Here Charter, Charter!

Chris Buescher
Another key piece to 2018 that still needs to be announced is which teams will have the 36 guaranteed positions for each race. Those go to teams with NASCAR-issued charters.

The Furniture Row Racing #77 team charter has been sold to JTG Daugherty Racing for its #37 car.

Among those teams that need a charter for 2018: #12-Team Penske (Blaney), #21-Wood Brothers Racing (Menard) and #72-TriStar Motorsports (Cole Whitt).

Teams that currently have extra charters for next year include Roush Fenway Racing (it gets back the one leased to JTG), Richard Petty Motorsports (it gets back the one leased to Go Fas Racing, which gets back the charter it leased to the Wood Brothers) and Front Row Motorsports (it gets back the one leased to TriStar). If RCR doesn’t field the #27 car, RCR also would have a charter available for lease or sale.

Teams are allowed to lease out a charter for one year but then must use it or sell it over a five-year period. There is no limit as far as how many years a team can lease a charter from various organizations to keep the guaranteed spot in the field, it just can’t be the same charter year-to-year.

The pieces of the puzzle are slowing starting to make their way on puzzle board for 2018.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK! 

Haas F1 Team Recaps Abu Dhabi Qualifying

Image result for haas f1 vf-17

 

Event:  Qualifying for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix (Round 20 of 20)

Date:  Saturday, Nov. 25

Location:  Yas Marina Circuit in Abu Dhabi, UAE

Layout:  5.554-kilometer (3.451-mile), 21-turn circuit

Weather:  Clear

Air Temps:  24.6-25 degrees Celsius (76.3-77 degrees Fahrenheit)

Track Temps:  29.3-31.5 degrees Celsius (84.7-88.7 degrees Fahrenheit)

Pole Winner:  Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes (1:36.231 – new track record)

Result:  Kevin Magnussen qualified 14th / Romain Grosjean qualified 16th

 

 

●  Lasts 18 minutes, with all 20 drivers participating

●  Fastest 15 drivers advance to Q2

Magnussen:  14th quick (1:39.395), advanced to Q2

Grosjean:  16th quick (1:39.516)

Fastest Driver:  Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes (1:37.356)

Cutoff:  15th-quick Lance Stroll of Williams (1:39.503)

 

 

●  Lasts 15 minutes, featuring the 15 fastest drivers from Q1

●  Fastest 10 drivers advance to Q3

Magnussen:  14th quick (1:39.298)

Fastest Driver:  Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes (1:36.742)

Cutoff:  10th-quick Felipe Massa of Williams (1:38.565)

 

 

●  Lasts 12 minutes, featuring the 10 fastest drivers from Q2, all battling for the pole

Pole Winner:  Valtteri Bottas of Mercedes (1:36.231)

Second:  Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes (1:36.403)

 

 

Haas F1 Team drivers Kevin Magnussen and Romain Grosjean qualified 14th and 16th, respectively, for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Sunday at Yas Marina Circuit.

Magnussen set the 14th-fastest time in Q1 with a lap of 1:39.395 around the 5.554-kilometer (3.451-mile), 21-turn track. Grosjean was 16th quickest with a lap of 1:39.516, falling one spot short of the top-15 cutoff to advance to Q2.

In Q2, Magnussen remained 14th fastest despite turning a lap that was .097 of a second better than his Q1 time. Only the top-10 drivers move on to Q3.

Both Magnussen and Grosjean ran exclusively on the Pirelli P Zero Purple ultrasoft tire throughout qualifying.

Taking the pole for the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix was Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas. His fast lap of 1:36.231 was .172 of a second better than runner-up and teammate Lewis Hamilton and it set a new all-time fastest lap at Yas Marina. It was Bottas’ fourth career Formula One pole – all of which have come this season – and his first in Abu Dhabi.

Before Magnussen, Grosjean and the rest of their Formula One counterparts participated in knockout qualifying, they had one final practice (FP3) to dial in their racecars for a quick lap around the track. After an installation lap on the Yellow soft compound, both drivers performed two timed stints, each utilizing ultrasofts to emulate qualifying.

Magnussen ran 19 laps and set the 14th-fastest time with a 1:39.831 on his 13th lap. Grosjean tallied 19 laps and earned his best time on his 12th lap – a 1:40.079 that put him 15th overall.

