Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Clutch Kahne survives again

Clutch Kahne survives again
By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

If Kasey Kahne were a cat, he’d have about seven lives left right about now.

Kahne qualified for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup at the 11th hour, grabbing the lead from Matt Kenseth at Atlanta with two laps left in the 25th event of a 26-race regular season. At that point, Kahne had to win a race to make the Chase, and he did.

In Sunday’s AAA 400, Kahne survived elimination from the 10-race playoff by a razor-thin margin, making an improbable comeback from four laps down.

Kahne brought his No. 5 Chevrolet to pit road on Lap 161 with a loose left rear wheel and lost two laps thanks to the unscheduled stop. >From that point, there was a wild ebb and flow to his fortunes.

He got one lap back on a wave-around, only to lose it again when then-leader Kevin Harvick passed him on the track. Kahne lost two more laps when he pitted early—the cost of the wave-around—but regained them when the frontrunners completed the cycle of green-flag stops.

Another wave-around put Kahne one lap down, in position to claim the last ticket to the Chase’s Contender round by two points over AJ Allmendinger.

Kahne is often the forgotten man at a Hendrick Motorsports organization that features six-time champion Jimmie Johnson, four-time champion Jeff Gordon and NASCAR’s most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt Jr.

But Kahne might be worth a bet in this year’s Chase—given his uncanny knack for survival.

Stewart answers questions fatal on-track incident

Stewart answers questions in public setting for the first time since fatal on-track incident
Sept. 29, 2014
By Joe Menzer
NASCAR Wire Service
KANNAPOLIS, N.C. – Talking with the media and answering questions in a group setting Monday for the first time since his involvement in the Aug. 9 incident which resulted in the death of 20-year-old driver Kevin Ward Jr., Tony Stewart said he is willing to “be available” to talk to the grieving family of Ward.
But Stewart also insisted that the incident in which the sprint car he was driving in a non-NASCAR-sanctioned event struck and killed Ward on a dirt track in New York was an accident.
“I want to be available to them if they want to talk about it,” Stewart said of Ward’s family during a news conference at Stewart-Haas Racing, the company he co-owns with Gene Haas. “At this point, I don’t need to talk to them for closure. I know what happened, and I know it was an accident. But I’m offering to talk to them to help them, if it helps them with closure.”
At least three of Ward’s family members have reached out to various media outlets and suggested that Stewart was negligent in his actions the night of Aug. 9. But after all evidence from an extensive investigation by the Ontario County (N.Y.) Sheriff’s Department was turned over to a grand jury, it was announced last Wednesday that no criminal charges would be filed against Stewart.
Ontario County District Attorney Michael Tantillo also said that Ward was under the influence of marijuana during the race. The incident occurred after Stewart had clipped Ward’s car, causing the younger driver to wreck – and Ward then climbed from his car and started walking down the track toward the racing groove as the rest of the cars, including Stewart’s, circled the track under caution. Stewart’s car struck Ward seconds later.
Stewart admitted that he has had a very difficult time emotionally, as far as handling what happened.
“I think the first three days that I was home (after it happened), I really didn’t do anything,” he said. “I didn’t get out of bed. I didn’t care if I took a shower. I left my room to go get food, and that you almost had to make yourself eat.
“In the first three or four days, I didn’t want to talk to anybody, didn’t want to see anybody. I just wanted to be by myself.”
Stewart did say that his return to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, where he drives the No. 14 Chevrolet for Stewart-Haas Racing, has been somewhat therapeutic for him. He sat out three races after the Aug. 9 tragedy, but returned to NASCAR’s premier series at Atlanta on Aug. 31 and has participated in five races since then.
“We’ve been racing since Atlanta, obviously, but it’s not been business as usual by any means, and this is going to be a healing process for me,” Stewart said. “It makes you think about a lot of things other than driving race cars, but the one thing that’s probably helped me more than anything is being back at the racetrack and being around my racing family and remembering that I have a passion for what I do. So that’s probably helped me more than anything when it’s come to trying to make that next step forward.”
Even though he has had a life-long passion for racing sprint cars on dirt, Stewart admitted he is not certain he will ever race them again.
“I don’t know if or when I’ll ever get back in a sprint car again,” he said.
Stewart also said his brief time away from racing has given him time to reevaluate all aspects of his life.  And to those who want to assign blame for what happened, he said that is a waste of time.
“To me, it’s worthless to pick sides,” Stewart said. “A young man lost his life, and I don’t care what side you’re on, it doesn’t change that. His family is in mourning. I’m in mourning. My family is in mourning. Picking sides isn’t solving or fixing anything.
“Instead of honoring a young man who had a promising racing career, people are picking sides and it’s like watching people throw darts at each other. It’s disappointing at this point, honestly, because instead of supporting each other – and the racing community is such a strong family – it’s dividing people that on a daily basis would (normally) help each other. There is no point in it.”

