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Friday, November 6, 2015

Appeals panel, Final Appeals Officer uphold Kenseth suspension

Appeals panel, Final Appeals Officer uphold Kenseth suspension

Nov. 5, 2015

Staff Report
NASCAR Wire Service

After two appeals and eight hours of deliberation, the punishment remained mostly the same for Matt Kenseth.

Both the National Motorsports Appeals Panel and the Final Appeals Officer ruled Thursday to uphold NASCAR’s two-race suspension of Kenseth for intentionally wrecking Joey Logano during last Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway. The original penalty also included a six-month probation period, which was shortened to until the end of Dec. 31 following a ruling by Final Appeals Officer Bryan Moss.

The appeals took place at the NASCAR Research & Development Center in Concord, North Carolina. The initial appeal, which was heard by a panel composed of Ken Clapp, former motorsports executive and promoter and current motorsports consultant; Bill Mullis, owner of Langley Speedway in Hampton, Virginia; and Dale Pinilis, longtime operator of Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, began at 9 a.m. ET. The panel issued its statement just prior to 12:30 p.m. ET, upholding NASCAR’s original penalty of a two-race suspension and a six-month probation period.

Kenseth opted to appeal that decision to Moss. The result remained mostly identical, with only his probation period decreased.

“I'm obviously more than a little disappointed with the decision and the penalties to start with,” Kenseth said. “I feel like I was unfairly made the example. … I'm not going to change who I am. I'm not going to change what I stand for. I'm not going to change how I race. I've been in this business for a long time. I feel like I've had a pretty good career to this point. I feel like I'm going to continue to have the respect on the race track that I feel like I deserve.”

The appeals came just four days after Kenseth appeared to intentionally wreck race leader Logano with less than 50 laps remaining in the 500-lap event – retribution for a perceived purposeful spin by Logano of the 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion in the closing laps at Kansas Speedway two weeks prior.

With today’s rulings, Kenseth’s streak of 571 consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts will officially end. It was the second-longest active streak behind only Jeff Gordon, who set the all-time Iron Man record at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September.

Joe Gibbs Racing has yet to announce Kenseth’s replacement in the No. 20 car for the next two races, at Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.

Thursday, November 5, 2015



Welcome To Miami: Gordon Punches Ticket To Championship 4 Round With Win At Martinsville
Jeff Gordon is ready to party in the city where the heat is on after winning Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway to automatically earn one of the four berths in the Championship 4 Round race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. The victory was the 93rd of Gordon’s career and his ninth at Martinsville Speedway (first among active drivers).

Gordon now has a huge advantage over the rest of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field because his team can focus solely on its Homestead car, while the other seven drivers compete for the final three Championship Round spots at Texas and Phoenix.

By winning Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC), Gordon would block a transfer spot from a driver which could help thin out a competitive field that includes season wins leader Joey Logano and defending series champion Kevin Harvick.

In 29 career starts at Texas, Gordon owns one win (3.4%), nine top fives (31.0%), 13 top 10s (44.8%) and three Coors Light Pole Awards (10.3%).

Gordon is trying to win his fifth career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, first in the Chase era (2004-present) and first since 2001. If he can capture the championship, his 14 seasons between titles would break Terry Labonte’s record of 12 for the longest stretch between championships.

A title is far from a longshot. Gordon won in Miami in 2012, and led a race-high 161 laps last season.

Wide Open Chase Grid Shifts To Texas
The Eliminator Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup kicked off at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday with Jeff Gordon winning the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 to earn the first of four spots in the Championship Round race at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

This is how the Chase Grid shapes up:  1. Gordon (Leader, locked in) 2. Kyle Busch (9 points above the cutoff line) 3. Martin Truex Jr. (+9), Harvick (+7), Edwards (-7), Keselowski (-24), Kurt Busch (-26) and Joey Logano (-28).

The next Chase race is Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway.

Five of the eight Chase drivers have won at Texas, led by Carl Edwards, who has taken three checkered flags there. Kurt Busch, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Logano have each won at Texas once, while Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr. and Brad Keselowski have never been to Victory Lane there.

Harvick leads the eight Chase drivers with a 12.7 average finish at Texas, followed by Kyle Busch (12.9), Carl Edwards (15.0), Truex (15.1), Kurt Busch (15.9), Logano (16.9), Gordon (17.3) and Keselowski (17.3).

Carl Texas Ranger: Edwards Eyes Fourth Win In Lone Star State
Possibly the only people faster in the Lone Star State than Carl Edwards at Texas Motor Speedway are bad guys running from Chuck Norris.

