265

Ky Busch

265

C Bowyer

256

Ku Busch

255

J Burton

253

K Kahne

252

M Truex

252

R Newman

252

JP Montoya

252

P Menard

252

J McMurray

251

R Stenhouse Jr

248

J Logano

248

A Almirola

243

M Martin

240

M Ambrose

238

D Patrick

226

C Mears

226

D Gilliland

226

D Ragan

218

D Reutimann

218

D Blaney

216

DMIC’s Fantasy Picks presented by Speedwaysonline.com

Each week we will take you beyond the numbers to handicap the field from top to bottom to help your Fantasy Racing team succeed. You are also invited to join Lori Munro and I on “White Board Fantasy Racing” every Monday night on “Doin’ Donuts” at 8pm ET on RaceTalkRadio.com. Win fun prizes by picking just the race winners in our unique format. Send your picks to info@racetalkradio.com to enter.

Top Pick (Last Week Finished 4th)

Matt Kenseth- By the numbers he is a slight favorite over that other guy

(4 to 1 Odds)

Best Long Shot (Odds of 20-1 or More) (Last Week Finished 14th)      

Jeff Burton- A solid choice at great odds

(50 to 1 Odds)

Top Dogs (Group A in Yahoo) (Last Week Finished WINNER)      

Jimmie Johnson- The other obvious choice each week

(3 to 1 Odds)

Second Class (Group B in Yahoo) (Last Week 12th)           

Greg Biffle- Another solid track for The Biff

(12 to 1 odds)

Middle Packer (Group C in Yahoo) (Last Week Finished 16th)                

Elliott Sadler- Don’t expect better than 20th  

Crazy 8s for Phoenix

Each week Lori Munro and Dennis Michelsen battle in the most unique racing game around! We pick one driver each from each  eight- driver group using the current points’ standings. Our picks can help you round out your fantasy racing lineup!

Lori won 4-1 in week 34 and Lori leads the game 19-15 for the year

Group 1: Lori picks Matt Kenseth and Dennis picks Jimmie Johnson

Group 2: Dennis picks Brad Keselowski and Lori picks Kasey Kahne

Group 3: Lori picks Denny Hamlin and Dennis picks Jeff Burton

Group 4: Dennis picks Mark Martin and Lori picks David Ragan

Group 5: Lori picks Elliott Sadler and Dennis picks Justin Allgaier

Do you have what it takes to handicap the races? Join Lori and Dennis every week and play in the Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Series! Send your pick for the Cup race to info@racetalkradio.com to enter. Weekly prize given away! 

Is Kenseth a Genius or Just Lucky?

Will Saturday Night Live get hold of ‘Larry the Lobster’?

Matt Kenseth looks like a genius. After stunning the racing world last year by announcing he would leave Ford’s Roush Racing for the Joe Gibbs Toyota gang, everyone wondered what was wrong.

Had he taken leave of his senses? After all, he had a championship and a lifetime tenure with the Ford camp. Apparently, he didn’t feel that way.

Behind the scenes all was not as it appeared to be. Carl Edwards seemed to be the fair haired child of the Ford machine with a new deal in hand while Kenseth wasn’t getting the attention from within he needed. He simply didn’t want to stay. It was time for a change.

The second guessing of the move came to an end when the Wisconsin native immediately and systematically began chipping away at securing a place in the Sprint Cup Chase by winning the third race of the 2013 season at Las Vegas.

Not only has he secured a place in NASCAR’s version of a playoff system, but he’s won the first two races giving him a season win total of 7 races with 8 to go.

That gives him the most wins of the 2013 season after Sunday’s victory in the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Kenseth isn’t flashy, he wont drive Porsches or Ferrari’s, as many of the other drivers do, and his watch endorsement is Citizen, not a Rolex or Breitling. Not that Citizen is a bad watch.

Kenseth celebrating his 2nd win in the Sprint Cup Chase at New Hampshire.

He reminds me of Niki Lauda, three time Formula One Champion and subject of the new movie “Rush.” Quiet, unassuming, confident and unbelievably consistent. Consistently at the front.

On Sunday he won his 500th start in Sprint Cup at New Hampshire, a track where he had no wins, and did so leading 106 laps. It was clear early on in the race he wasn’t going to sit back in the field and wait for the race to come to him.

“For me to win at New Hampshire, first of all, is more than a stretch and more than a dream,” Kenseth said.