Monday, September 29, 2014

Jeff Gordon adds to his legacy with Dover win

Cool Down Lap

Jeff Gordon adds to his legacy with Dover win

Sept. 29, 2014

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

DOVER, Del.—With all the jockeying for Chase positions in the middle of the field, it was difficult at times to focus on what was happening at the front of the field in Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway.

At the end of the day, Jeff Gordon took the checkered flag for the 92nd time in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career and took another stride toward a milestone everyone—including Gordon—once thought was untouchable.

Make no mistake. Gordon already is in rarified air when it comes to his accomplishments in stock car racing. With 92 victories, he’s third on the all-time list. He’s a four-time series champion with an abiding hunger for a fifth title. He’s a shoo-in for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

And he’s now within sight, at least, of David Pearson’s 105 career Cup wins, second all-time.

A few scant years ago, catching Pearson was the furthest thing from Gordon’s mind. He was having some serious issues with his back. Gordon and wife Ingrid added to their family with the births of daughter Ella and son Leo.

Gordon wasn’t particularly fond of NASCAR’s Gen-5 platform, introduced into the Sprint Cup Series in 2007 as the Car of Tomorrow. And, when asked, he would dismiss Pearson’s milestone as an impossibility.

Now, it seems that only Richard Petty’s unassailable series-record 200 victories is out of reach. Through treatment and exercise, Gordon’s back is better. NASCAR’s new Gen-6 race car better suits his driving style, especially since the implementation of the no-ride-height rules this year.

Gordon has bonded with crew chief Alan Gustafson, and together they have found top-of-the-line speed in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.

Despite his superstar status within NASCAR racing and the crossover appeal that makes him a comfortable fill-in co-host with Kelly Ripa, for example, Gordon isn’t above team-building within his organization.

Two days before the AAA 400, after a hair-raising qualifying lap at the Monster Mile, Gordon spent the evening at a local Dover fish house with Gustafson and his crew. Wearing a T-shirt and baseball cap and sitting inconspicuously at a family-style table, Gordon was just one of the guys.

On the track on Sunday, he was an opportunist. Kevin Harvick was the class of the field, but mechanical issues bit Harvick’s No. 4 Chevrolet as they often have since his last victory at Darlington in April. Gordon seized the moment, passed Brad Keselowski for the lead on Lap 305 of 400 and controlled the balance of the race.

As he invariably does, Gordon deflected talk of reaching the century mark in victories.

“I'm going to tell you the same thing I say every time I'm sitting here after a win: It's awesome to have 92, and I look forward to challenging for 93,” Gordon said in the Dover media center. “I can't even think about 100 until we get to 99.

“I mean, I never dreamed in a million years that I would be here talking to you after 92 wins, and especially at this point in my career, this many years in the sport, to be having the year that we're having, it's just something I never thought could happen. It feels amazing, and right now if I felt like we could stay this competitive for the next several years, I would say, yeah, we could get there.”

But Gordon, of course, has a more immediate goal.

“We're just laser-focused on this championship and going to the next race,” he said. “I don't think we're going to get to 100 this year, but I hope we get past 93. That would be pretty awesome to get a couple more, and it almost takes a win to get to Homestead. That's our goal, getting to Homestead, whatever it takes.”

