Monday, September 1, 2014

Late-race surge at Atlanta puts Kahne in Victory Lane—and in the Chase

Late-race surge at Atlanta puts Kahne in Victory Lane—and in the Chase

Aug. 31, 2014

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

HAMPTON, Ga. – It was Tony Stewart’s return to racing that dominated the headlines before Sunday night’s Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but it was Kasey Kahne who stole the show—and a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

In a race that went 10 laps beyond its scheduled distance of 325 laps, Kahne surged past Matt Kenseth on the second attempt at a green-white-checkered-flag finish to win for the first time this year and the third time at the 1.54-mile speedway.

Kenseth finished second and clinched a Chase spot on points, leaving just two of 16 positions in NASCAR’s 10-race playoff available in Saturday’s regular-season finale at Richmond International Raceway.

After streaking into the lead on a restart with 24 laps left, Kahne held the top spot until a caution for a fracas between Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. slowed the field with less than two laps left.

On the first attempt at overtime, a multicar wreck in Turn 1 wiped out the dominant car of polesitter Kevin Harvick, requiring a second attempt at a two-lap shootout.

With four fresh tires to Kenseth’s two, Kahne overtook the No. 20 Toyota after he and Kenseth battled for a lap after the restart and pulled away to win the 17th race of his career by .574 seconds.

“We were all over the place during the race, but the guys stayed with me and worked hard,” Kahne said. “On those restarts--I didn’t know what would happen, because I had great restarts all night, and I struggle with restarts a lot. 

“That’s big, because that is one of the things you have to be good at, and it worked really well tonight.”

It also took a huge weight off Kahne’s shoulders, as the end of the regular season approached.

“Yeah, we are locked in, and I hate that it comes down to this Atlanta or Richmond just about every year for me,” Kahne said of the pressure to make the Chase. “Sometimes we are in, sometimes we are out. But thankful that now at HMS (Hendrick Motorsports), I’ve been in all three years now. We have the pressure all the way to Richmond, but we made it again--thankful for that.”    

Denny Hamlin ran third, followed by Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards. Danica Patrick finished sixth, beating by four positions the best previous finish by a female driver at Atlanta (Janet Guthrie was 10th in 1978).

The race that turned the season around for Kahne provided little solace for Stewart.

Starting a Cup race for the first time since his involvement in the fatal sprint car accident that took the life of Kevin Ward Jr. on Aug. 9 at Canandaigua (N.Y.) Speedway, Stewart charged forward from his 12th-place starting position and ran as high as fourth in the early going.

But Stewart’s race came undone moments after a restart on Lap 123, when Kyle Busch’s Toyota pinched Stewart’s Chevy into the outside wall off Turn 2, significantly damaging both cars. On Lap 160 Matt Kenseth, then the leader, passed Stewart to put the No. 14 a lap down.

Twelve laps later, a blown right front tire sent Stewart hard into the Turn 2 wall, forcing him to the garage and out of the race. Credited with a 41st-place finish, Stewart has one more chance—on Saturday at Richmond—to take advantage of a NASCAR dispensation that kept him eligible for the Chase.

Having missed three races, Stewart must win at the .75-mile short track to qualify for NASCAR’s 10-race playoff.

After exiting his car, Stewart declined requests for interviews, but crew chief Chad Johnston spoke to reporters in the garage.

“I went into today with some pretty high hopes of finishing well and possibly coming out of here with a win, but it just didn’t work out in our favor,” Johnston said. “We got into a little trouble with the 18 (Busch) and got into the outside wall, knocked the toe out of it, and a lot of heavy right side damage.

“We were just trying to fix that and salvage what we could out of the day but then we blew a right front there right before that caution came out.”

If Stewart had issues on the track, so did one prominent driver on the Chase bubble. The shifter on Clint Bowyer’s No. 15 Toyota broke, preventing him from getting the car into high gear. Bowyer lost 22 laps in the garage as his team made repairs. He finished 38th, leaving his chances to make the Chase on points in dire jeopardy.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

In thrilling finish, Ryan Blaney wins at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

In thrilling finish, Ryan Blaney wins at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park

August 31, 2014

By Chris Knight
NASCAR Wire Service

In a dramatic finish, Ryan Blaney drag-raced German Quiroga off the last corner at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park to the start-finish line to win Sunday afternoon’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Chevrolet Silverado 250.