Quickest in FP3 was Hamilton, whose fast lap of 1:37.627 was .273 of a second better than Bottas.

 

“We didn’t do much in FP2 yesterday, so qualifying was always going to be tough. I don’t have any front end. Kevin (Magnussen) loves it, but I don’t like it. We’ve struggled to find the perfect balance. I’m struggling to drive the car that way and get the last few tenths out of the car. No excuse, but it just doesn’t fit my feelings. We’re going to work hard and try to find out what we can do to improve that. It’s been the case for about the last eight or nine races. We made a step in Brazil, but here with all the low-speed corners, it’s just difficult. Hopefully in the race, with more laps, it should get better. We need a lot to happen in the race tomorrow, but anything is possible.”

 

“I think we’ve been better here than our average. If you take away the likes of Australia, Austria, Silverstone, this is probably our average position or there about. I don’t think it’s that bad. We’ve done well to get back after missing FP1 which, unfortunately, I’ve had to a few times this year. We’ve gotten to a good point with the car and made some good steps since FP2 and through into FP3 and then to here. We’ve managed things well with the change in temperature with doing FP1 and FP3 in the sun, then FP2 and qualifying in the dark, where track temperature drops a lot and affects the tires a lot. It’s not an easy one to get right and I didn’t think we did a bad job with it. There’s nothing to lose tomorrow, so we’re going to go for it and give it everything.”

“It was quite an average day. I think the good thing is we recovered from FP2, as we were struggling a little bit there yesterday. Is it good enough to get into the points tomorrow? I don’t know. Nevertheless, we don’t give up yet, because we’re normally better in the race than in qualifying. Starting 14th and 16th – it’s not impossible to end up in the points, so let’s see what the day brings tomorrow.”

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Bell Outduels Larson For The Turkey Classic At Ventura

Christopher Bell

Thanksgiving is the day each year when we take a little extra time to realize how fortunate we are and to give thanks.

For those in attendance at Thursday’s “Turkey Night Grand Prix,” the realization quickly came to how thankful we are to have witnessed Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson duking it out against each other for 98 laps in USAC Midgets at Ventura Raceway.

The three official lead changes listed in the box score aren’t indicative of the back-and-forth battle these two titans waged with sliders being exchanged like currency on both ends of the racetrack!

On the 54th lap, Bell ultimately made the winning pass on Larson with a daring outside move on the front straightaway, but would have to endure the relentless persistence of Larson all the way down to turn one of the final lap when he stifled Larson’s slider before it even had time to develop.

Bell, of Norman, Oklahoma, joined the ranks of two-time “Turkey Night” winners just six days after wrapping up his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title at Homestead (Fla.) Speedway.  Though he and Larson have reached success in the NASCAR ranks in recent years, their home lies in the dirt tracks, just like old times when they were regulars on the USAC trail.

“Oh my god, it’s so much fun,” Bell exclaimed.  “I just told Kyle that if he would’ve beat me, I would’ve been, maybe not just as happy, but still happy because it was just that much fun.  That race was one of the most fun races I’ve run in a long time.”

Straight from the outset, polesitter Larson had the upper hand as inside second row starter Bell followed in his wake on the bottom.

As Larson ringed around the berm lining the bottom of the racing surface, Bell became the first in line to venture to the top on the 12th lap, using a big bite off turn four to pull to a dead-heat at the line alongside Larson before nudging into the lead by a sliver into the first turn.

Bell never wavered in his decision to go “high, wide, and handsome”, and it would pay off one lap later when he slipped by Larson off turn four to secure the lead.

“I could tell that the top was going to be good,” Bell theorized.  “Watching the sprint car feature, we saw that it got pretty good.  They tilled the bottom and I could tell it was going to be really good at the beginning.  Once it started going away, I tried the top and it was right there.”

On lap 40, Brayton Lynch got sideways in a shuffle for position at the exit of turn four.  Facing oncoming traffic, Chad Boat met front-bumper to front-bumper with Lynch, melding the noses of each car together as Boat attempted to peel away to no avail.  Courtney Crone and newly-crowned five-time USAC Light Up the World Beverages Western States Midget champ Ronnie Gardner were also involved, but would restart.