“This is probably one of my worst places. That just shows you how good this whole team is. … I didn’t even know there was a Victory Lane here.
 
”I felt really confident with my car today, but to have a fast car and to be able to do all the right things with adjustments and strategy and pit stops and all that stuff and be out front and win is two different things.

So I’m thankful to be part of this group, and it honestly doesn’t really seem real that we won yet today.”

Clearly Kenseth isn’t a driver that has lost his passion for the sport as his performance so far this year shows. His departure from Roush is a testament to how much he really wants to win another Championship, his last being in 2003.

The Home Depot driver has proven to be the polar opposite of his team mate, Kyle Busch, who now sits second in the championship. That’s not a bad thing given that Busch has a propensity to implode at any given segment of any given season.

Amidst all the scandal that’s rocked NASCAR in the last two week’s, courtesy of Michael Waltrip Racing and Roush, It’s doubtful that you’ll hear any off track shenanigans or rough racing tactics employed by this driver, he simply has taken the new environment provided by Toyota and flourished in it.

Will he take the 2013 Championship? He was certainly a favorite going in and even more so now, although he still has to deal with that pesky team mate, Busch, who has said that Kenseth “lucked into one” in Chicago.

While luck does play a huge role in the outcome of an auto race, you have to prepare, strategize and execute perfectly to take advantage of that luck.

Matt Kenseth quietly is the last and most important ‘lucky charm’ on that chain.

The guy holding ‘Larry the Lobster’ in victory lane this past weekend hopes that so-called ‘luck’ holds out.

My bet is that it does.

 

Bristol: Winner Kenseth Clinches While Johnson Flinches, Again

At Bristol, to earn his fifth victory of the season Matt Kenseth (20) had to beat Kasey Kahne in a late-race battle for the checkered flag.

Matt Kenseth’s success in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing continues as he won the Irwin Tools Night Race 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway.

It was his fifth NASCAR Sprint Cup victory of the season, more than any other driver, and it earned him entry into the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer have also made the Chase. Johnson has been the season’s most dominant driver. But he has hit the skids.

At Bristol, Johnson suffered his second consecutive finish beyond the top 30. He wound up 36th at Bristol and engine failure relegated him to 40th at Michigan six days earlier.

Until Michigan, Johnson had finished out of the top 20 only three other times this season.

Johnson is still No. 1 in points – a position he’s held for 20 of the first 23 weeks of the season – but his margin has dropped significantly.

He led Bowyer by 77 points after Pocono three weeks ago and, after his disastrous finishes the last two weeks, his lead is just 18 points.

Meanwhile, Kenseth’s fifth win of the season makes him the leader for the top seed when points are reset for the Chase.

Kenseth, who led the most laps at Bristol with 149 – including the last 126 – earned the victory after he won a late-race scrap with Kasey Kahne, who

Clint Bowyer (15) may have finished just 14th at Bristol after he was involved in this wreck, but he remains second in points and has closed on leader Jimmie Johnson.

bulldogged Kenseth until the checkered flag.

“I think Kasey was getting tired of battling me,” Kenseth said. “Kasey’s just an unbelievable talent – we’ve finished first-second a couple times this year.

“He wanted it bad. We raced as hard as we could race and used every inch of race track.  I had just enough to hold it – just enough fuel and just enough tires.”

With victories at Las Vegas, Kansas, Darlington, Kentucky and now Bristol, Kenseth has already matched his career high. He won five races with Roush Fenway Racing in 2002.

But few, if anyone, figured he would do so in his rookie year with Gibbs.

Kenseth takes little credit for it.

“It’s this race team that’s won the races, not me,” he said. “I’m just the lucky guy piloting it.  Just so proud of this team. They’ve done a spectacular job really all year.

“The last month-and-a-half we’ve been off a little on speed.  I wasn’t real happy with our car yesterday and Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and the whole group at JGR got together and tried to tweak out what we need and what would be good in our cars to make them run.

“It was pretty right all night.”

Kenseth remains sixth in points but, as said, he doesn’t have to worry about making the Chase.

Neither does Bowyer. Fact is, if Johnson continues to stumble over the next two races leading to the Chase – at Atlanta and Richmond – Bowyer has an excellent chance to become No. 1.

After all, Johnson has lost 59 points in two races.

