Thursday, Dec 02
In a race that was filled with controversy, Matt Kenseth put an end to his rough start to the year and wound up in Victory Lane.

The No. 20 car took the lead after a big crash with 46 laps to go involving 10-time Dover winner, Jimmie Johnson. From there the crafty veteran didn't look back as he led the final the remaining laps and stamped his name into the Chase.

"At time we were on and at times we were off," Kenseth said after his victory. "It just kind of depended on track position. We had one good where we were really good and then we never quite got it there again. It was one of those days where everything lined up for us at the end of the race and we were the only one left out there with two [tires]. We got a couple short runs to cycle everyone else's tires."

This is Kenseth's third win at the Monster Mile and his first triumph since the second Chase race in 2015. Joe Gibbs Racing recorded its 135th win as an organization, tying Roush Fenway Racing for third most all-time.

After going a lap down in the first long stint of the event, Kyle Larson rebounded to lead 85 laps, coming up just short of his first career victory. Going back to last week in Kansas, Larson has ran in the top five the majority of both races. Acknowledging that Chip Ganassi Racing has struggled over the last season or so, he believes that the team has begun to turn the corner.

"I wouldn't say it was a complete 180," Larson said post-race. "I definitely think we are moving in the right direction. The performances we've has the last few weeks have showed. We just got to keep working hard and never get content with where we are. In my third year I've learned that a lot."

With the second-place finish, Larson has now been the runner-up four times in his Cup career without heading to Victory Lane.

For a while it looked like Chase Elliott was going to pass both Kenseth and Larson as they raced hard for the victory. He began to fade in the later stages, but then rebounded to finish a half-second off the top two. The way that the 20-year-old has ran the past month or so it would seem like a victory is right around the corner.

"You hope your close," Elliott said. "For me I feel like I have a team capable of winning. The way I see it today is we had our shot and had a chance to do it today and I didn't do it. It's as simple as that, you either do or you don't."

Recording another top-10 finish for the No. 24 team, Elliott now leads Hendrick Motorsports in top 10 finishes in 2016 with eight.

Kasey Kahne rebounded from a car in which hovered around 10th for the majority of the race to finish fourth. It marks his second top-five finish of the year, the other coming at Richmond three weeks ago. Kurt Busch rounded out the top five, picking up his fourth of 2016. 

On Lap 354, the race took a turn when Johnson's car got stuck in gear. The No. 48 machine was the leader on a restart when there was more than a 10-car pileup. Other drivers in the incident included Kevin Harvick whom led 117 laps early in the race, but finished 15th and Martin Truex, Jr. who was the leader prior to that restart, but after taking four tires under caution restarted fourth, right behind the six-time champion. The No. 78 car came back to finish ninth.

Brad Keselowski finished sixth after having contact with Austin Dillon while running in second on Lap 282. Having to repair the entire right front fender, the No. 2 crew fought back to get it's seventh top 10 of the season.
 
One of the bigger incidents of the time came with 40 laps to go when Larson tagged the left rear of Carl Edwards sending him into the inside wall on the backstretch. Up to that point of the race, the No. 19 car had been out front for 27 laps, but came home 28th.

The Cup Series heads into it's All-Star break next week in Charlotte. Through the first 12 events, Harvick has a 21 point lead on Kyle Busch.


Immediately following the Cheez-it 355 at the Glen in 2015, race winner, Joey Logano began the process of tearing up Watkins Glen International as the track fully repaved its entire 3.4-mile layout.

Nine months later cars hit the track for a two day Goodyear tire test in preparation for NASCAR’s annual visit to the Finger Lakes region.

Drivers included in the two day test were Logano, 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards Kasey Kahne and Trevor Bayne.

Teams quickly found out that the speeds have increased and there is more grip in the racetrack. Over the past several years the bumps in the race track had become more severe, causing the repave.

“It’s really hard to tell,” Edwards said of how the higher speeds will affect the racing. “You never know how it’s going to work with a new surface and a new tire. The racing here always seems to be really competitive.”

Though there were no times posted, the word was that speeds are approaching the track record set by Jeff Gordon in 2014. On Tuesday, Harvick ran over 300 miles around the new pavement, which is almost 100 miles greater than the race length in August (220 miles).

Often times when tracks get repaved they gain a lot of grip and the tire wear is very low. What makes the road courses exciting is the close racing, but also that tire wear doesn’t mean a whole lot.

“Basically what they did is they took a track that didn’t have a whole bunch of tire wear to start off with and repaved it so you don’t have a bunch of tire wear again,” Logano said of the new surface. “It’s very similar so it’s not going to change the racing a whole bunch.”