When racing resumed on lap 52, Larson went to the bottom and slid his teammate Bell to snare the lead.  One lap later, Bell returned the favor and slithered by Larson with just inches to spare as he tunneled between Larson’s right-side wheels and the front straightaway wall.  Larson attacked again into turn one with a slider, but the motion was denied, and Bell cleared away the Tryptophan after the wake-up call and sprinted back into the lead.

Following a lap 57 tangle between the two most recent USAC National Midget feature winners – Brady Bacon and series champion Spencer Bayston – Larson harassed Bell, putting it all on the line in the prestigious race in an attempt to become just the third driver to win the event three times.  On lap 66, Larson got on the bike, lifting the left side wheels as he ripped the edge of the turn three cushion in his tireless pursuit.

With three-quarters of the race in the rearview mirror, it was time to turn up the wick!  The bottom became just a distant memory as the two were now inside the barrel, riding the wave in turns three and four above the cushion.  On lap 80, Larson slid Bell into turn one momentarily.  Bell retaliated by crossing underneath Larson off the second turn to recapture the point.  In turn three, the second verse played out the same as the first as Larson slid to the lead and Bell, so Allen Iverson-esque, used a killer crossover to bolt back to the front.

“The majority of drivers understand you have to be good at the end of the race to win the race,” Bell said.  “At the beginning, you’re just cruising and making sure you make It to the end of the race.  That’s the biggest thing.  Kyle and I were both rolling around there about quarter-throttle at the beginning, trying to save our tires and kill some laps.  It worked out and we were racing our butts off at the end.”

Larson, the five-time NASCAR Monster Energy Cup winner, set up another Hail Mary that was denied as Bell wheelied away off the top of turn two to remain in front.  Tyler Courtney, the USAC West Coast/VRA Sprint Car feature winner earlier in the night, slowed to a stop in turn one to bring out the yellow and provide a breather for both the drivers and fans alike.

On the ensuing restart, Bell jetted away from Larson and, with ten to go, held a lead of over one second with a full nest of lappers resting in the distance.  Just prior to lapped traffic possibly becoming a factor with a mere four laps to go, Holly Shelton and Bacon performed a synchronized spin between turns one and two that brought out the final yellow and one more stanza that Bell had to deal with Larson.

“The track was so technical,” Bell explained.  “It was all about hitting your marks and minimizing mistakes because you weren’t going to make a mistake-free lap tonight.  You just had to make sure when you made a mistake that you could recover from it.  Once I got going on those green flag runs, I could get my momentum built up and make good, competitive laps.  But after the yellow flags, it was tough to pick your rhythm back up.  I knew I was a sitting duck their leading on the restarts.  On the final one, Kyle got one last bomb on me and I was able to get him back.”

Larson’s first lob of a bomb was a success in turn one on the lap 95 restart as he scraped across the surface to snag the race lead from Bell.  Bell counter-punched and ripped away the lead back away from Larson with a slider into turn three.  Entering turn one with two laps remaining, wheels banged and nerf bars clanged as Larson shot to the lead past Bell once again.

As a uncertain as a game of tug-of-war teetering on a see-saw, Bell launched like a missile on a hell-bound train to slide across the nose of Larson and into the lead between turns three and four to capture the lead for good.  Larson threw a haymaker entering turn three coming to the white flag, pulling side-by-side with Bell at the exit of four where it momentarily became three-wide with Shane Golobic arriving seemingly out of the clear blue sky to mount a challenge for the lead.

Larson tried once more on the final lap, but Bell savagely, and wisely, took a lower entrance into turn one, thus preventing a final pull of the pin from Larson.  Bell carried on with a 0.193 second lead across the finish line as Larson blasted off the top of the final corner to nip Golobic by a wheel at the line for the runner-up spot.  Past “Turkey Night” winner Tanner Thorson was fourth and Don Basile “Rookie of the Race” Zeb Wise was fifth in his second-career USAC National Midget start.

Bell was 4 for 7 in USAC National Midget feature appearances in 2017 for a .571 batting average.  His 21st career series victory tied him with Steve Cannon, Jimmy Caruthers, Rex Easton and Ken Schrader for 27th all-time.