Bowyer finished 14th at Bristol after he was involved in a mishap with Bobby Labonte and Travis Kvapil on lap 177.

“Man, our car was so fast,” said Bowyer, who drives for Michael Waltrip Racing. “I felt like we had a shot at winning and then I got spun out there by a lapper of all things.

“When I got hit up there, it hit that left-front tire and the car never turned the center as good the rest of the night.

“We went out there and gave it everything we had and just came up short.  Then we ran out of gas there at the end.

“Believe me, this means a lot in the Chase, but I’m just really disappointed because we had a really good car.”

Johnson, who drives for Hendrick Motorsports, can ill afford any mediocrity at Atlanta and Richmond if he wants things to improve.

He’ll still go into the Chase as a high seed, but he may lose a great deal of momentum and confidence.

However, Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have proven they know how to handle pressure and misfortune.

That will help in their quest for a sixth championship after coming up short the last two years following five titles in a row from 2006-2010.

Oh, and it seems they now have another obstacle – Kenseth.

Johnson strongly indicated he and his team are going to do everything they can to rally.

“We will definitely come back next week and do all we can,” he said. “Despite our problems tonight (Johnson was involved in a multicar accident on lap 360), we came back and had a decent finish.

“Last week I really thought we had a shot to win and had an engine failure. This racing stuff happens. Luckily, we had a big points lead that we can kind of deal with right now. We’ve locked into the Chase.

“We certainly want to clean things up and have some great finishes rolling into the Chase. We’ll keep after it and be back again next week. We’ll go to Atlanta and do all we can there. And then at Richmond, I feel like we had a really good test there.

“Once the Chase starts, it is its own animal. So we’ll just wait and see what happens during those 10 races.”

 

 

 

 

Earnhardt Rigged This Roulette Wheel – Fantasy Insight Talladega 1

Dale Earnhardt, JR

Every time the NASCAR Sprint Cup circus heads to Talladega Superspeedway we hear about how this race is a crap shoot, a flip of the coin or a spin of the old roulette wheel. People make this sound so unpredictable.

Oh sure, there are big crashes that sometimes take out the top guys and let a longshot win the race. But for every longshot winner there is a solid pick. If this race was such a crap shoot or a spin of the roulette wheel how did Dale Earnhardt win ten times? How did Dale Jr win four in a row? Maybe the Earnhardt family rigged this roulette wheel.

One thing that has made this race a little more unpredictable this year is the unknown over whether the two-car push will work at all here. Earlier this season at Daytona the restrictive rules and a change to the front end of these Gen Six cars seemed to make the two-car tandem difficult to pull off for any length of time.

But this is Talladega where the transitions in the corners are not as severe. This is Talladega where the tires don’t wear as bad as Daytona. My gut feeling is that we will see pack racing until the closing laps and then we will see a few guys figure out how to make the two-car push work. But if tandem racing goes away we might see a return of Earnhardt dominance of this roulette wheel. (And since Lori Munro from Doin’ Donuts on RaceTalkRadio.com has picked Junior this week include him on your race team).

Good luck with your fantasy racing picks this week and don’t forget to send in your pick for “Whiteboard Fantasy Racing” this week for Talladega.

Send in your pick to win this week’s Cup race to dennis@racetalkradio.com for a chance to win a copy of the National Speedway Directory from SpeedwaysOnline.com.

Help Kris Martin Become NASCAR’s First Deaf RacerKris Martin was born to race!

Kris is following in his grandfather’s footsteps and is trying to race his way all the way to NASCAR. But Kris was born profoundly Deaf. Technology helps Kris hear his Crew Chief and Spotter so he can race safely but sponsors are not willing to take a chance on him…yet. Your help in funding his racing this season can help Kris show sponsors he will be an excellent representative for them all the way to NASCAR. I am working with Kris Martin Racing and his family to help them make this dream come true.

http://igg.me/at/krismartinracing/x/2900200

 Weather Report

Mostly Cloudy with a threat of showers, high temp in the upper 60s

If you have a question about Fantasy Racing send it to dennis@racetalkradio.com and get it answered next week.

 NASCAR by the Numbers

Using a proprietary race analysis technique we take the fans inside the numbers every week. DMIC’s rating system has been in use since 2002 and has proven to pick the contenders from the pretenders!

