Sprint Cup Series News (10229)
After posting the fourth fastest lap in a 25-minute opening practice Saturday, Kevin Harvick surged to the top of the speed chart at 156.033 mph during a Happy Hour session that lasted barely more than 15 minutes before rain returned.
Harvick almost certainly must win Sunday’s AAA 400 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) to advance to the Contender Round of the Chase.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., among a group of four drivers hovering around the Chase cutoff, was 11th fastest in the first practice and fifth fastest in the second. The driver of the No. 88 Chevrolet also posted the second fastest 10-lap average during the first session.
As Happy Hour wound down, Earnhardt seemed pleased with his car.
“I’m backing up the corner—it’s real nice,” Earnhardt radioed to crew chief Greg Ives. “I don’t have anything happening at all in the first half of the corner.
“I’m just waiting on the spring on the front, center-off.”
Earnhardt is 12th in the standings, the last transfer position into the Chase’s next playoff round. Kyle Busch, who is one point behind Earnhardt and currently out of a transfer spot, was 19th fastest in opening practice but improved to seventh in the second session.
Tenth in the standings and 12 points clear of Busch, Jeff Gordon nevertheless has cause for concern after two lackluster practices. The defending race winner was 32nd on the speed chart in the morning and 27th in the afternoon.
Following Dover, the four drivers with the lowest points totals and winless in the three-race Challenger Round will be eliminated from the postseason. Denny Hamlin and Matt Keneth, race winners at Chicago and New Hampshire, respectively, have already punched their ticket into the 12-driver Contender Round. The other 10 spots will be filled by the winner at Dover if he is a Chase driver, with the remaining positions filled by Chase drivers with the most points.
But Puccia had much more important business at hand—witnessing the birth of daughter Kennedy Harper Puccia in Mooresville, N.C., where he drove from Dover on Thursday night after wife Alyssa went into labor.
RFR Sprint Cup team manager Kevin Kidd filled in for Puccia during two abbreviated Sprint Cup practice sessions on Saturday. It will be Puccia’s decision whether to return for Sunday’s Sprint Cup race at the Monster Mile.
“I tried to leave them at peace and let them get through the baby being born, but since then, we’ve talked a couple of times, and it will probably be a Sunday morning game-time decision, and I’m leaving it completely in Matt’s hands,” Kidd said.
“If he wants to come up and do the race tomorrow, then we’ll certainly welcome him. As a company, we’d love to have in back, but we also want to be respectful and do the right thing as an employer and give him some time to be with his family right now.”
On Saturday, the Sprint Cup Series held two practice sessions for a combined 40 minutes of on-track action. The first practice started just after 11:45 a.m. and lasted just over a half-hour. The second one began around 2:30 and lasted just 10 minutes until the rain washed out the rest of the session.
In the two practice sessions the Chase cars were quick in the crucial time that they had on track prior to the Chase cutoff to the Challenger Round on Sunday at Dover.
In the final practice session there were nine Chase drivers in the top 10 positions. The practice was paced by Kevin Harvick. The defending champ is in need of a victory in order to advance into the final 12. After two consecutive poor finishes, Harvick is 23 points behind 12th-place and is coming into a race track that he has yet to win at.
Carl Edwards is in a comfortable position advancing in the Chase. He currently sits 32 points ahead of 13th position in the standings. Edwards was second in each of the practice sessions on Friday and he won at Dover back in 2007.
The No. 41 of Kurt Busch was quick in each of the short practice sessions. Busch was seventh quickest in the first session and improved to fourth in final preparation for Sunday. The Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet was fastest in the cars that made a 10 lap run. Busch is sitting comfortably in the seventh position in the standings, but lost a bunch of points on the final lap in New Hampshire last weekend.
A driver in need of a solid run on Sunday is Dale Earnhardt Jr. The No. 88 is one point to the good of making the Chase cutoff with drivers such as Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick preceding him. Earnhardt has improved at Dover in recent years and will need a good finish this weekend. He was fifth quick in final practice.