The fourth-straight “Turkey Night” win for the Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports team began with Bell’s victory in 2014. Firsts are always special in any circumstance, but this one has even more meaning for the 22-year-old, 2013 USAC National Midget titlist.

“I definitely had to work harder for this one.  This one was even more fun and more special.”

Contingency award winners Thursday night at Ventura Raceway were Kyle Larson (ProSource/Woodland Auto Display Fast Qualifier), Kevin Thomas, Jr. (Simpson Race Products/Extreme Mufflers 1st Qualifier Winner & Wilwood Brakes 13th Place Finisher), Chad Boat (Competition Suspension, Inc./Brown & Miller Racing Solutions 2nd Qualifier Winner), Zeb Wise (Chalk Stix/Keizer Aluminum Wheels/Saldana Racing Products/Indy Race Parts Last Chance Winner) and Ryan Robinson (KSE Racing Products/Esslinger Engineering Hard Charger).

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Ray Black, Jr. To Run Full Cup Schedule In 2018

Ray Black, Jr.
Ray Black Jr. is making the next jump of his racing career in 2018, as he will compete full-time in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series with Rick Ware Racing.

Both Rick Ware, owner of RWR and Black confirmed to this at Homestead-Miami Speedway that the plan is to run the entire 36-race schedule and challenge for Rookie of the Year. The Florida native will pilot the #51 car.

Black made his Cup Series debut in mid-September at Chicagoland Speedway, finishing 40th for RWR. He made two other starts during the playoffs at Texas Motor Speedway and the season finale at Homestead, resulting in 34th and 38th-place finishes, respectively.

The 26-year-old has 89 career starts among the top three national touring series since 2014. In 2015, Black finished 11th in the Camping World Truck Series standings with a fifth-place effort at Daytona. In 2016, he piloted the No. 07 car for SS-Green Light Racing, finishing 19th in points.

The #51 machine will have a guaranteed spot in all 36 races in 2018, as Ware has acquired one of the 36 charters. The team owner would not confirm who he purchased the charter from.

Ware also confirmed that he will be running a part-time #52 machine from anywhere between 10-18 races. He expects BJ McLeod, Cody Ware, Kyle Weatherman and John Graham to all have seat time in the second race car.

The team owner said that RWR will run all three manufacturers in 2018.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Roush Fenway Racing Fields NXS Developmental Driving Team in 2018

Chase Briscoe

(Chase Briscoe)
Roush Fenway Racing will field a driver development team in the NASCAR XFINITY Series (NXS) in 2018, with Ty Majeski, Austin Cindric and Chase Briscoe, each a driver in the Ford family of NASCAR race teams, sharing the iconic No. 60 Ford Mustang. The project is intended to continue the progression and development of the three drivers and will be run by Roush Fenway with collaboration from Ford Performance and Team Penske. Roush Fenway veteran Mike Kelley, who helped guide Ricky Stenhouse Jr. to a pair of NXS championships, will serve as crew chief on the car.

“Driver development has always been part of our DNA at Roush Fenway and Jack Roush has always taken pride in providing opportunities for up and coming drivers,” said Roush Fenway president Steve Newmark. “All three of these drivers have exhibited a great deal of potential on and off the track and it’s going to be a lot of fun to watch as they hone their skills together and grow into the next generation of champions in our sport.”

Majeski, who finished 10th in his third NXS start last weekend at Homestead, recently captured his fourth-consecutive ARCA Midwest Tour championship, winning six of the 12 races. In 32 Late Model races this year, the Wisconsin phenom has scored an impressive 20 wins and 29 top-three finishes. He is coming off a dominating performance in the Governor’s Cup at New Smyrna, where he won the event for the third consecutive year. Majeski is also the No. 1 ranked iRacer in the world, with over 830 wins in 1,112 starts.

Austin Cindric

(Austin Cindric)
At the age of 19, Cindric has a very diverse racing background. He has won races in rallycross, IMSA, ARCA, the NASCAR K&N Series and the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS). In only his rookie season, Cindric advanced to the championship round in the NCWTS playoffs at Homestead. In 2017, Cindric scored eight top fives and 16 top-10 NCWS finishes; including a win this season at Canadian Tire Motorsports Park.