Consistency is King (Last Five Races)

Driver

Last 5

J Johnson

93

M Kenseth

92

C Edwards

91

K Kahne

91

R Smith

90

K Harvick

90

C Bowyer

89

A Almirola

89

Ky Busch

88

J Logano

87

 Horses for Courses (Track Rating)

Matt Kenseth

 

Driver

Course

C Bowyer

93

G Biffle

90

B Keselowski

90

M Kenseth

86

J Burton

86

J Gordon

86

M Truex

86

K Harvick

85

K Kahne

84

J Johnson

84

 Type Casting (Track Type Factor)

Driver

Type

M Kenseth

92

G Biffle

92

D Earnhardt Jr

90

B Keselowski

90

J Burton

89

R Newman

86

R Stenhouse Jr

86

Ky Busch

85

B Labonte

84

C Bowyer

84

Power Rating (240 Minimum to Qualify as Contender)

Driver

Power

M Kenseth

271

G Biffle

268

C Bowyer

267

B Keselowski

265

J Burton

259

K Kahne

259

D Earnhardt Jr

257

K Harvick

256

J Johnson

255

Ky Busch

255

J Gordon

254

P Menard

253

M Truex

253

R Smith

252

C Edwards

251

A Almirola

251

J Logano

251

R Newman

247

T Bayne

247

T Stewart

242

M Waltrip

240

R Stenhouse Jr

240

J McMurray

238

D Ragan

237

T Kvapil

236

D Reutimann

236

B Labonte

235

M Ambrose

234

D Gilliland

233

C Mears

231

Ku Busch

229

D Blaney

228

JP Montoya

226

D Patrick

225

D Stremme

213

DMIC’s Fantasy Picks presented by Speedwaysonline.com

Each week we will take you beyond the numbers to handicap the field from top to bottom to help your Fantasy Racing team succeed. You are also invited to join Lori Munro and I on “White Board Fantasy Racing” every Monday night on “Doin’ Donuts” at 8pm ET on RaceTalkRadio.com. Win fun prizes by picking just the race winners in our unique format. Send your picks to info@racetalkradio.com to enter.

Top Pick (Last Week Finished 2nd)

Kevin Harvick

Clint Bowyer- Much better luck at Dega than Daytona

(12 to 1 Odds)

 Best Long Shot (Odds of 20-1 or More) (Last Week Finished 38th)         

Jeff Burton- RCR factor and Burton is smart plate racer

(40 to 1 Odds)

Top Dogs (Group A in Yahoo) (Last Week Finished 12th)      

Kevin Harvick- Love those RCR cars here

(12 to 1 Odds)

Second Class (Group B in Yahoo) (Last Week Won Pole and Finished 24th)      

Dale Earnhardt Jr- If pack racing is back this could be Dale’s race to lose

(12 to 1 Odds)

Middle Packer (Group C in Yahoo) (Last Week Finished 16th)

Michael Waltrip- Came so close to winning here last season

(40 to 1 Odds)

Crazy 8s for Talladega

Each week Lori Munro and Dennis Michelsen battle in the most unique racing game around! We pick one driver each from each 8 driver group using the current points’ standings. Our picks can help you round out your fantasy racing lineup!

Lori won 3-2 in week 9 and leads the game 7-2 for the year

Group 1: Lori picks Dale Earnhardt Jr and Dennis picks Clint Bowyer

Group 2: Dennis picks Kevin Harvick and Lori picks Matt Kenseth

Group 3: Lori picks Tony Stewart and Dennis picks Jeff Burton

Group 4: Dennis picks Denny Hamlin and Lori picks Danica Patrick

Group 5: Lori picks Michael Waltrip and Dennis picks Trevor Bayne

Do you have what it takes to handicap the races? Join Lori and Dennis every week and play in the Whiteboard Fantasy Racing Series! Send your pick for the Cup race to info@racetalkradio.com to enter. Weekly prize given away! 

The 2013 Models Present Teams, And NASCAR, With Wealth Of New Challenges

Matt Kenseth not only faces the challenge of competing in a new car, a Toyota, in 2013, he’s also the newest member of Joe Gibbs Racing.

In 2013 it will be sort of a clean slate for NASCAR. An entirely new fleet of car models will compete on the Sprint Cup circuit, the Toyota Camry, the Ford Fusion and the Chevrolet SS.

These cars are intended to be very fast, of course, while at the same bear a more similar appearance to their street counterparts – which, among other things, is intended to help fans more closely identify with each model.