1989 was the last time that Watkins Glen completely repaved the layout of the course. $12 million later and increased speeds have the drivers wondering what race conditions will be like because the sole purpose of this test was to find the right tire to bring back in August.

Restarts are often wild at the famed road course, but if the tires don’t wear it makes every position even that much more important. Logano admitted that he isn’t afraid to put it three-wide heading into a narrow Turn One.

With only three “passing zones” at the Glen it makes restarts crucial. Turn One, the “bus stop” and Turn 10 are the primary zones where drivers will make a move on one another. On the other parts of the track it is a little more difficult due to the width of the track.

“If the track gets rubber throughout the weekend it’s going to be very tough to pass,” said Kahne. “It’s up to Goodyear on what tire they can bring to this race that can withstand the heat and load of a full run and not have tire issues. If it does we will pass and if not it will be all about restarts.”

This was one of two tests this season at the 2.45-mile track. On July 26-27, WGI is scheduled to host an organization test for Cup teams, allowing one team per organization to test before the race on August 7.

Some of the other benefits of the new surface is the concrete pit road that was installed. There are also bigger concrete rumble strips in the turns, compared to previous years.

Each year WGI puts on one of the best events of the season, it will be intriguing to see if the new pavement helps or hurts the on-track action.

In a day that was filled with hard racing, big crashes and barrel rolls, Brad Keselowski came out victorious in Talladega.

Arguably, Keselowski had the strongest racecar on Sunday leading a race-high 46 laps. After a mid-race pit stop that forced his hand and go toward the rear of the top 10 the last 20 laps, the No. 2 car established itself as the one to beat.

“This Fusion was hauling,” Keselowski said. “That’s one of the tickets of staying out of the wrecks at Talladega is if you can stay up front, you have a great shot of not getting in a wreck. Daytona didn’t go the way we wanted it to go. We just didn’t have the speed, but the guys went to work and brought me a really strong car here for Talladega.”

This is Keselowski’s fourth-career win at NASCAR’s biggest track, the most he has at any one track.

After leading 12 laps early on, Kyle Busch came home second. He was getting a huge shove coming to the white flag, but Keselowski blocked, settling the No. 18 car for the runner-up position.

Austin Dillon posted a career best third-place finish after making 15 pit stops throughout the day. Just passed halfway, David Gilliland got into the rear of the No. 3 machine turning him into the outside causing the first big crash of the day that saw rookie Chris Buescher flip multiple times.

“What we’ve really been focused on going forward is trying not to panic,” Dillon said of his day. “They fixed the car and what a run to the finish. Our car probably wasn’t good enough to really win the race, but it was good enough for the No. 1 to push me all the way through [Turns] 3 and 4.”

Jamie McMurray notched his best finish of 2016 with a fourth-place result. The former winner at Talladega never led, but pushed several cars to the lead throughout the 500 miles.

Pole-sitter Chase Elliott led 27 laps and notched his third top-five finish of the young season. After leading much of the opening stint of the event, the No. 24 car fell back throughout the day, but came on strong in the final three laps.

“You can’t have a good day unless you finish,” Elliott said. “I think it was just focusing in on that and obviously it got really wild and for us we tried to keep that in mind to try and make it to the end.”

Tony Stewart was credited with a sixth-place finish, though Ty Dillon drove the No. 14 Chevrolet to the checkered flag. After the first caution on Lap 50, the XFINITY Series regular replaced the three-time Cup Series champion behind the wheel.

The Cup veteran admitted that “it sucked” having to get out of the racecar, but it was part of the deal to get him back in the car last weekend in Richmond.

Clint Bowyer, Landon Cassill, Michael Waltrip, Cole Whitt, Bobby Labonte and the aforementioned Gilliland all posted season best finishes on Sunday.

The biggest incident of the afternoon came with 28 laps to go when Kurt Busch got into the rear of Jimmie Johnson spinning him into the wall, causing a 17 car crash. Daytona 500 winner, Denny Hamlin was one of the drivers involved in the accident.

With eight laps to go Michael McDowell, spun Danica Patrick, clipping the side of Matt Kenseth’s machine and causing him to flip into the inside fence. The No. 20 car was one of the strongest racecars throughout the day leading 39 laps, finishing a disappointing 23rd.

Coming to the checkered flag was the last crash that saw 2014 Sprint Cup champion Kevin Harvick get airborne, hitting the outside retaining wall. Eight cars came across the checkered flag with damage due to this incident.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne all finished toward the rear with each driver had multiple problems at the 2.66-mile track.

