CONCORD, NC (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Imagine being called to do a job you have done before but the equipment to do the job is different and you don’t have any time to get up to speed on the changes. You just jump right into the fire with both feet so to speak. It’s not an easy task for the most experienced but that is exactly what Matt Kenseth is being asked to do.
Kenseth finished second in Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS). The finish was Kenseth’s best since replacing Kyle Larson in Chip Ganassi Racing’s No. 42 Chevrolet after Larson was fired for using a racial slur in an online race.
Kenseth said he could have parked the McDonald’s McDelivery Camaro in victory lane if he just could have got the car out front of the field in clean air.
“Our McDonald’s Chevy handled great,” said Kenseth. “We were really fast. If we would have been up front, I feel like we would have been hard to beat.”
Team owner Chip Ganassi was happy to see Kenseth and the No. 42 team rewarded with a good run considering the situation they were thrown into this Spring.
“Obviously we needed some immediate stability and that’s what Matt has brought,” Ganassi told Pittsburgh Racing Now. “He’s a veteran driver, he’s been to all the tracks, he’s mature and he understands what the needs of a team are. He was the best guy available.”
Ganassi would’ve loved to have swept the weekend at Indy after Scott Dixon parked the No. 9 PNC Bank Honda INDYCAR in Victory Lane on Saturday.
“You just want to be able to put yourself in position to win and we did that both days,” said Ganassi. “Yes, Matt was on the front row for last restart with better tires but we probably would have been better off third than we were second. We were surrounded by those Fords and you have got to have a friend or two to help you there and that wasn’t going to happen with all those Fords.”
“It’s never been easy to pass at Indy,” noted Kenseth. “I don’t think it has ever been this hard in my career. The horsepower is real low, they’ve got that huge spoilers on them, they’ve got a lot of drag, a lot of downforce and obviously the bigger the spoiler on the back the more the air is disturbed behind it. You can draft up a little bit on the main straightaway but the biggest thing is that it makes such a big wake in the corner that it’s hard for the trailing car to keep any kind of grip to get a run, particularly after the tires get a few laps on them.”
Kenseth’s debut in the No. 42 at Darlington resulted in a top 10 finish but until Sunday the results following Darlington were a bit of a mixed bag.
“We started off and finished 10th at Darlington and I was definitely fairly rusty in a lot of areas like pit road and a lot of the little things,” said Kenseth. “The second Darlington we ran a little better but I hit the wall, got a flat tire and got a poor finish. It was just kind of downhill from there. Nothing was going really well.”
It’s hard for teams to make improvements when they are not allowed to test and with NASCAR cancelling practice on race weekends in the wake of COVID-19. Kenseth isn’t using any of that as an excuse.
“It’s the same for everybody,” said the 2003 NASCAR Cup Series Champion. “It’s been a little more challenging that I hoped it would be for sure but I feel like the last few weeks we hit on a couple of things that seemed to help.”
“Each race, in a way, is a test session where we’re still learning about what he likes and doesn’t like in terms of personalization of the car,” said Ganassi.
The tide began to turn when the series rolled into the Keystone State in late June for the doubleheader weekend at “The Tricky Triangle”.
“Pocono didn’t knock anybody’s socks off as far as finishes but it was much better,” said Kenseth. “We ran 11th and 12th and certainly performed better as a team than we had previous to that and Indy was just a solid day all the way around and we were able to get a good finish out of that.”
“Some of the finishes we’ve had aren’t indicative of how we are running,” said Ganassi. “But that happens in this sport.”
What Kenseth and the entire CGR team is looking for is more runs like at Indy, Pocono and Darlington.
“Whenever you run well, you build more confidence, not just for myself but for the team and everybody involved,” said Kenseth. “Running bad has opposite effect. Certainly when you run bad, you never feel good about it. When you run better, certainly builds confidence. Kind of shows us all as a group that we can do it. I’m hoping we can just carry that momentum into Kentucky, just keep moving forward running up front where this team belongs.”
Kenseth hopes to continue what they’ve been doing to be successful because the veteran knows the ups and downs of a NASCAR season, where his sense of humor and quick wit help keeps things in perspective.
“Walking through the shop you think they are whispering, ‘got the short straw with this replacement driver'”, Kenseth joked. “Certainly you have all those weeks where you’re running in the 20s with a team that we know is capable of running like we ran at Indy, that’s kind of tough on your ego, confidence, whatever.”
Ganassi, whose organization is celebrating its 30th Anniversary this season, knows what the team and the driver are capable of and feels they are still in the running to make the NASCAR Playoffs.
“By no means are we out of the Championship yet so we feel good,” said Ganassi. “I don’t think there is anybody any better that I could have put in there or I would have. I think he is doing a stellar job.”
The Quaker State 400 from Kentucky Speedway takes place Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Ben Rhodes takes NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series Win in Charlotte
CONCORD, NC (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Ben Rhodes picked up the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series victory Friday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway, grabbing the lead on a late restart and beating Corey Heim to the checkered flag by 2.398-seconds.
“I didn’t qualify the best, and here it came to life at night,” said Rhodes. “This is so much fun. Charlotte is a track that we come to—ThorSport Racing, we’re based in Sandusky, Ohio—we come to the North Carolina guys’ house, and we like to win.”
The victory was the first of the year for Rhodes and seventh of his career and first at Charlotte. The victory also locks Rhodes into the Playoffs.
“A championship being locked in, I’ll take that,” said Rhodes. “The last three races have been so unbelievably hard on my team. We’ve been wrecked in the last three and haven’t had very good showings because of it so I’ll take the points—thank you.”