Gone from NASCAR is Dodge, which, ironically, claimed the 2012 Manufacturers Championship with Penske Racing and driver Brad Keselowski.

That said, there is always uncertainty when teams adopt new car models. Changes and adaptations, some big and some small, are always present.

I might add that has been the case every time NASCAR has made any competitive alterations, be they in car models, engine displacement, aerodynamics, wheelbase size and so forth.

So it follows that the team, or teams, that make the quickest adaptations to the new cars, and the rules that come with them, will be the first to gain a competitive edge.

Boy, I have a great grasp for the obvious, don’t I?

But it is a fact.

We’ve seen it countless times. It happened as recently as the coming of the “Car Of Tomorrow” a few seasons ago.

That diabolically different car – which only vaguely resembled anything we saw on the street – had the vast majority of teams bamboozled.

They didn’t know what to do with it. They kept fooling around with various setups and things of the sort – which put some of them in hot water with NASCAR – until, slowly, a few began to solve the mystery.

It seemed one team, Hendrick Motorsports, found an advantage and for a period of time put a very competitive COT on the track.

But, as it almost always happens in NASCAR, its rivals caught up and were a competitive match.

Brad Keselowski (right) the 2012 champion, will drive Fords next season after Dodge’s pullout from NASCAR. He’ll also have a new teammate in Joey Logano.

Since that time teams have been, for the most part, relatively equal. Now I’m not saying one didn’t have an edge here and there because it did. But I do believe that where it did have an advantage, its rivals held sway elsewhere. So things were reasonably balanced.

I remember that when the COT was introduced I said it would be only a matter of weeks before the teams had it figured out.

Turns out it was a matter of months.

But I think there is ample evidence that, indeed, they did it. And I think they will also get the measure of the 2013 models. Uh, I think I’ll refrain from saying how long it may take.

As said, teams have always had to find a way to adjust to NASCAR changes, whatever they may be. But it’s highly likely that an entirely new car model, which we’ll see in 2013, is going to present a myriad of challenges.

NASCAR has already provided organizations opportunities to adjust, the latest being the test sessions at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Dec. 11-12.

So far teams have been very cautious. They have proceeded slowly and, to me, have tried to be very precise when it comes to analyzing the information they’ve gathered – and it hasn’t been all that much.

They will learn more during added test sessions scheduled into 2013.

For more than one team testing will provide clues to something beyond just a new car. Champion Keselowski, for example, will have to deal with an entirely new manufacturer.

So will Matt Kenseth. He’ll have a different manufacturer but, because he has ended his long tenure with Roush Fenway Racing, he will also have to amend to a new organization, Joe Gibbs Racing, and a new crew and crew chief.

Keselowski will race Fords in 2013. Kenseth will compete in a Toyota.

They are fully aware of the challenges.

“It’s hard to get a great read on the whole manufacturer change because, obviously, it’s a different car,” Keselowski said. “But I think all the signs are there that we have the potential to be just as strong, if not stronger, than we were last year, which is very, very encouraging. We still have to work for it and make it happen.

“We’ve got a lot of work to do. We’re only a half-a-day into two really important days, not only for Penske Racing but for the sport itself and, hopefully, we can
continue to show progress.”

Keselowski will have a new teammate in 2013 as Joey Logano moves over from Gibbs. That, too, will require adjustment.

Keselowski is confident.

“I think Joey has the ability to unload at a place and just instantly be fast and that’s not my style,” he said. “It’s something that I would like to add to my arsenal because there are times where that’s really, really helpful, so those are some of the things I look
at.”

As for Kenseth, the 2004 champion, he will readily admit that his adjustments are going to be obviously plentiful. They not only include a new car, but also an entirely new team.

“A lot of the guys have been around for a long time so I know who they are and I’ve spent a little time over at the shop,” he said. “I certainly don’t know them as good as I’m going to or want to and all of that.

“So, yeah, it was different. I’ve got to be honest, it was probably the first time I’ve been nervous in a race car – getting in there and going out for the first time – in as long as I can remember.”

As for that new car, a Toyota, Kenseth takes a cautious approach, as do many others.

“I don’t know what the rules are going to be for sure,” he said. “I don’t have any idea how much they’re going to change or not change. That’s more of a NASCAR call than ours.

