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.
Brad Keselowski joining Roush Fenway Racing as partner
CHARLOTTE, NC (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Brad Keselowski is joining Roush Fenway Racing for the 2022 NASCAR season as both driver and minority owner.
Keselowski was named the driver of the No. 6 RFR Ford Mustang for 2022 and beyond on Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. In addition to the driving duties Keselowski is joining the team as minority owner.
“There were four key components for me,” said Keselowski of what he was looking for in a new deal. “To have a long-term driving contract was something I valued. I want to stay in one place and be there for a long time, hopefully for the rest of my career. That’s the intent and the goal.
“The second position which was really important to me was to be in a leadership role… to be able to express myself creatively and be able to lead the company and team to be the best it can be. That was really critical to me.
“The third thing was of course the ownership position. That’s quite a unique opportunity that really excites me… It represents growth for me, personally and professionally, which is very important. And that’s really the fourth point, to have a role in the sport after I’m done driving.”
Jack Roush, 79, is not done as an owner either, but he now has a succession plan in place.
“I welcome him as a partner, and I look forward to what we can do together,” said Roush. “There are no retirement plans for me in my immediate future. I intend to keep going to the race tracks and to be as much of a nuisance and a distraction to my drivers and my crew chiefs as I have been in the past.”
Ryan Newman, the current driver of the No. 6 RFR Ford, could drive a third RFR Ford on a part-time basis but nothing has been decided as of yet.
Aric Almirola wins NASCAR Cup race at New Hampshire, qualifies for playoffs
LOUDON, NH (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Aric Almirola’s disastrous 2021 season is taking a turn for the better after winning the NASCAR Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday.
Almirola came into the race without a win, mired in 27th place in the Cup Series points standings thanks in-part to only 1-Top 5 and 2-Top 10’s this season, where he’s led only 26-laps before Sunday’s win.
“There’s been so many people that have just continued to support us through, like, the crappiest year ever,” said Almirola on the front stretch after the race. “All the guys that work on this car, they just keep fighting, they just keep digging, bringing the best race car they can bring every week and it is no doubt we have struggled but guess what, we’re going playoff racing.”
Almirola’s victory clearly shook up the NASCAR Playoffs standings. Sixteen drivers will qualify for the playoffs. Only race winners and the remaining teams inside the top 16 qualify. With Almirola’s win, only three spots remain
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Christopher Bell finished second, just missing the weekend sweep after taking the Xfinity Series checkered flag on Saturday at New Hampshire.
Bell was not happy that NASCAR shortened the race because of darkness.
“I didn’t know how may laps they cut it short, but definitely whenever I saw the board and saw that we were eight laps short, it stings man,” said Bell. “We didn’t start out the greatest and then we were really good, probably the best we were all day right there at the end of the race. That’s all you can ask for is to have a shot at it and just wish we had eight more laps.”
The Team Penske trio of Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano and Ryan Blaney rounded out the Top 5.
Kyle Busch started on the pole position and led the first 5-laps and was heading into turn one on Lap 6 when a wet track surface caused Busch and teammate Martin Truex Jr to spin and crash.
“We started the race under a mist,” explained Busch. “It never should have gone green to begin with, but then it kept getting worse and worse lap over lap. We’ve been talking about it for two laps that it was raining. There’s no sense in saying what I want to say, it doesn’t do you any good.”
Several drivers at the front of the pack also realized the track was wet and some spun and some were able to slow down.
Busch got the worst end of the deal as his car could not be repaired and was loaded on the truck. Busch was credited with a 37th place finish.
The NASCAR Cup Series is off next weekend.
Chase Elliott wins SRX finale at Nashville, Stewart wins Championship
NASHVILLE, TN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Chase Elliott joined the Superstar Racing Experience (SRX) for their season finale at Nashville Fairgrounds and took home the checkered flag beating Tony Stewart and his father Bill Elliott in the feature. The win was the first series victory for the younger Elliott.
Chase Elliott was on the inside with Stewart on the outside on a restart with 7-laps-to-go followed by Bill Elliott and Bobby Labonte in Row 2.
Chase Elliott beat Stewart into turn one and two with Bill Elliott and Bobby Labonte side-by-side for third.
Caution came out with 5-laps-to-go when Paul Tracy made contact with Marco Andretti, sending Andretti into a spin after picking up three spots following the restart.
Chase Elliott got the jump on Stewart on the restart and held on to pick up the win. Stewart finished second and took home the inaugural series Championship.
“Man it was so much fun,” said Chase Elliott. “I had a ball. I got to race against two of my heroes tonight and I got to race against Dad there throughout the race and those are moments that I’ll cherish forever. Thanks to Ray (Evernham, Series co-owner) and Tony (Stewart, Series co-owner) and I appreciate NAPA being on the car.”
NASCAR Hall-of-famer Bill Elliott, 65, finished third and picked up a win in the first heat race where he started side-by-side with his son Chase.
“I messed up in one not getting all the stuff (marbles) off my tires,” said Bill Elliott, the 1988 NASCAR Cup Series Champion. “Man I tell you it was a lot of fun. I knew the way the tires were on these cars and the way Chase manages his stuff he was going to be tough to beat.”
“I don’t know what lit a fire under him tonight,” said Chase Elliott. “But he was as aggressive as I have seen him in years. It was amazing and a lot of fun. I thought it was going to be between he and I but he got a little high going into (turn) one.”
The win was also special for the Elliott Family as they were able to park the No. 94 in Victory Lane. Casey Elliott, the late son of legendary engine builder Ernie Elliott, raced the No. 94 in the ARCA and Busch (now Xfinity) Series before his life was cut short by cancer.
“Obviously a special number too,” said Chase Elliott. “My late Cousin Casey Elliott ran the 94 for years and years and it’s always special to run that number and I’m glad we were able to get it in Victory Lane at Nashville.”
“How could you ask for more than to finish between two Elliott’s, that’s pretty bad-ass in itself,” said Stewart. “To win this Championship is awesome. I really appreciate Marcus Lemonis and everyone at Camping World for stepping up and helping us get this thing off the ground. To be the last guy to win an IROC Championship and the first one to win an SRX Championship means a lot.”