Heim, who won the the race’s first stage, couldn’t get to Rhodes because he was busy battling Carson Hocevar and Dean Thompson.
“Me and the 42 (Hocevar) and the 5 (Thompson) were probably the best trucks,” said Heim, who led a race-high 49 laps. “But the 99 (Rhodes) just came along really strong, and once we got to second on the restart where the 42 got put in the middle there, I really thought we had a shot at it. But it just proves that clean air is king here.”
Thompson finished a career-best third with Hocevar, who won the races second stage, finishing fourth. Grant Enfinger rounded out the Top 5.
Wexford native Kris Wright finished 32nd in the No. 02 FNB Corporation Chevy after suffering contact with Tyler Antrum on the backstretch on lap 105.
Racing Notebook: Rosenqvist earns INDYCAR Pole; Dixon starts 2nd; Hocevar, Smith earn NASCAR victories
FORT WORTH, TX – (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – The NTT INDYCAR SERIES gets back on track Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway with Arrow McLaren and Chip Ganassi Racing leading the field to green. In NASCAR, Carson Hocevar and Chandler Smith each earned victories on Saturday and Alex Bowman will lead the Cup field to green on Sunday.
Felix Rosenqvist wins INDYCAR Texas Pole:
- Arrow McLaren Racing’s Felix Rosenqvist is on the pole position for Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES PPG 375. Rosenqvist’s 2-lap average of 220.264 mph was slower than the 221.110 mph he posted in 2021. The pole is the second consecutive for Rosenqvist at the 1.5-mile oval. “I think we just built on last year,” said Rosenqvist. “Maybe it was a good thing to start early. The track kind of warmed up. We’ll take it. We’ve always been good here, but this is a whole different confidence level compared to last year. Let’s try to wrap it up tomorrow.” The 250-lap race starts at Noon (ET) Sunday with live coverage on NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
Dixon Puts PNC Bank Honda on front row:
- PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon will start on the outside of the front row for Sunday’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway. Dixon’s 2-lap average around the 1.5-mile oval of 219.972-mph was 0.292-mph behind pole-sitter Felix Rosenqvist. Dixon, a 6-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES Champion has five career victories at Texas, including wins in four of the last nine races. Dixon’s CGR teammates Takuma Sato and Alex Palou will start 6th and 7th respectively. CGR’s Marcus Ericsson will roll off 16th in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Honda.
Carson Hocevar Wins NASCAR Truck Race at Texas:
- Carson Hocevar avoided a crash on the white flag lap to power to the win in the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series race at Texas Motor Speedway. Hocevar made contact with the back of the truck of Nick Sanchez, as Sanchez was recovering from door-to-door contact with Zane Smith. Sanchez spun and collected Smith as Hocevar avoided the mayhem to take the double-overtime victory. The win was Hocevar’s first career win. “I didn’t mean to get into him, I just meant to give him a push and he got sideways the second I hit him, I apologize to them, I’ll take the fall for it.”
Chandler Smith takes NASCAR Xfinity win at Richmond:
- Rookie Chandler Smith earned his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series victory Saturday afternoon at Richmond (Va.) Raceway holding off John Hunter Nemechek on a final race restart to win the ToyotaCare 250. Smith’s margin of victory was .298-seconds. Smith’s No. 16 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet led a race best 83 of the 250 laps.
Alex Bowman on NASCAR Cup Series Pole at Richmond:
- Current NASCAR Cup Series championship leader Alex Bowman will start Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 (3:30 p.m. ET, FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) from pole position in the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet with Kyle Busch completing the front row in the No. 8 Richard Childress Chevy after NASCAR’s Cup Series practice and qualifying sessions were cancelled Saturday morning at Richmond (Va.) Raceway because of poor weather.
Kyle Busch takes NASCAR Cup Series win in California
FONTANA, CA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – The pairing of Kyle Busch and Richard Childress Racing is paying dividends as two races into their partnership, they were celebrating victory at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Busch beat Hendrick Motorsports Chase Elliott by ?.?-seconds to pick up his ??-career Cup Series victory and the ?? of his NASCAR career.
“I felt like there was going to be a little bit of a learning experience, a little bit of a growth pattern, but also on the flipside of that, I always just kind of looked back and watched some of their results and success that they had last year with Austin,” explained Busch. “He ran second here last year, and Reddick was super, super fast. They were fast at the Clash before they broke, the 8 car was.”
Busch said the transition to a new team has been good.
“It’s just been really, really cool, and it’s been a great piece of — we’re making history, right, but a great piece of opportunity to go out there and continue to win races at a new team with RCR, so I can’t say enough about Austin giving me a call, first and foremost, but then Richard and Judy giving me this opportunity to go out here and race for wins.”
Elliott was happy for his manufacturer teammate and former Champ and to get a finish after getting crashed out of the Daytona 500.
“Congratulations to Kyle,” said Elliott. “For him to leave and then to go get the job done like that is pretty cool. He’s always been really good to me, so happy for them. Obviously I think we still have some work to do, but it was really nice to just see a lot of that hard work pay off and have the car driving like we were wanting it to do. So that’s always a good thing. Appreciate everybody on our NAPA team, Hendrick Motorsports and Chevrolet for just sticking with it and sticking with each other. Looking forward to getting to Vegas and hopefully competing for some more wins.”
Ross Chastain, who led a race high 92-laps, finished third in the No. 1 Kubota Chevrolet for Trackhouse Racing.
“Our balance was building loose most of the day, so I thought we did everything right,” said Chatain. “We kept up with it. It would just feel pretty loose late in the runs, and at times it was enough, and at times they got way better.”
The NASCAR Cup Series moves on to Las Vegas for the Pennzoil 400 March 5th.