The two drivers duked it out for the win following the final restart, but a pass for the lead by Quiroga in Turn 8 on the final lap would be short lived, as Blaney set up his crucial move exiting the final turn allowing Blaney to score his third career victory by 0.049 seconds.

“That was a ton of fun racing with German,” said Blaney. “We raced really, really hard and really clean and that’s how racing should be. We had a problem last week (at Bristol) and just fate would have us racing each other for the win this week. That’s awesome. That’s what racing needs to be, it was so fun racing with him and battling it out with him.”

Blaney’s teammate Alex Tagliani led the field from the pole in his NASCAR Camping World Truck Series debut and held the point until he strategically made a green flag pit stop on Lap 8 with Gray Gaulding inheriting the lead. The NASCAR Next driver would control the field for five laps before he headed to pit road and handed the lead to Canadian Andrew Ranger.

When Ranger pitted on Lap 16, Blaney assumed command on Lap 17. Utilizing a one-stop strategy, he stayed out until Lap 29, when Quiroga shuffled to the top spot.

With the lead exchanging between Quiroga, Cole Custer and Johnny Sauter, crew chief Chad Kendrick’s early-race pit stop call would prove to be beneficial for Blaney, as he climbed from outside the top 10 to reclaim the lead from Sauter on Lap 44.

Blaney’s healthy lead over Quiroga would be diminished when the first full-course caution would wave on Lap 48 for the No. 8 of John Hunter Nemechek, who lost an engine in Turn 1. Under the yellow, the leaders elected to stay out, setting up for a restart twelve laps from the finish.

Quiroga couldn’t make the pass on Blaney on the restart, but he would get another chance when the second and final caution of the day waved on Lap 55 for Tagliani, who stalled on the track in Turn 5.

On the final restart, Blaney got a strong jump on the field and was able to clear Quiroga, but the Mexico City, Mexico native reeled him back in over the last eight laps before making his move in the Esses.

Coming out of Turn 10, Blaney made the crossover move to win his first race of the season. Quiroga matched his career-best finish in 42 starts.

“We tried hard, we came in second. I’m going to keep on trying,” said Quiroga.  We were really, really fast on long runs. Everyone at the shop worked really hard to build a road course truck and that’s how we arrived. I think we were on the right path, just strategy and how things played out, Blaney was in front of us.  I tried really hard to pass him, tried to make him make a mistake, he didn’t. I passed him in Turn 8, and Turn 9, coming off he got a really good run off the corner and beat us.”

Erik Jones was third followed by Gaulding and Ranger to close out the top five. Matt Crafton, Brennan Newberry, Johnny Sauter, Cole Custer and Timothy Peters comprised the top-10.

Sunday Atlanta Notebook

Sunday Atlanta Notebook

Notebook Items:
·         Earnhardt: Harvick’s contribution goes far beyond dominant driving
·         Keselowski roots for Blaney from afar
·         Roush Fenway announces sponsor extension for Stenhouse

Aug. 31, 2014

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

Earnhardt: Harvick’s contribution goes far beyond dominant driving

HAMPTON, Ga.—Yes, Kevin Harvick made mincemeat of the rest of the field in Saturday night’s Great Clips 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

And, yes, Harvick has crafted a remarkable record in 11 NASCAR Nationwide Series appearances for JR Motorsports this season.

But according to team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr., Harvick’s contribution to the organization goes far beyond his performance on the track.

“He’s brought a lot to our team,” Earnhardt said Saturday night, while Harvick celebrated in Victory Lane. “We’ve said it every time we’ve had the opportunity to talk about it, how much he’s brought to the team in terms of performance and speed. He continues to help us improve our equipment and our cars, and that raises the competitiveness of the whole company.

“He’s not only a great driver—he gets in there and drives the heck out of it—but he raises the whole company, and that’s pretty unique. You don’t really get that in a lot of race car drivers. Some guys are really, really good, and they can get the job done behind the wheel, but it’s rare where you find a driver that makes a huge impact on the entire company and the business model, and Kevin definitely does that with us.”

A a former NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series owner himself, Harvick has shared insights that have made a difference in the way JR Motorsports operates and competes.

Perhaps that’s why the company’s two full-time drivers, Chase Elliott and Regan Smith, are 1-2 in the series standings right now.