Briscoe, whose family has a rich history driving and owning sprint cars, scored 10 top-five and 14 top-10 finishes and finished sixth in the points standings in his NCWTS rookie season, including a dominating victory in the season finale at Homestead. He won the 2016 ARCA championship in dramatic fashion, tallying six victories, leading almost 1000 laps and distancing himself from the second-place finisher by over 500 points.

The trio will look to build on the rich history of Roush Fenway’s No. 60 that includes a NASCAR record 93 wins and almost 16,000 laps led. Mark Martin was a dominating fixture in the car in the 90s and Carl Edwards, Greg Biffle and Chris Buescher each drove the car to NXS championships.

The No. 60 is set to run all of the NXS races in 2018, while competing for the NXS Owner’s Championship. Further details will be made available – and a media availability for all three drivers will be conducted – after the Thanksgiving Holiday.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

NASCAR Standardizes At-Track Pit Rosters

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
NASCAR announced Wednesday morning that it will standardize at-track team rosters across all three national series in 2018, providing a structure for the number of personnel working on each vehicle during the course of a race weekend.

The biggest competition impact from the rules update is the the number of crew members who go over the wall for pit stops moving from six to five.

At-track rosters for all three series will fall under three headings: Organizational, Road Crew and Pit Crew. Job descriptions and roster maximums for each category:

• Organizational: Examples include competition director, team managers, technical director, IT specialists. In the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, teams will be allotted three organizational roster spots for one- and two-car operations, and four spots for three- and four-car outfits. XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series teams will be allowed one organizational roster spot each.

• Road Crew: Examples include crew chief, car chief, mechanics, engine tuners, engineers, specialists (for areas such as tires, aerodynamics and shocks) and spotters. The limits for these personnel by series: Monster Energy Series, 12; XFINITY, 7; Camping World Trucks, 6.

• Pit Crew: This designation refers solely to team members who perform over-the-wall service during pit stops. The maximum is five for all three series.

The exceptions to these numbers are slight. Monster Energy Series teams are allowed one extra road crew position at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the three road courses (Sonoma, Watkins Glen, Charlotte), where teams often use multiple spotters. Also, an additional road crew roster spot will be allowed for XFINITY teams at 10 races and Truck Series teams at five.

It will be left to the teams’ discretion on how to best assemble their team – including the over-the-wall crew – within the roster limits. All rosters will be made public – for fans and media – before each race weekend.

For routine four-tire stops starting next season, teams could forgo one tire carrier and devise a new framework for servicing their vehicles.

The responsibilities of the fueler will also be narrowed, with other over-the-wall duties such as wrenching out chassis adjustments prohibited in 2018.

In another effort to bring further recognition to team members, rostered crew will be assigned letters or numbers worn on their uniforms and on armbands to identify their duties.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

DXC Technology, Team Penske And Simon Pagenoud Partner For 2018

Simon Pagenaud

Team Penske announced today that it has reached an extension agreement with DXC Technology (NYSE: DXC) for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season.

In its first season as a motorsports sponsor in 2017, DXC Technology built on an established presence with Team Penske’s successful Verizon IndyCar Series program and 2016 series champion, Simon Pagenaud, driver of the No. 22 Dallara/Chevrolet. DXC Technology celebrated with Pagenaud in Victory Lane of the season-ending series race in Sonoma, California, to claim its first INDYCAR win.

For the 2018 season, DXC Technology will return and serve as the primary sponsor on Pagenaud’s car for six races, which will begin with the Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 15. DXC Technology will also continue as an associate sponsor on the remaining races for the No. 22 team.

“Team Penske is excited to grow the partnership with DXC Technology for 2018,” said Roger Penske. “This is a technology-dependent sport and we were able to integrate DXC into our INDYCAR program this season and we will be ready to take our performance, and hopefully our results, to the next level with them in 2018.”

DXC Technology was the primary sponsor aboard Pagenaud’s car for six races in the company’s first year with the team in 2017, including the memorable win in the season finale at Sonoma Raceway.