Edwards – second to Jimmie Johnson among active drivers with three wins at Texas – will attempt to clinch a spot in the Championship Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup by visiting Victory Lane in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500 at the 1.5-mile track.

In addition to his three wins (fall 2005, spring / fall 2008), Edwards owns six top fives, 10 top 10s and one Coors Light Pole Award at TMS.

Edwards is currently fifth on the Chase Grid, seven points behind Kevin Harvick on the cutoff line.

Keselowski, Logano Both In Need Of Eliminator Round Win
Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski (24 points below the cutoff line) and Joey Logano (-28) rank sixth and eighth on the Chase Grid, respectively, meaning they essentially need a win at either Texas or Phoenix to make the Championship Round race of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Their best shot at reaching Victory Lane is at Texas, mainly because Kevin Harvick seems invincible at Phoenix, where he’s won the last four races.

Logano took the checkered flag at Texas in April of 2014, while Keselowski has posted two consecutive top-five finishes there.

Texas Forever: Johnson Dominates In Lone Star State, Looks To Play Spoiler … Again
“Clear eyes, full heart, can’t lose.”

Jimmie Johnson knows the drill in Texas.

The No. 48 Chevrolet driver has won four of the last six races at Texas Motor Speedway, including the last two. Joey Logano (spring 2014) and Kyle Busch (spring 2013) – both Chase-eligible drivers – are the only other competitors to visit Victory Lane at Texas over that span. Johnson’s five wins at Texas are the most in track history.

Last season, Johnson took the checkered flag in the Texas Chase race to “spoil” an automatic berth for The Eliminator 8 and will try to do it again in Sunday’s AAA Texas 500.

In the Chase Era, 80 percent of the NASCAR playoff races at Texas have been won by Chase-eligible drivers. The only spoiler to win other than Johnson last season was Tony Stewart in 2006.

The non-Chase drivers other than Johnson who have won at Texas are Greg Biffle (2 wins), Denny Hamlin (2), Stewart (2), Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman.


Series Points Leader And Texas Native Chris Buescher Comes Home
The state of Texas has known some pretty great drivers over the years, like NASCAR Hall of Famer Terry Labonte, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Bobby Labonte and renowned open-wheel driver AJ Foyt just to name a few. But this weekend the locals will have their chance to cheer for the next generation of Texan driver as Prosper, Texas’s own Chris Buescher returns to the Lone Star State to compete in Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at Texas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBC). 

Buescher currently leads the NASCAR XFINITY Series standings by 27 points over second-place Chase Elliott and 33 points ahead of third-place Regan Smith.

Buescher has posted two wins, 11 top fives and 20 top 10s in 30 starts this season.

The No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing driver has made four starts at Texas, posting one top 10 and an average finish of 16.5. He finished ninth at Texas earlier this season.

Buescher needs to finish fourth or better in the next three races and he will win the NASCAR XFINITY Series championship no matter what any other driver does.

He can actually clinch the title early in Phoenix – to accomplish the feat his points lead would have to be 49 points or more ahead of second-place in the standings following the race at the Arizona track. 

If Buescher can win the title, he will join Bobby Labonte (1991) as just the second Texan to capture a NASCAR XFINITY Series championship.

JR Motorsports Teammates Elliott and Smith Not Giving Up On Title Hopes Yet
Two drivers that will have to dig deep these next three races are JR Motorsports teammates Chase Elliott and Regan Smith as the duo sits second (-27) and third (-33) in the points, respectively, behind leader Chris Buescher.

Despite Elliott’s best case scenario, winning all three remaining races and leading the most laps in each race, if Chris Buescher finishes fourth or better in the final three races the title is his. 

No matter what, Elliott is going to need Buescher to slip in the final three races if he wants to catch him. Though, Elliott has outperformed Buescher on the final three tracks in the past. This season at Texas and Phoenix, he has a combined average finish of 7.5 compared to Buescher’s 11.5. Last year, Elliott posted an average finish of 8.7 in the final three races compared to Buescher’s 10.0.

Elliott’s teammate Regan Smith will also need Buescher to struggle to catch him. Smith will not be returning to the No. 7 team next year and is looking to make the most of his opportunity this season.

If Smith were to win all three remaining races and lead the most laps scoring the max points possible he would total out at 1,204 points. With that scenario in mind, Buescher would still have to finish eighth or worse without leading a lap or ninth or worse leading at least one lap in each of the final three races for Smith to pass him.

Smith has finished in the top 10 in four of his last five starts at Texas, including a fourth-place finish earlier this season.

