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.
A.J. Allmendinger wins on ‘The Roval’….again!
CONCORD, NC (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – A.J. Allmendinger’s run towards a NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship is continuing into the Round of 8 after his third-straight win on ‘The Roval’ at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
“It’s special to win this race three years in-a-row,” said Allmendinger. “Do we go for the win during the race’s second stage by pitting early? We decided to do that. Once we got in the lead the Hyperice Chevy was so fast.”
Team Penske’s Austin Cindric finished second after starting from the pole position and having an eventful day. Cindric led the first seven laps of the race before missing the backstretch chicane. Cindric and his team went off strategy and by the end of the recovered and was in second place on the final re-start.
“I spun my tires like crazy on that last restart,” said Cindric, who already clinched a spot in the Round of 8. “I was worried about that, but I didn’t think it was going to be that bad. I feel like I could have tried a second gear restart. I think that would have helped me out at least maintaining some track position, but it was just not meant to be today.”
Daniel Hemric finished third followed by Justin Haley and Brandon Jones. All three also advanced into the Round of 8.
The other drivers advancing to the Round of 8 included Noah Gragson (sixth Saturday), Justin Allgaier (ninth) and Harrison Burton (15th).
The race featured six lead changes among five drivers, with Allmendinger leading the final 21 circuits. There were seven cautions for 13 laps.
The fourth caution also caused a brief stoppage when the brakes failed on the No. 07 Chevrolet of Josh Bilicki, with the car plowing through the backstretch chicane and dislodging pieces of curbing in its path. Track workers had to remove the exposed bolts that had held the curbing in place before the race could continue.
Brandon Brown gets Xfinity Series win at Talladega
TALLADEGA, AL (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Brandon Brown picked up his first Xfinity Series victory winning Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Talladega Superspeedway.
Brown was racing three-wide for the lead with Justin Allgaier and Brandon Jones when the No. 20 of Harrison Burton broke loose in turn four triggering a multi-vehicle accident on lap 102 of the 113-lap event.
NASCAR officials reverted back to the last completed scoring loop to determine Brown was slightly ahead when the caution came out.
“Everything I’ve ever wanted to do is take the trophy home to Mom and Dad,” said Brown, who drives for his family owned team. “Oh my god, it’s a dream come true. A Talladega winner. Oh my god, Dad, we did it!”
Jones was credited with a second place finish and Allgaier came home in third position. Daniel Hemric finished fourth followed by Jordan Anderson in fifth.
Defending Xfinity Series Champion Austin Cindric remains atop the drivers standing following his 8th place finish. Allgaier is in second place followed by Hemric in third.
A.J. Allmendinger took a hit in the points after being involved in an accident and fell to fourth, 44-points out of the lead and 25-points above the 8th place cutoff to advance to the next round of the playoffs.
Burton fell to eight in the points after his accident and sits only 8-points ahed of Jeb Burton for the final playoff transfer spot.
Kyle Larson wins at Bristol after Harvick & Elliott incident
BRISTOL, TN (Pittsburgh Racing Now) – Kyle Larson passed Kevin Harvick with three-laps-to-go and went on to win Saturday night’s NASCAR Cup Series Bass Pro Shops Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
“Have always wanted to win here, so cool to finally do it,” said Larson. “We were able to stay close enough to Kevin. Chase was obviously upset with the contact, was just making things kind of tough on him. It kept me in the game.”
Elliott certainly made it tougher on Harvick after contact between the two, as they were fighting for the lead, sent the No. 9 Hooters Chevy to pit road with a flat left front tire. Elliott returned to the track a couple of laps down but on the same part of the track as the leaders and the defending Cup Series Champion ran the No. 4 up against the wall in frustration.
Elliott eventually passed Harvick but did not pull away with the fresher tires, instead Elliott took the racing line away from Harvick as Larson continued to close in. Larson caught and passed Harvick, who blamed Elliott.
“I just told him it was kind of a chicken-shit move he did there at the end,” fumed Harvick. “I was just trying to get the lead and race him hard. Then he pulls up in front of me and sits there till I lose the whole lead.”
“Well, it’s something he does all the time,” said Elliott of the contact from the No. 4. “He runs into your left side constantly at other tracks. Did it to me in Darlington a few weeks ago because he was tired of racing me. Whether he did it on purpose doesn’t matter. At some point you have to draw a line.”
The line to the next round of the NASCAR Playoffs was drawn after Bristol with four drivers falling out the playoffs.
Chip Ganassi’s hopes of winning that elusive NASCAR Championship ended Saturday night when Kurt Busch was one of those four drivers eliminated. Busch finished 19th at Bristol.
Aric Almirola, Michael McDowell and Tyler Reddick were also eliminated.