“I enjoyed working with DXC Technology and representing their brand this past season,” said Pagenaud. “DXC Technology shares a similar philosophy with us at Team Penske, which is to strive for excellence. We are very proud to work together relentlessly toward further limits in our respective industries. We were excited to get a win with them in Sonoma and everyone at Team Penske wants to build on that as we welcome them back for 2018.”

DXC Technology is the world’s leading independent, end-to-end IT services company. Formed by the 2017 merger of CSC and the Enterprise Services business of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, the company has more than 155,000 employees across 70 countries, serving some 6,000 clients. Its mission is to lead digital transformation for clients by tapping into global talent, developing powerful next-generation IT solutions and leveraging extensive partner relationships.

“Our partnership with Team Penske provides a great opportunity for DXC Technology,” said Mike Lawrie, DXC Technology chairman, president and CEO. “Performance and reputation make Team Penske the type of organization with which we want to align. Like us, they strive for excellence in everything they do and work diligently to provide value for both sides of the relationship.”

The 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season opens on March 11 in the Streets of St. Petersburg in Florida, the 1.8-mile temporary circuit set up on city streets and a runway of Albert Whitted Airport.

Read how Team Penske and DXC Technology collaborated to enhance the engineering process with a “digital transformation workshop” designed to optimize the team’s engineering software: How a championship-winning race team cut engineering cycles by 30 percent.

 

 About DXC Technology

DXC Technology (NYSE: DXC) is the world’s leading business transformation company, helping clients harness the power of innovation to thrive on change. Born of the merger of CSC and the Enterprise Services business of Hewlett Packard Enterprise, DXC serves nearly 6,000 private and public sector enterprises across 70 countries. DXC’s technology independence, global talent, expertise and extensive alliance of partners combine to deliver the most powerful end-to-end next-generation IT services and solutions. DXC is recognized among best corporate citizens globally. For more information, visit https://www.dxc.technology.

 

About Team Penske
Team Penske is one of the most successful teams in the history of professional sports and celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2016. Cars owned and prepared by Team Penske have produced more than 470 major race wins, over 540 pole positions and 31 National Championships across open-wheel, stock car and sports car racing competition. In its storied history, the team has also earned 16 Indianapolis 500 victories, two Daytona 500 Championships, a Formula 1 win and overall victories in the 24 Hours of Daytona and the 12 Hours of Sebring. Team Penske currently competes in the Verizon IndyCar Series, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and NASCAR XFINITY Series. The team also races in the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship, in a partnership with Dick Johnson Racing, as DJR Team Penske. For more information about Team Penske, please visit www.teampenske.com.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Kyle Busch: “It Wasn’t Quite What We Wanted”

Kyle Busch

The final race came down to the finals laps, among the top cars from the dominant manufacturer, and ultimately, the most successful driver won the championship!

But even still, 2015 series champion Kyle Busch couldn’t take much comfort in fellow Toyota-driving Martin Truex Jr. of Furniture Row Racing winning his first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday. Busch, driving for affiliate Joe Gibbs Racing, would have much preferred that he had made up the final .681-second distance between the race-winner and champion and his slot in second place.

“It wasn’t quite what we wanted there at the end,” said Busch, who closed on Truex Jr. doggedly in the final 10 laps. “I thought we had a really great race car, especially on the long runs we were really, really good. Just came down to there at the end not having enough tire when I got to [Truex Jr.], so I just overused my stuff, and I knew I overused my stuff when I was running with [Joey Logano, then holding second place] trying to get by him and just overworked everything. And got to [championship-eligible Kevin Harvick], got by him pretty quick, I tried to make sure that I could do that pretty quick so then I could have at least a little more tire life, but didn’t seem to pay me off any when I got to [Truex Jr.].”

Busch led 43 laps and held a 21.4-second lead as part of a fuel strategy play on Lap 216 of 267, but was forced to surrender the lead to pit. He worked backed through the field because of his strength on lengthy runs and overtook Kyle Larson – who led a race-high 145 laps – for second place.

Busch’s five wins this season were second only to Truex Jr.’s eight.

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Dale Jr. And Kenseth Say Goodbye In Their Own Way

Matt Kenseth

The crew in black and yellow fire suits went methodically about its business, check-listing last details before the beginning of the final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race of the season at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

A few feet away, the crew in the red and black fire suits was performing the same series of tasks, but a throng of onlookers and well-wishers pressed in at every movement.