Sunoco Rookie Update: Mexico Native Daniel Suarez Leads Rookie Points With Three To Go
Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate and Monterrey, Mexico native Daniel Suarez heads to Texas Motor Speedway with a 31 point lead over second-place Darrell Wallace Jr. in the NASCAR XFINITY Series rookie standings with just three races to go.

Suarez’s hometown of Monterrey is a short 1 hour and 40 minute flight from Texas Motor Speedway, making the 1.5-mile track the closest facility the series competes at to where he is from.

Suarez’s rookie standings lead is well deserved. In 30 starts this season, he has posted three Coors Light poles, seven top fives and 15 top 10s.

Suarez, 23, qualified fourth in his track debut at Texas back in April but finished 18th after making contact with the wall during the race. In 10 career starts at 1.5-mile tracks, Suarez has one pole, two top fives and seven top 10s. He has an average starting position of 9.3 and an average finish position of 10.1.

“After two weekends away from XFINITY Series competition, it will be good to get back in the No. 18 ARRIS Toyota Camry,” Suarez said. “We didn’t have the result we had hoped for the last time out, but we’re still coming off of three good finishes and heading to another 1.5-mile track this weekend. We’ve had some success at those tracks this year and I think our expectations for this weekend are high.”

Team Penske’s No. 22 Not Far From Capturing Owner Title
Roger Penske has orchestrated another solid year of competition in the NASCAR XFINITY Series with his multi-driver No. 22 Ford team. Team Penske’s No. 22 Ford is currently 81 points ahead of Joe Gibb Racing’s No. 54 Toyota with three races left on the schedule.

Penske’s No. 22 team could lock up the title no matter what any other team does if it finishes 22nd or better in the next three races.

Crew Chief Greg Erwin has led a contingent of skilled drivers this season in the No. 22 Ford – Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Alex Tagliani and Ryan Blaney, posting an average finish of 6.2 – a 2015 full schedule series best.

Also the No. 22 team can clinch the title early if they leave Texas with a 97 point lead over second-place in the car owner standings with two races to go (or 96, if it owns the tiebreaker). If the No. 22 has a point lead or 49 points or higher after the Phoenix event they will have clinched the title there.

Brad Keselowski will be strapping into the No. 22 this weekend at Texas. Keselowski has made 15 series starts at Texas, posting one win, nine top fives, 11 top 10s and an average finish of 10.8.

JGR’s Erik Jones Looking For the Texas Season Sweep
This season, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Erik Jones has been one of the most skilled young drivers not running full-time in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. He returns to Texas Motor Speedway looking to defend his win earlier this season and accomplish the season sweep.

Jones started on the Coors Light pole and led 79 laps on his way to Victory Lane at Texas earlier this season. The 19-year-old Michigan native has made 20 starts in 2015, posting four poles, two wins, 10 top fives, 14 top 10s and an average finish of 10.1.

This season, Jones has posted an average finish of 8.9 on 1.5-mile speedways in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. His two wins (Texas and Chicago) this season were also on 1.5-mile tracks.

Eliminator 8 Drivers Competing In NXS At Texas: Second in Chase points, Kyle Busch (No. 54 Toyota), fourth in Chase points, Kevin Harvick (No. 88 Chevrolet) and sixth in Chase points, Brad Keselowski (No. 22 Ford) are all entered in the O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge at TMS this weekend. There are two more full-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series non-Chase drivers entered this weekend – Kyle Larson (No. 42 Chevrolet) and Austin Dillon (No. 33 Chevrolet). …

Texas Native And American Diabetes Association Youth Ambassador Grace Kendzierski to ‘Ride with Ryan’ Reed at Texas:  American Diabetes Association® Youth Ambassador Grace Kendzierski will ‘ride’ along with Roush Fenway Racing driver Ryan Reed during Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series race at Texas Motor Speedway. The Carrollton, Texas native will have her name featured on a decal above the passenger-side window on the No. 16 Lilly Diabetes American Diabetes Ford. Kendzierski was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2009 at just 16 months old. Now seven years old, Kendzierski knows the importance of staying active to manage her diabetes.

“I’m excited that Grace can help kick off our special American Diabetes Month paint scheme at Texas by riding along on the No. 16 Lilly Diabetes American Diabetes Association Ford Mustang,” Reed said. …

Ray Black Jr. to Make NASCAR XFINITY Series Debut at Texas Motor Speedway: It will be a busy weekend for NASCAR driver Ray Black Jr., as the 24-year-old is set to compete in both the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and XFINITY Series races this weekend at TMS. Black will make his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut during Saturday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts Challenge in the No. 15 Chevrolet.