Brad Keselowski finished second in both races at Dover last season. In late May he came home in the 12th position. However, Keselowski was sixth fastest in each practice session on Saturday. The No. 2 team is sitting comfortably in eight position in the points, but if not for a late race penalty last weekend at New Hampshire, Keselowski may be locked into the Chase with a victory.
Jimmie Johnson will make his 500th start on Sunday at Dover. The 10-time winner at the Monster Mile was pleased with his car in the brief practice session on Saturday. The No. 48 is always the car to beat when NASCAR invades Dover, but this weekend he needs a good finish to advance and chase his seventh championship.
Then there are those Chase drivers who struggled off the truck.
In Jeff Gordon’s last race at Dover, he chased his car all around for the 40 minutes of practice and never seemed to find a solution to the problem. After being a disappointing 33rd in opening practice, Gordon finished final practice 27th, running just 24 laps before Sunday’s 400-miler. Gordon is 10th in the championship and has found more speed as of late, but with an average finish on Sunday, it might not advance him into the second round.
Ryan Newman was 18th in the first practice and 22nd in the final practice. Since the new Chase format was implemented last season, Newman has been the one to take advantage of it the most. He is consistent, and currently sits sixth in the standings, just needing an average day to advance.
There have been a couple of non-Chase drivers who have unloaded very fast off the truck.
Kasey Kahne is in desperate need of something to go his way. In 28 races this season, the veteran driver has just seven top 10 finishes. Kahne has had a very lackluster past few months as he hasn’t performed up to expectations with Hendrick Motorsports. However, Dover has always been one of Kahne’s better tracks and he paced the opening session on Saturday. In final practice he was third fastest.
Much like Kahne, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. needs a solid finish on Sunday. He has struggled in 2015, but is quick this weekend at Dover. He is looking for his first-career victory and he was just outside of the top 10 in each practice session Saturday.
The third race in the Chase for the Sprint Cup will be a unique race as the 43 teams have had little track time so far in the weekend. It will be crucial for some teams to overachieve in order to make the Contender Round including some of NASCAR’s biggest names.
In feet, the length of the restart zone has been set at two times pit road speed. At Dover, where pit road speed is 35 mph, the restart zone measured 70 feet. Now it’s 140 feet, and most drivers felt the expansion will restore, appropriately, some of the advantage the race leader should have.
“To lengthen that box, I think is a great move,” said six-time Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson. “I’m hopeful that they lengthen the box and bring it closer to the start/finish line. I think it will slow down some of the three- and four-wide into Turn 1 scenarios we have had. It will be less distance to get speed built up closer to the start/finish line and I think we will maybe control that space a little bit better.
“We should have better side-by-side restarts, which is what everybody is after. And then, obviously, the goal here is to give control back to the guy that has earned it – to the leader. That’s what happens, and I’m in favor of it. It’s a good call, and I am excited to see how it plays out.”
Team Penske driver Joey Logano, whose teammate, Brad Keselowski, was penalized for jumping a restart last Sunday at New Hampshire, approved of the rule change.
“This doesn’t seem like anything that’s crazy, out-of-the-box, to me, as far as the rules change,” Logano said. “I remember growing up racing short tracks and stuff, and you could hit the gas in Turn 3 and go whenever you want. I feel like this kind of opens the box, which is good. There’s going to be plenty of gamesmanship still, and I think NASCAR has also set the precedent with what they did last week and enforcing the rule.
“That’s something they need to continue doing. It’s not just having it happen one time and then scare us, and then don’t do anything about it for the next three weeks. They finally put their foot down last week on what we can and can’t do, and that rule needs to be consistent and make sure that, when they see something, they make the same call and be consistent with that.”
With a massive East Coast storm forcing cancellation of all of Friday’s track activity at the Monster Mile, including NASCAR Sprint Cup Series qualifying, Kenseth will start on the pole for Sunday’s AAA 400, the elimination race for the Challenger Round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup (2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).
The series leader, Kenseth already has earned a spot in the Chase’s Contender Round by virtue of last Sunday’s victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
On the other hand, with the field ordered by owner points according to rainout rules, Harvick will start 15th in a race he almost certainly must win to keep his hopes of winning back-to-back series championships alive.