It was a surreal scene, or rather scenes, both on Sunday and 14 years ago. But in each case, the careers and personas of NASCAR’s most popular driver and his understated friend and contemporary had intersected. In 2003, it was in the garage bays in the hours before Matt Kenseth finished off his first and only championship at NASCAR’s highest level. On Sunday, it was as he and Dale Earnhardt Jr. posed for a series of photographs for friends and family beside their cars staged in Turn 4 as they prepared to undertake their final races before retirement.

Earnhardt Jr. eventually broke from his gathering on Sunday, slinked under a rope and waited through a television interview to speak with Kenseth. He’d been “adamant” Kenseth said, that their cars be parked next to each other for their moments, and was particularly intrigued that they were both using versions of their early career paint schemes for their farewells. They shared a quip and a hug and then prepared to get on with the last vestiges of their careers. In keeping with their divergent personalities – Earnhardt Jr. – compelled to accommodate the scores who wanted to share in the moment with him – and Kenseth joined the field of cars to begin the start of the race, and NASCAR’s 14-time most popular driver slowly drove pit road to exchange handshakes with crewman from other teams waiting near the wall.

Earnhardt Jr. and Kenseth have always been different people seeking the same career goals, since they entered first the Busch Series [now XFINITY Series] and then Cup together, and it can be argued that Kenseth accomplished more. Both won the Daytona 500 twice, but Kenseth claimed the 2003 championship and contended for others more frequently than his friend, who finished a career-high second in the same season. Kenseth won 39 career Monster Energy Series races, Earnhardt Jr. 26. When Earnhardt Jr. won consecutive XFINITY titles in 1998 and 1999, Kenseth finished second, and third, respectively.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr.

But Earnhardt Jr. always was and always will be the focus. It was his birthright and burden.  Understated and wry, Kenseth saw up close the scrutiny and demands on his friend and wanted no part of them. He learned that early. In 2002, the bachelor Earnhardt Jr. hitched a ride with Kenseth and his wife, Katie, driving back from a race at Rockingham, when they cruised into a McDonald’s. Earnhardt Jr. was inundated. Kenseth and Katie walked to the front of the line. Demands came with such fame and Earnhardt Jr. came to accept them as his part of the bargain.

NASCAR legend dictates that Kenseth’s march to his championship for Roush Racing was so banal – after winning one race he entered the final 226 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson – that it prompted the series to institute the first version of what was then called the “Chase” in 2004. Earnhardt Jr. arrived in third place, 264 behind for Dale Earnhardt Inc. and still gathering momentum as the standard-bearer of the sport and a crossover marketing star just two years after his father and namesake perished on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. In keeping with the Budweiser sponsorship on his red No. 8 Chevrolet, the mood on the edge of his camp that November was festive bordering on hysterical. Such was the reason that security stations theater ropes several feet beyond the mouth of his garage bay so crewman could work and push through mobbing fans carrying gear back to their transporter. Kenseth’s crew went about its business unbothered.

Ultimately, their departures from the series were in keeping with the way they conducted their careers, or at least had them dictated to them. Returning this season after missing half of the 2016 season because of a recurrence of concussions, Earnhardt Jr. announced in April that he would discontinue full-time racing at the end of the season. A hashtagged farewell tour ensued, allowing his scores of fans and appreciative admirers to partake in his moment. Kenseth, who will be replaced next season at Joe Gibbs Racing by 21-year-old Erik Jones, refused to accept a lesser job and eventually accepted his career was over.

Earnhardt Jr. chugged a beer as a massive mob surrounded his rubber-clumped car and engaged in a long embrace with team owner Rick Hendrick after exiting the car following a 25th-place finish. Hendrick, whose son, Ricky, died with nine other Hendrick family members or employees in a 2004 plane crash, claimed Earnhardt Jr.’s helmet as a souvenir and slid away from the scene. He’d done the same in 2015 after four-time series champion Jeff Gordon’s last race as a full-time driver at Homestead and wouldn’t be without a token from someone he said he loves “like he’s flesh and blood.”