“They haven’t really had us testing anything yet and so I’m not sure how different they will be when we come back.”

At this admittedly early point in the development of the 2013 cars, it is reasonable to say teams are not certain of what they have, or of what they many eventually have.

Some will find that sooner than others, for whatever reasons.

In time, these teams will be the ones to move to the forefront and gain a competitive edge.

But, if we look to the past, it doesn’t seem likely NASCAR will let them have it for very long.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“U-Boat Captain” Matt Kenseth Won’t Alter His Goals This Season, Or Himself

Matt Kenseth has announced that he will leave team owner Jack Roush after 14 seasons. With Roush, Kenseth has won 22 races and the 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship.

I think there are a couple of conceptions, images if you will, that a lot of fans and media members share about Matt Kenseth.

He seems intelligent but rather quiet. He’s friendly but certainly not all that outgoing. He doesn’t make waves, carelessly call attention to himself or ignite controversies.

As a race car driver he’s a noted talent, a winner and a past champion. His style is not overly aggressive, something that has served others well and enhanced their reputations.

Oh, but Kenseth is most effective. For the most part he is cold and calculating. Many times during the course of a race he is practically invisible. Then, at the crucial finish he’s there; he’s a contender and sometimes he’s victorious.

He’s like a German U-boat in the North Atlantic during World War II. Allied ships didn’t hear or see it until it was too late.

Well, that might be stretching it a bit, metaphorically.

I’ve heard of a nickname given him – “The Silent Assassin.” Sounds like a B-movie, but hey, he might like it.

It will be a bit difficult for Kenseth to avoid attention, especially from the media, for the remainder of the season.

That’s because he’s a lame duck driver for a team that could win this year’s championship. He’s announced that he will end his 14-year relationship with Roush Fenway Racing and compete with a new team in 2013.

We don’t know which team it will be. Kenseth does.

That Kenseth is moving on is one of those very surprising splits that happen between star drivers and their winning teams.

They may be rare, but they most certainly happened: Petty departs Petty Enterprises, Darrell Waltrip leaves Junior Johnson and Associates, the vastly successful David Pearson-Wood Brothers association breaks down early in a season – and more.

I think one other reason that Kenseth’s exit announcement was so unexpected is that many of us thought he would be glued to Jack Roush’s hip for the remainder of his career.

Kenseth won this year's Daytona 500 and returns to the track for this year's Coke Zero 400 looking to be the first driver since 1982 to sweep both races at Daytona.

After all, the 40-year-old driver from Wisconsin stared his NASCAR career with Roush. Their association appeared rock solid – to some, a father-son thing – and it was certainly successful.

Kenseth won the 2003 championship in Roush Fords and earned 22 victories, including this year’s Daytona 500.

Back at Daytona for Saturday’s Coke Zero 400, Kenseth has a chance to become the first driver since Bobby Allison in 1982 to sweep both Daytona races in a single season.

But, assuredly, while he prepares for the race he’ll be asked questions about how it feels to race with a team he will depart.

Let’s get one thing straight. Even in a lame duck situation, Kenseth and Roush are going to race hard for victories and another championship.

Given that Kenseth is currently No. 1 in points, and has been for five weeks, to do any less would be foolish – no, make that stupid.

Even so, the situation has created changes, even if subtle ones.

“There are certain things that are a little awkward at Roush because you know you are not going to be there next year and they know that,” Kenseth said. “But I think you just work through that.

“Maybe it’s a little bit different walking in and talking to Jack or doing some of that other stuff, but, again, you just work through that.”

Kenseth agreed that he, and his team, could do no less than their best. The potential rewards are too great.

“We are going to go out and try to race as hard as we can to the end of the year,” Kenseth said. “We are going to try to, hopefully, win more races and have a shot at winning the championship.

“That’s what it has always been about and that’s what it is still all about.”

Kenseth will certainly be listed as a favorite for this weekend’s race because of his February victory and that, lately, Ford has seemed to exhibit newly found strength in restrictor-plate races. It has won the last three races at Daytona.

“You have to have fast cars and at Daytona, the cars seem to have more to do with your success than at some of the other tracks,” Kenseth said. “So you have got to have that at plate tracks.

“We’ve had that so far at plate races. Hopefully our car will run like it did the last two weeks and we’ll be fast enough to work out to the front and, hopefully, stay there.”