Brad Keselowski spent Sunday afternoon in his motor coach at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but he wasn’t relaxing.

Keselowski was watching the TV broadcast of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park with particular interest, given that his Brad Keselowski Racing driver, Ryan Blaney, was locked in a high-intensity duel for the win against German Quiroga.

Blaney edged in front of Quiroga at the finish line to win the dramatic battle, giving the team its second straight victory, after Keselowski himself scored his inaugural triumph on Aug. 21 at Bristol.

“It was just great racing,” Keselowski said of Blaney’s victory. “Ryan and German put on an awesome show and a clinic of what racing should be. I’m just really proud of Ryan to get back on his feet there (after two straight finishes outside the top 10) and get a win.

“I wouldn’t have thought his first win of the year would have come on a road course, but that makes it even more exciting. They certainly have some momentum back to make a run for this championship—and they’re poised to strike.”

After the victory, Blaney is third in the series standings, just 13 points behind leader Johnny Sauter.

During a press conference scheduled, appropriately, for 3:53 p.m. at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Roush Fenway Racing announced a three-year extension of its partnership with Fifth Third Bank as a primary sponsor on Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s No. 17 Ford.

“Fifth Third plays a huge role in our organization’s business side, to let the competition side do their thing, and they also do a lot for me on my personal finances side,” said Stenhouse, who hoped he would have a chance to use one of the bank’s services after Sunday night’s Oral-B USA 500 at Atlanta.

“Hopefully, by the end of the night, we can use the Fifth Third mobile banking to deposit a big check. That would be nice.”

Harvick dominant in Nationwide Series win at Atlanta

Harvick dominant in Nationwide Series win at Atlanta

Aug. 30, 2014

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

HAMPTON, Ga.—No wonder they call Kevin Harvick “The Closer.”

From the moment Harvick’s No. 5 JR Motorsports Chevrolet took the lead from polesitter Chase Elliott on Lap 37, Saturday night’s Great Clips 300 at Atlanta Motor Speedway was an open-and-shut case.

In posting his third NASCAR Nationwide Series victory of the season and the 43rd of his career, Harvick led the last 159 laps and finished .567 seconds ahead of runner-up Joey Logano.

“This thing was bad fast from the drop of the green flag,” Harvick said after finishing off a spectacular victory burnout and exiting the car. “This is just one of those race tracks where I like the challenge of everything you get to do here.

“(Crew chief) Ernie (Cope) and I have found a great setup over the years back into the trucks (NASCAR Camping World Truck Series), and it’s still working today.”

The only factors preventing Harvick from lapping the field—or so it seemed—were a pair of debris cautions, the first of which erased a four-second lead after Harvick had paced the field from Laps 37 through 72.

The second caution flag, which flew on Lap 120, wiped out a Harvick advantage that was close to seven seconds. By then, only 10 of the 40 cars that started the race remained on the lead lap.

A light rain extended that second caution to 13 laps, but after a restart on Lap 134, it was more of the same. Harvick quickly pulled out to a lead of more than four seconds before a cycle of green-flag pit stops trimmed his advantage to two seconds over Logano, the only driver able to keep pace with Harvick over the closing laps.

Kyle Larson ran third, followed by Kyle Busch and Elliott, who extended his series lead to 15 points over JR Motorsports teammate Regan Smith, the sixth-place finisher.

Logano’s car came to life in the closing laps but not soon enough for him to catch Harvick.

“I took off that last run and started to catch Kevin a little bit and then started to get too tight,” Logano said. “He started driving away a little bit, and then the last six or seven laps, all of a sudden the light switch turned on and I started catching him. 

“I just ran out of time. I wish there were five or seven more laps, and I could have got to him and tried to do something with him. We were catching him two or three tenths (of a second) a lap there at the end and having some fun with it, but it was too little, too late.”

In Friday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series time trials, Harvick won the pole for Sunday’s Oral-B USA 500 at the 1.54-mile speedway. Though there are vast differences in the behavior of NNS versus Cup cars, Harvick’s ability to run the bottom at Atlanta might be an indication of good things to come on Sunday.

“I’m really happy with our car,” Harvick said. “It’s been good in every practice and obviously qualified well. You just have to have it all go your way. These races are hard to win, so we’ll just enjoy this one tonight and go from there.”