“I’m thrilled to be making my XFINITY Series debut at Texas Motor Speedway!” Black said. “I’ve been to Texas a couple of times now and know the track’s racing style and characteristics, so I think it’s a great place for me to take this next step. I can't wait to get out on the track!.” …

NASCAR In Texas: NASCAR’s three national series have held a total of 102 races among three tracks in Texas. Texas Motor Speedway (Fort Worth) has hosted 93 races (29 NSCS, 29 NXS and 35 NCWTS), Meyer Speedway (Houston) held one race (NSCS) and Texas World Speedway (College Station) held eight events (all NSCS). The very first NASCAR national series race held in Texas was a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Texas World Speedway in 1969 – won by 2016 NASCAR Hall of Fame Inductee Bobby Isaac (Dodge, 144.277 mph, 12/07/1969). The NASCAR XFINITY Series has only run at Texas Motor Speedway. The first NXS race held in Texas was at TMS in 1997 and was won by Mark Martin (Ford, 122.993 mph, 04/05/1997). … 

Texans In NASCAR: 81 different drivers who have made at least one start in NASCAR’s three national series have their home state recorded as Texas.  Of the 81 drivers with their home state recorded as Texas, 19 of them have competed in the NASCAR XFINITY Series. Of the 19 that have competed in the NXS only five have visited Victory Lane: Terry Labonte (11 NXS wins), Bobby Labonte (10), Chris Buescher (three), Bobby Hillin Jr. (two) and James Buescher (one). Bobby Labonte is currently the only Texas native to win a NASCAR XFINITY Series championship (1991).  

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Mutual respect, communication vital to Gordon championship pedigree

Mutual respect, communication vital to Gordon championship pedigree

Nov. 4, 2015

By Ray Evernham
NASCAR Wire Service

I don’t think you ever really know when you’re going to grow into a relationship and end up really close to a person. I think that just happens. I think, in some ways, Jeff’s and my friendship is strengthening as we go through time.

But I knew from the first time I met him that I liked him and I was going to get along with him. We thought about things the same way, and he had that kind of personality, and he had that talent, that ability—all those things. He’s just an easy person to like and communicate with. He gave me good information, he was respectful, and you’ve got to remember ... when I met him he was only 18 years old.

It was easy to grow into a relationship like that when you meet someone who’s open, and they’re good at what they do. When you admire someone and respect someone right off the bat, it’s easy to grow into a relationship.

It was our goal to be the best, but also—honestly and unselfishly—we knew what our jobs were. I had the part that he needed, mechanically and strategically and working on the car and that experience. And he had something that I’d always wanted to have, that amazing talent to drive that race car, that ability to do that. I think we always respected that neither one of us could do each other’s jobs. 

I knew there was no way in the world I could ever drive as good as he could, and I think he understood that there was no way he could ever be as mechanically inclined with the race car as I was. It worked perfectly, because we both had some goals, and we knew that the true form of a partnership is when both partners make each other better.

That happened with us the first time we really ever got together to run the Outback Steakhouse car in 1990 (in what was then the NASCAR Busch Series, and now known as the NASCAR XFINITY Series). We just clicked, and we had speed right away. I didn’t tell him how to drive—I suggested things that I saw. He didn’t tell me how to work on the car—he told me what it was doing. I think if we worked together tomorrow, we’d still have that same kind of communication.

When you look at our sport—any sport, really—there are people that have made a huge difference in that sport in a certain time. When a sport evolves, either someone has helped it evolve or carried it through that evolution. You can look all the way back to when our sport started. As it was growing, you’ve got to see the Petty name. I’m talking from a driver’s standpoint, not the France family or anything like that.

Then you move on into the '80s, and it’s Earnhardt, without a doubt, for what he carried and did with the sport. And then when you move on to the '90s and into the 2000s, it was Jeff Gordon. His record is obvious, but the impact that he had transitioning the sport from a regional sport to a national sport, bringing in companies and really changing the face of what a NASCAR race car driver was—he forever changed the sport, and I think the sport will always be better and stepped up a notch because of it.

He was from California. He wasn’t the jeans, cowboy boots guy. He hosted Saturday Night Live. He was GQ, and all at the same time, he got the job done. He was young, good-looking, and he worked hard and kept himself in shape. I think that he forever changed what a NASCAR race car driver was looked at as.

The thing I’m most proud of is the person that Jeff Gordon has become throughout the years, the man that he’s become. When I first met him, he was a teenager, he was a boy. Now he’s become a man, and I’m proud of that, and I’m proud to still be able to call him a friend after all these years and everything we’ve been through.

As told to the NASCAR Wire Service's Reid Spencer.