Saturday, April 25, 2015

Sprint Cup race at Richmond postponed until Sunday

NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Richmond postponed until Sunday

April 25, 2015

By Reid Spencer

NASCAR Wire Service

RICHMOND, Va.—At 6 p.m. Saturday, with rain drenching Richmond International Raceway, NASCAR announced the postponement of Saturday night’s scheduled Toyota Owners 400 Sprint Cup Series race until 1 p.m. ET on Sunday (live on FOX).

Parking lots at RIR will open at 7 a.m., with spectator gates opening at 10 a.m.

Defending race winner Joey Logano will lead the field to the green flag with local favorite Denny Hamlin beside him on the front row.

The last time a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race was postponed until the next day because of weather, Aric Almirola earned his first trip to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup with a victory at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2014.

The postponed race was stopped by rain 48 laps short of its scheduled distance of 160 laps, with Almirola in the lead. With no prospect of restarting the race, NASCAR declared Almirola the winner.

Sunday’s race at .75-mile Richmond is the ninth Cup race on the 2015 schedule and is the third time in four races the series will visit a track measuring less than a mile.

Saturday Richmond Notebook

Saturday Richmond Notebook

Notebook Items:
- Teammates Johnson, Kahne baffled by qualifying effort
- Kenseth to stay the course
- XFINITY race filled with milestones

April 25, 2015

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

A tale of two baffled drivers: teammates Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne

RICHMOND, Va.—Call them mystified.

Hendrick Motorsports teammates Kasey Kahne and Jimmie Johnson were baffled by their performances during Friday’s qualifying session for the Toyota Owners 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race scheduled for Saturday night at Richmond International Raceway (7 p.m. ET on FOX).

Johnson fully expected a strong effort during time trials. Instead, he was 28th fastest in the first round of knockout qualifying and failed to advance.

“I’m really puzzled,” Johnson admitted, as he stood on pit road with a quizzical look on his face. “We had such a great practice session, in race and qualifying trim; so I’m just scratching my head—big-time—right now.

“We’ll try to figure out what happened and then prepare for the race. Like I said, we had a great race practice in the first session. A tenth there, in qualifying trim in the second session. And I really had high hopes for a good starting spot, but we’re far from that.”

No one was more surprised, however, than Kahne, whose discrepancy between practice and qualifying was nothing short of enormous.

Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet topped the speed charts in the final practice session on Friday, but when it came to putting down a hot lap during time trials, he could do no better than 40th.

“To me, it was definitely something with the tires because we didn’t change anything,” Kahne said. “So I’ve been bouncing on the splitter in practice, and right there (during qualifying), I never even felt it. So there are obviously some differences in the tires or something. I guess that could be the only thing. Other than that, everything is the same.

“But I had no turn there in qualifying. In practice, I was actually on the loose-side with really good turn. So, hopefully we’ll put on a good set of tires for the race and be able to drive towards the front. I feel like our Great Clips Chevy was actually pretty good in practice—race and qualifying (trim). So, we’ll see how tomorrow night goes.”

Whether justified or not, tires are often the whipping boy when the handling characteristics of a car change radically from one session to the next. Unfortunately, because Richmond is an impound race, Kahne won’t find out whether a new set of tires will cure the fall-off in performance until he starts the race.

Of the five Hendrick drivers entered in the Toyota Owners 400, only Jeff Gordon and Chase Elliott advanced to the second round during time trials.

Since the introduction of the new elimination format for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup last year, many drivers have spoken about an early victory as the equivalent of a “Get out of jail free” card.

With a win in the bank, teams can change their approaches and take risks they might not otherwise take, given that a victory virtually assures them of a place in the Chase.

Matt Kenseth, on the other hand, believes in a single-minded approach to every race, even though he just broke a 51-event winless streak last Sunday at Bristol.

“I've got to be honest, (my approach) really doesn't (change), and I hope the team's doesn't either really, to be honest with you,” Kenseth said. “I think that every week you show up with the idea of trying to qualify the best you can and trying to win the race. If you can't win, you want to finish second. If you can't finish second, you want to finish third.

“You always want to do the best you can. I've never been to the race track and not wanted to win, to do my best or not wanted to finish the best I could. I just don't feel like any of that changes. I know that where you are in the point standings doesn't have a big effect to where they rack you up when September comes along, but, man, we're only in April and we want to race hard every week and try to get the best results we can every week for our team and our sponsors and everybody involved.”

The most obvious milestone in Friday night’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race came when Denny Hamlin took the checkered flag to register Toyota’s 100th victory in the series. But there were other significant achievements beyond Hamlin’s dominating win.

Rookie Daniel Suarez finished sixth, marking the first time in his career he had posted back-to-back top-10 results. A week earlier at Bristol, Suarez had run a career-best second.

Erik Jones, pressed into full-time participation in the XFINITY Series by an injury to Kyle Busch at Daytona, recorded his fifth straight top-five finish. During the stretch, Jones scored a breakthrough victory at Texas to go with a fifth at Phoenix, a third at Fontana and consecutive thirds at Bristol and Richmond.

If Hamlin, Suarez and Jones added to their accomplishments, one important streak ended on Friday night. Kevin Harvick suffered severe handling problems with his JR Motorsports Chevrolet and finished 18th, two laps down, ending a string of 29 straight top 10s in the series.