“I don’t want to get any more helmets,” Hendrick said, becoming emotional. “He and I have such a special relationship.  We were talking about it. Now we can go fishing. So, it’s unbelievable to see his driving career come to an end, but he’s excited about the next stage and I am too, We have a special bond, so we are going to do a lot of fun things together, and that’s a commitment we made this year, early on when he told me he thought it was time. I’ve turned the page now and we’re going to start planning the trip tomorrow morning.”

At the absolute end of pit road, in the quiet, Kenseth sipped on a sports drink and joked with crew chief Jason Ratcliff. It was fitting.

There is the feeling that their paths will cross again, as Earnhardt Jr. remains around the sport as an XFINITY Series team owner and NBC analyst. Kenseth, with three daughters younger than eight and another imminent said his life will become filled with recitals and sports events. In the near-term, he planned to “go up to Wisconsin and be cold.”

“That was fun,” he said of exiting alongside Earnhardt Jr., including taking a group photo with their teams on Friday. “We went for a bike ride when we were in Darlington and I told him this was going to be it, but I never really announced it just because I kind of knew by September, I pretty much had my mind was made up the way things were going and kind of knew it then. It’s kind of cool we came into Cup together and now we go out together.”

And in their own ways.

On a personal note:

What a really cool NASCAR ride the last 17 years have been with both of these excellent drivers.  Kenseth always has been a low keyed, dry witted race car driver that never really sought the limelight, but was eager to compete and win races at the highest level.  Dale Jr. had the awesome weight of NASCAR thrust on his shoulders to carry after his father’s untimely death.  But carry it he did with class and humility!

Gentlemen, thanks for allowing this person to ride shotgun in your race cars, to experience the thrill of victory and the agony defeat vicariously!  I am eternally grateful to you for your class, and humility!

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!

Michael McDowell Earns A Top 25 Finish At Homestead

Michael McDowell and Paul Menard
Michael McDowell and Leavine Family Racing (LFR) finished 24th in their final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS) race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

 The team had a phenomenal start to the weekend, finishing first and second practice eighth and 13th, respectively. McDowell finished the first round of qualifying 11th fasteston Friday, but had a slight mishap in the second round, securing a 23rd place starting spot for Sunday’s season finale race.

 At the start of the Ford EcoBoost 400, the field only made it to the sixth lap under green flag before the first caution came out for a blown engine. McDowell reported that the handling of his No. 95 Rohto® Jolt™ Chevrolet SS felt fine, but that he did not want to burn up his tires too quickly, as the fall-off at Homestead is significant. McDowell pitted for a new set during the first caution, while the majority of the leaders did not.

 McDowell made his first green flag pit stop on lap 40 and controlled the Lucky Dog position for a time. He then reported his No. 95 Rohto® Jolt™ Chevy was extremely tight handling but was able to finish the stage in 21st.

 Within the first 10 laps of the second stage, McDowell reported a very tight handling car and went down a second lap on lap 114. He made his second green flag pit stop on lap 132, before a caution came out just under 10 laps later, allowing McDowell to take the wave around and gain one lap back. He went on to finish the second stage in 22nd.

 McDowell pitted for tires and adjustments during the caution and was able to gain a spot on pit road to start the final stage in 21st and in position to race for the Lucky Dog spot. On lap 186, McDowell reported that he felt like one of his tires was beginning to go down. He made it just seven laps before the right front tire went completely flat, forcing the team to make an unscheduled green flag pit stop, which put them down a third lap.

 In an effort to not lose any more spots, Crew Chief, Jon Leonard told McDowell to save fuel, as they could make it until the end of the race without pitting. The rest of the field began their green flag pit stops, allowing McDowell to gain one lap back. As the fifth caution of the day came out on lap 229, the team was able to take the wave around to put McDowell down only one lap.

 McDowell restarted in 22nd as the field went green with 34 laps remaining. While he made it back up to 20th, McDowell ultimately ran out of fuel on the last lap, crossing the start / finish line in 24th.

 “Not the day we wanted,” said McDowell. “We went a few laps down there and got off sequence with strategy there. Cautions didn’t fall our way either. We struggled today just being tight, and we just lost the balance a little bit. We did all we could and got a Top-25 finish again. I’m looking forward to next year!”

TIL NEXT TIME, I AM STILL WORKING ON MY REDNECK!