Clutch performance, fortune propels Kahne into Chase Contender Round

Clutch performance, fortune propels Kahne into Chase Contender Round

Sept. 28, 2014

By Seth Livingstone
NASCAR Wire Service

DOVER, Del.–- Kasey Kahne continues to be at his best with his back to the wall this season.

The Hendrick Motorsports driver, whose dramatic victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway propelled him into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, rallied from multiple laps down to finish 20th in Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway – just good enough to edge AJ Allmendinger and Kurt Busch for the final transfer spot from the Challenger Round to the 12-driver Contender Round of the Chase.

Kahne’s performance enabled team owner Rick Hendrick to advance all four of his cars to the next round. Kahne joins Sunday’s race winner Jeff Gordon, six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

”Kasey escaped a bullet,” said Hendrick, who believes that Kahne’s No. 5 Chevrolet has the kind of speed to create havoc for other contenders as the Chase moves forward. He’s just glad his driver will get that chance after a loose wheel nearly doomed his effort.

“His car was so good,” Hendrick said. “(But) I had really had written it off about two-thirds through the race. I didn’t think we were going to get a break. When he had to pit under green, I just thought we were done, because I didn’t think we could make up two laps.”

At first, Kahne didn’t want to admit the vibration he was beginning to feel. He said he went at least five laps before reporting it to crew chief Kenny Francis.

Kahne’s problem forced him to pit early on Lap 161. Off pit sequence, he fell two laps behind race leader Kevin Harvick on Lap 214 and would have found himself four laps off the pace after pitting on Lap 243 had NASCAR not permitted the race to remain green when Harvick suffered his own tire issue.

“I’m glad NASCAR let us race for it today, because that’s the only way I made it in,” said Kahne, who had been running in the top 10.

Kahne got one of his laps back thanks to a wave-around. Although he finished a lap down to Gordon, his track position was good enough to keep Allmendinger and Busch at bay in the closing laps.          
“We had a better car than some of the other guys and were able to race our way in,” he said. “I bet this team is a top three or four car. I mean we had a top-five car (this week) and we’re running 20-something. We just need to work on (our shortcomings) when we’re on pit road.”

As the race neared conclusion, Kahne knew his position in the Chase field remained precarious.

“I never really got nervous at all,” he said. “I just raced hard the whole time. Then Kenny (Francis) started telling me, ‘We’re tied for 12th’ with like 30 (laps) to go. Then, ‘we’re one point in….We might be two points in.’ That’s when I started getting worried. It was intense inside the car."

Although there were five cautions for 23 laps, the race was devoid of accidents that claimed any of the contenders. That left the issue up to the drivers and their crews.

Ryan Newman, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin were among those drivers who seized that opportunity to advance to the Contender Round of the Chase.

“Those long green-flag runs – we needed that,” said Hamlin, who entered Sunday 13th in the standings but ran in the top 10 most of the day and advanced with his 11th-place finish. “We qualified well, practiced well, and that gave us the starting spot (third) that gave us the advantage for the first three-quarters of the race. Without that track position, early, who knows where we would have ended up?”

Edwards entered the race ninth in the standings but found himself on the bubble, running 21st in the race and 12th in the standings after Sunday’s second caution.

“That was tough,” said Edwards, who was able to make steady progress from that point. “The car was actually pretty decent. We had a top-10 car and finished 11th, but I think if I would have done a little better job on restarts, we would have been better.”

Although he qualified 20th, Newman was a top-10 car throughout the second half of the race and the Richard Childress Racing driver, who began the race 12th in points, was never in serious jeopardy.

“We didn’t win the race -- not the end result that we wanted -- but a good team effort to get us into the next bracket of the Chase,” Newman said. “We get to keep fighting this war.”

One driver moving on to the next round but unsatisfied with his effort at Dover was Earnhardt Jr., who qualified 25th and finished 17th .

“We just missed it. That’s not good enough to win a championship,” Earnhardt said. “We’re concerned. It’s not been a good couple of weeks for us and we need to find something pretty quick.”