Kenseth knows that he is a bit more high profile now than at almost any other time in his past. And there are reasons for that: He’s this season’s Daytona 500 winner. He’s leading the point standings. And he’s leaving Roush.

Things like that tend to call attention to a driver.

“I honestly don’t know where to go with all that,” Kenseth said. “I didn’t know I was going to be any more high profile or low profile than I am today.

“I think we’ve had a pretty super year winning he 500 and I think I’ve had a pretty good run with Roush Fenway as well, so I don’t know what all that means.”

Even with success and the now-existing undercurrent of change, do not expect Kenseth to become a different man – or, for that matter, a different driver.

He’s been around – and been who he is – far too long for that to happen.

“I’m a different guy away from the track than at the track,” Kenseth said. “I’ve been here since 2000 and I’ve been the same guy ever since, so I think most people probably know who I am and who I’m not.

“I don’t think that’s going to change next year. I am not, all of a sudden, going to change after all these years.”

 

Will The Champ Be The Winner Of An Earnhardt Jr.-Kenseth Battle?

With his victory in Michigan, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has solidified his position as a contender for the 2012 championship. In the point standings he trails rival Matt Kenseth by only four points.

As the NASCAR world celebrates – or in some cells maligns – Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s win in the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway, there is quieter activity that is taking place amidst the hoopla of late.

Before Earnhardt Jr.’s win all eyes were on Hendrick Motorsports for its all-important 200th win. Jimmie Johnson pulled that off at Darlington before the All-Star break in May.

Next was the debate over when Kasey Kahne would score his first win for Hendrick. That came at Charlotte in the Coca Cola 600.

Johnson won again in Dover, continuing Hendrick’s forward momentum, which prompted many rumblings that this indeed was another year for Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus to win a championship.

Joey Logano’s victory at Pocono followed. It was a good thing for Logano’s struggling Cup career, but it did little to sway the belief that Hendrick was in the hunt.

Then came Earnhardt Jr.’s win at MIS. After a four-year, 143-race drought, and a solid 2012 season that has seen him finish among the top 10 more than any other driver, Earnhardt Jr. finally won. Jubilation set in immediately for him, his team, and the countless fans of the “Junior Nation” that steadfastly, patiently and unconditionally supports their driver.

But that’s not the real story if one looks at the situation from afar. Once enough distance is made and the balloons and confetti are cleared, it is evident the story isn’t Johnson, Kahne, or even prodigal son Earnhardt Jr.

It’s all about the man known as “The Silent Assassin,” Matt Kenseth.

Kenseth, the winner of the Daytona 500, has earned a reputation as a driver who quietly gets the job done. He's now No. 1 in points, but, among other things, he faces a challenge from Earnhardt Jr.

While fans of the Hendrick drivers have had much to celebrate of late, their drivers have not once been in the Sprint Cup points lead this season. Roush-Fenway driver Greg Biffle dominated in the top spot for most of the first part of the season, and now teammate Kenseth has tacitly ascended to the position.

Kenseth currently has one win this season, at the celebrated Daytona 500. His consistency, which is widely recognized, has bolstered him to the top of the points after Pocono this year.

Kenseth has eight top-fives and 11 top-10s this season.

Now, Earnhardt Jr. has one win amid a consistent season with six top-fives and 12 top-10s. He sits comfortably four points behind Kenseth.

These men are not unaccustomed to this scenario. Throughout their NASCAR careers, from the Busch Series through Cup, they have found themselves in direct competition with one another.

In 1998 and 1999 Earnhardt Jr. won back-to-back Busch Series championships, edging out Kenseth.

Kenseth beat out Earnhardt Jr. for Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors in Cup in 2000.

Kenseth is the only one to have Cup title. He earned his in 2003. That season, with Kenseth’s one win and domination of the points lead for an unprecedented 33 weeks, led directly to the implementation of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Now these two competitors are neck and neck. They are once again becoming NASCAR’s primary rivals and a battle on the tracks is taking shape.

Consistency is definitely key for a championship and both of these drivers are proving that week in and week out. But, as history has shown, consistency plus wins is the formula that creates a title.

Do either of these drivers have what it takes to hoist the NASCAR Sprint Cup at season’s end – or will Johnson, Biffle, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin or Brad Keselowski have something to say about it?

We’ll just have to keep watching to find out, obviously.

 

 

 

 

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