After an early wreck and a 42nd-place finish in the Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway, Harvick ran out of fuel while leading with three laps left at New Hampshire and finished 21st, leaving him 23 points out of 12th place in the standings, the last transfer position for the next round.
Even though the rain put him on the pole, Kenseth would have preferred to have practiced on Friday, especially in light of the suspension issues that relegated him to a 39th-place finish in the May 31 event at Dover.
“I think we all would have liked to get on the track today and get some practice,” Kenseth said on Friday at Dover. “I know there are some things we wanted to work on and try to improve from the spring for this race.
“I think everybody wanted to get on the track. I think it’s one of the advantages of leading the points – obviously, if it rains, you get a good starting spot and pit stall. Glad we’re starting in the front, but still would have liked the track time.”
The qualifying cancellation means the 16 Chase drivers will start from the top 16 positions on the grid. Denny Hamlin, who punched his ticket to the Contender Round with a win at Chicagoland, will start on the front row beside his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate.
Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson are third through fifth on the grid, respectively, for Sunday’s race. “Bubble” drivers Jamie McMurray, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Paul Menard, all of whom are within a two-point range in the standings, will start 11th through 14th, respectively.
“We’ll be ready; we’ll be prepared and we won’t start as far forward as we have here in years past,” said Busch, who blew a right front tire at New Hampshire, crashed and finished 37th. “Typically we’re a top-five qualifier. ... We’ll make do.”
Busch feels his team’s level of readiness coming to the track this season will stand him in good stead.
“I think, for my guys, we’ve been really, really good this year of unloading and having some strong cars and some good speed right off the truck,” Busch said. “I’d actually look forward to no practice time here. I think that would be really good for the 18 team.”
Rinnai, the number-one selling brand of tankless water heaters in the U.S. and Canada, has already served as a primary or associate partner on Whitt's No. 35 for six races in the 2015 season, including at the Peachtree City, Ga.-based company's home track of Atlanta Motor Speedway.
"Rinnai has been a great partner and they're really taking advantage of the opportunities that NASCAR can offer," Whitt said. "They've made new relationships since joining the sport and have grown their business as a result. I'm proud of that and I hope to see it keep going in that direction."
"We've really enjoyed working with Rinnai," said team owner Bob Jenkins. "Their partnership with us as a race team has grown, and they've also made new relationships with other business partners of ours looking to take advantage of the efficiencies that Rinnai products can provide. We look forward to having them at the racetrack with us for four more races this year."
It was finally confirmed that the always energetic Clint Bowyer will drive for HScott Motorsports in 2016 before joining forces with Stewart-Haas Racing in 2017 replacing a retiring Tony Stewart.
Bowyer had been looking for a ride ever since the beginning of August when Michael Waltrip Racing announced that they will be shutting their doors following the 2015 season. 5-hour ENERGY will follow Bowyer for 24 out-of-the 36 points races as he moves over to HScott Motorsports.
“It’s been a whirlwind,” Bowyer said in a press conference on Friday at Dover. “It’s a big deal for me. It’s my life. It’s my career, and you want to make sure that you don’t mess it up. When one door closes, another opportunity opens up and you’ve got to make sure that you get the best of it for yourself and your partners.”
Harry Scott, the owner of HScott Motorsports is in the process of completing his second season as a Cup Series car owner. In the first two seasons his teams have had speed. The end results have just not been where he’d like.
In providing Bowyer a ride for just one season, Scott believes that Bowyer has what it takes to make his team elite.
“I think Clint will help us long-term because he’s basically going to be able to help us reset our program and set the bar higher,” Scott said. “He’ll help us form an even stronger relationship with Stewart-Haas and that, obviously, will be beneficial for us. This is a really important step for HScott Motorsports and one I felt our team needed to take to elevate to the next level of NASCAR Sprint Cup competition. Clint is a proven winner and Chase participant. This opportunity has brought an unprecedented level of excitement to our entire organization.”