Denny Hamlin dominates XFINITY Series race at Richmond

Denny Hamlin dominates XFINITY Series race at Richmond

April 24, 2015

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

RICHMOND, Va.—Domination must be contagious.

Six days after Joey Logano led all 300 laps in a NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Bristol, Denny Hamlin led 248 of 250 circuits in winning Friday night’s ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond International Raceway.

The only two laps that spoiled a Hamlin no-hitter were Brian Scott’s dive bomb off Turn 4 to lead Lap 154 by inches and Elliott Sadler’s contrarian fuel strategy, which allowed him to lead Lap 226 during a cycle of green-flag pit stops before Hamlin, on fresh tires, roared back past him on Lap 227.

Aside from those fleeting moments, however, it was no contest.

“He was so fast—we had nothing for him,” said Logano, who could keep Hamlin in sight for five or six laps after a restart, only to have the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota drive away. “We had a second-place car. That’s where it was, just second place.

“I know what it feels like to be on the other end of the butt-whipping now. It’s not as much fun from this side. But congrats to them. They deserved it, obviously. We didn’t have a shot.”

In winning the 12th NASCAR XFINITY Series race of his career, his first of the season and his third at Richmond, Hamlin held leads as large as 6.5 seconds and crossed the finish line 3.719 seconds ahead of Logano, with just eight cars on the lead lap.

Regan Smith was third, followed by Erik Jones, Chase Elliott and rookie Daniel Suarez, as Joe Gibbs Racing placed three drivers in the top six (Hamlin, Jones and Suarez).

The victory was the 100th for Toyota in the XFINITY Series.

“The 100th XFINITY win for Toyota—that’s a big one,” Hamlin said. “I was able to get the 100th [NASCAR Sprint] Cup win at Loudon a few years ago for those guys and JGR. This is a big win for everyone. I'm glad to be working with Wheels again (crew chief Mike Wheeler). He put a rocket under us tonight.”

Given the way he ran on Friday, Hamlin seemed fully recovered from the neck spasms that sidelined him during last Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at Bristol.

Quick action by emergency workers prevented a potential tragedy on pit road during pit stops under the second caution of the race.

A spark ignited spilled fuel behind the car of Brendan Gaughan, engulfing rear tire changer Anthony O’Brien in a fireball that was quickly extinguished, Nevertheless, O’Brien, Gaughan’s fueler, Josh Wittman, and Clifford Turner, a crew member form Eric McClure’s team were taken to a local hospital for treatment and observation as a result of the incident.

Note: Series leader Ty Dillon finished ninth and holds an eight-point lead over second-place Elliott, the defending series champion. Chris Buescher, who entered the event tied with Dillon, finished 20th and fell to third in the standings, 11 points back.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Joey Logano tops Richmond qualifying for third pole of 2015

Joey Logano tops Richmond qualifying for third pole of 2015

April 24, 2015

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

RICHMOND, Va.—Sometimes it pays to go for broke—particularly when you have little to lose.

That was the case for Joey Logano in Friday’s time trials for Saturday night's Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway (7 p.m. ET on FOX). Logano’s crew made significant adjustments to his No. 22 Team Penske Ford between the second and final rounds of knockout qualifying, and the changes paid off with Logano’s third Coors Light Pole Award and fifth front-row start of the season.

Logano earned the top spot on the grid for Saturday night’s race with a lap at 127.071 mph, touring the .75-mile race track in 21.248 seconds, .046 seconds faster than the effort of second-place qualifier Denny Hamlin (126.796 mph).

Kurt Busch (126.606 mph) will start third, followed by AJ Allmendinger (126.570 mph) and Kevin Harvick (126.428 mph).

Before the final round, Logano’s crew loosened the car up, enhancing its ability to turn through the corners.

“When you’re sitting 11th on the board (actually 10th after the second round), you’ve really got only one spot to lose, so we swung at it,” said Logano, who notched his first pole at Richmond and the 11th of his career. “It’s not normal for us. Normally, we’re really fast in the first round, and it’s hard for us to stay that fast throughout it.

“But they did a great job of keeping it fast and getting it faster. It’s fun because you go out and run all these laps. That (pole-winning) lap didn’t actually feel good. You’ve got seven or eight laps on your tires, and you’re sliding around a lot. It’s funny, but the pole-sitting car’s sliding around all over the place on old tires out there.”

Hamlin was fastest in the second session, but tire wear was a factor in his second-place run in the third round.

“We just lost a little bit too much grip that final run and came up a little bit short,” said Hamlin, who said he is fully recovered from the neck spasms that forced him out of the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota after 22 laps at Bristol.

“Still, if you had asked me before today, I would have taken second and moved on. I think the longer runs (in race trim) typically suit us a little bit better, but having a good starting spot, though, will definitely be a benefit for us (on Saturday) night.”

In the second NASCAR Sprint Cup race of his career, Chase Elliott will start 16th. Danica Patrick advanced to the second round of knockout qualifying and earned the 21st spot on the grid, five positions ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was eliminated in the first round.

Jeb Burton and Brendan Gaughan failed to make the 43-car field.