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.
Martin Truex Jr Victorious At Martinsville Speedway
MARTINSVILLE, PA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Martin Truex Jr passed teammate Denny Hamlin on lap 485 and went on the win the rain-delayed NASCAR Cup Series Blue-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway. The victory was Truex’s second of 2021 and 29th of his Cup Series Career.
“He (Hamlin) started getting tight, our car was getting better and better,” said Truex of the late race pass. “We were able to take advantage of it. Really happy. For whatever reason our car really turned on when the lights went down. Always good when a plan comes together and it works out the way you hoped it would.”
Hendrick Motorsports Chase Elliott finished second, his seventh top-10 finish in 13-races at Martinsville and fourth top-10 of 2021.
“Really, really hard-fought second actually for us,” said Elliott. “We were not great, but had some, I guess our strong suit was kind of early on in the run, then really faded hard, too hard there in the latter part of a run. But we never got one of those super long runs, which is probably a good thing for us because we were struggling on that end. But, yeah, proud we could fight back.”
Hamlin settled for third after leading the most laps in the race (267).
“Had a really good car on the short run all day,” said Hamlin. “Got great restarts. Was fast for 25, 30 laps. Then it seemed like guys would start catching us. Unfortunately it was just too many laps there at the end that we couldn’t hold those guys off.”
Hendrick Motorsports teammates William Byron and Kyle Larson finished fourth and fifth respectively, giving HMS three cars in the top 5.
The race featured 18-lead changes among 7-drivers and was slowed by 15-caution flags for 105-laps.
The next NASCAR Cup Series race is April 18, 2020 at Richmond Raceway.
Josh Berry Gets First Career Xfinity Series Win At Martinsville Speedway
MARTINSVILLE, VA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Josh Berry passed Ty Gibbs for the lead on lap 223 and stayed out front for the final 27-laps to get his first career NASCAR Xfinity Series win in the rain-delayed Cook Out 250 at Martinsville Speedway. The victory was the first career victory for Berry in 13 Xfinity Series starts.
“Man, I wanted to win so bad for these guys,” said Berry referring to his No. 8 JR Motorsports team. “They’re such a great group. I knew this would be a good opportunity to win. (Crew chief) Taylor (Moyer) called a perfect race. The car was good, and we just kept tweaking on it. The tires were pretty worn out there at the end. I was struggling a little bit with wheel-hop. This is just unbelievable.”
Berry’s JR Motorsports teammate Noah Gragson finished second and picked up a $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus, which eased the pain of being the runner-up.
“One hundred thousand dollars richer,” said Gragson. “Great 1-2 finish for our team at JR Motorsports. I really wanted to win there, but I was having to protect the bottom to keep the guys behind me from moving me out of the way. I couldn’t open up my arc the way I needed to and make speed.”
Daniel Hemric finished in third position followed by Gibbs, who faded to a fourth place finish. Gibbs’ teammate Brandon Jones finished fifth. Jones was the leader Friday night when storms red-flagged the event after completing 91-laps.
The race featured 13-lead changes among 9-drivers. The race was slowed by 12-caution flags for 75-laps.
The next race for the NASCAR Xfinity Series is April 24, 2021 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Mother Nature Wins At Martinsville Speedway
MARTINSVILLE, VA (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Mother Nature is throwing a wrench into this weekend’s NASCAR Cup Series and Xfinity Series Schedules at Martinsville Virginia.
Friday’s Xfinity race is under a red flag following 92-laps of the scheduled 250-lap event after rain showers put an end to NASCAR’s attempt to get the event finished. Joe Gibbs Racing’s Brandon Jones is scored as the leader of the race.
NASCAR has rescheduled the remainder of the event for Sunday at Noon ET.
The Cup Series race was red flagged on lap 43 because of showers. JGR’s Denny Hamlin is scored as the leader. Hamlin has led 38-laps. Team Penske’s Joey Logano started on the pole position and led the other laps.
NASCAR will restart the event on Sunday at 4 p.m. ET.
Per NASCAR rules, an event is considered official after half of the scheduled distance has been completed.
Both races will be broadcast live on FS1, the Motor Racing Network (MRN) and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.