HScott Motorsports has formed a technical alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing for 2016. Bowyer and future teammate Michael Annett will have virtually the same equipment as drivers like Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch are currently running and both of them have won multiple races in 2015.
Currently, Justin Allgaier is the driver of the No. 51 for HScott Motorsports. He is the only driver on the team who has uncertain future. It is undetermined on whether or not HScott Motorsports will actually run three cars at the Cup level as such a young team.
“We haven’t ruled out anything on 2016 and beyond,” Scott said. “I’m not prepared to give an answer on that now.”
With Bowyer only staying one year at HScott Motorsports the future is uncertain. However, Bowyer is confident that he can help take the race team to the next level.
“I don’t want to leave Harry with nothing after this. When I leave there, I want to leave him having a winning organization,” Bowyer said.
The car number and crew chief have not yet been determined for next season.
Bowyer and 5-hour ENERGY have been partners for four seasons, winning three races and finishing runner-up in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup championship. Starting with the Feb. 21, 2016, Daytona 500, Bowyer will race Chevrolets for HScott in a technical alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing and Hendrick Motorsports.
“I am very thankful for the continued support and commitment from 5-hour ENERGY, and for Harry Scott Jr. for putting this opportunity together,” said Bowyer. “My relationship with everyone at 5-hour ENERGY is something I hold with great value. There have been some real unknowns for my career in the past couple of months, but I’m happy that my future is secured and full speed ahead.”
HScott Motorsports has competed full time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for two seasons, fielding Chevrolets with Hendrick Motorsports support. HScott Motorsports team owner Harry Scott Jr., said this is a watershed moment for his young organization.
“This is a really important step for HScott Motorsports and one I felt our team needed to take to elevate to the next level of NASCAR Sprint Cup competition,” said Scott. “Clint is a proven winner and Chase participant. For us to compete at a higher level we needed all of the right elements to come together. I believe those elements came together with the driver in Clint, sponsorship from 5-hour ENERGY and the extended relationship with Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas. This opportunity has brought an unprecedented level of excitement to our entire organization."
“Clint has been a big part of our marketing program the past four seasons and has been incredible with our retailers and customers,” said Manoj Bhargava, founder of Living Essentials, the parent company of 5-hour ENERGY. “Anytime there is change there is opportunity to make the program even stronger, and that is our intent with our new partnerships.”
Bowyer, 36, is a 10-year veteran with eight victories, two pole positions, 58 top-five finishes and 163 top-10s in Sprint Cup competition. Earlier this week, Stewart-Haas Racing announced that Bowyer will drive SHR’s No. 14 Chevrolet in 2017 replacing Tony Stewart who’ll retire at the end of the 2016 season. Michael Waltrip Racing, Bowyer’s team for the past four seasons, announced in August that it would not field full time Cup teams in 2017.
HScott Motorsports PR
Miles “The Monster” could not tame the rain at Dover International Speedway on Friday.
The talk for the entire week was how Hurricane Joaquin would impact the Chase cutoff race at Dover. Not only is the Sprint Cup Series in action, but the XFINITY Series has a key race in the run toward the championship, and the K&N Pro Series East was scheduled to crown a champion on Friday.
Cup Series qualifying was rained out which will slate Matt Kenseth on the pole for the AAA400. With the field being set by driver championship points, the first three starting spots are acquired by Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas.
The Cup teams will have two practice sessions beginning at 11:30 on Saturday morning in preparation of the Chase cutoff of the Challenger Round. Kenseth and Hamlin are the only drivers who are locked into the Contender Round.
XFINITY Series points leader Chris Buescher will lead the field to green on Saturday. The XFINITY teams will have practice on Saturday morning prior to their scheduled green flag start time of 3:30.
The NASCAR K&N East Series will race at 9:30 on Saturday to determine the champion. Currently, William Byron is coming into Dover as the point’s leader by 13 points over Scott Heckert and 14 ahead of Austin Hill. Combined those three drivers have won eight of the 13 races this season.
The weather forecast has improved for the rest of the weekend has improved quite a bit from what was projected earlier in the week. Sunday looks to be driest day with a 40% chance of precipitation and racing.