In all, 33 out of the 40 cars received some kind of damage throughout the wildest race of the season to date.  

The Cup Series will head to the Midwest for some night racing next Saturday in Kansas, with Johnson the defending winner. It was the controversy in the fall that led to the Kenseth and Joey Logano drama that saw its latest chapter on Sunday when the No. 22 car forced the No. 20 Toyota below the yellow line.

After the event had concluded Kenseth pointed his finger out of displeasure at Logano, where the 25-year-old shrugged his shoulders and chuckled.

Early on in Sunday’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond International Raceway, it looked like it was going to be just an average day for Kasey Kahne getting into the outside wall.

With grit, determination and a good handling racecar, he was able to rebound for his first top-five finish since Kansas last October.

Kahne, who has struggled since joining HMS in 2012, has just one victory in the past two-and-a-half seasons. In 2014 and 2015 combined he had just six top five finishes combined. However, with a stellar performance at one of his better tracks, he believes that the team may have finally turned the corner.

 “It was a strong weekend for our team,” Kahne said post-race. “Communications side with Keith [Rodden, crew chief] and the engineers, just kind of what we worked on, the direction we went was really solid all weekend, similar to Bristol. We just finished it off today.”

The No. 5 team’s best finish in 2016 prior to Richmond was eighth in Texas two weeks ago. At Las Vegas in early March the crew had a 10th-place finish, which is Kahne’s third best finish this season.

There is reason for optimism within the Hendrick camp. Kahne spent more laps in the top five at Richmond than he had in the first eight events combined this season. With an average finish of 16.3, that would be good enough to make the Chase, as he currently sits 14th in the standings, 18 points above the cutoff.

Coming off a season in which he failed to make the Chase for the first time since 2011, Kahne is confident in where the team is going.

“I think it's more being together, being a group, a solid team,” he said. “As we do that, we've been getting better each week. To me that started three, four weeks ago.  Each week it seems to get better from the previous week. We're going to keep heading in that direction, I know that, and hopefully the performance stays the same.”

Jimmie Johnson led just 25 laps en route to his sixth career victory at Auto Club Speedway on Sunday following a late race restart that moved the race to overtime.  

In a car that was sponsored by the movie Superman, Johnson needed to use super powers in overtime while restarting in third, sitting behind Kevin Harvick on the bottom line with two laps to go. He pushed the No. 4 car passed leader Denny Hamlin and hooked the white line going into Turn 1 which allowed him to get the lead down the backstretch.

This was Johnson’s 77th career victory, but without Kyle Busch getting into the wall after cutting a tire with two laps to go, he would have been stuck outside the top five.

 In the second to last stint of the race, the No. 48 car was on older tires, thus making him fall through the field after restarting as the race leader.

“I knew we had a great car and that caution fell at a bad time the run before,” Johnson said. “I just didn’t have the tires on the car to race with those guys. I got a great run off of 2 [Turn] and thought I had a shot at this thing that I didn’t expect to have. I cleared him and kind of got away.”

Harvick placed his Chevrolet second on Sunday after dominating the race, leading 142 laps. Coming off a victory at Phoenix, he had the best car on the short and long runs, something that the team worked on in practice on Saturday.

“It was the worst it had taken off on restarts,” Harvick said of the final run. “We weren’t good on restarts for four or five laps, unless we were all by ourselves. The 48 was able to hang with us and we just weren’t able to drive it in like I needed to and didn’t have the front tires turning.”

After leading on the green-white-checkered finish, Hamlin finished third. On the final pit stop the No. 11 pit crew gained four positions giving their driver the lead.

On the restart Joey Logano spun his tires, not allowing him to push Hamlin and race for the win. Hamlin led just two laps, not coming until after the scheduled 200th lap.

Logano came home in fourth, while Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. rounded out the top five. Chase Elliott came home just outside the top five in sixth as the highest finishing rookie.

AJ Allmendinger picked up his first top 10 since Pocono last August. He started shotgun on the field and raced his way into the top 10 in the first quarter of the race, where he remained there the majority of the afternoon.

Flat tires and pit road penalties were the story of the race. There were just under 10 flat tires on the afternoon the last one being Busch’s, but the biggest one coming on Lap 48. Kyle Larson cut a tire going down the backstretch, losing control of his car and pounding the inside wall. All four tires came off the ground.

“We were struggling all day,” said Larson. “We were really bad. And just on that backstretch, my left rear tire got cut and spun me to the outside wall and then spun me back into the inside wall. By the time I could hit the brakes it must have ripped the brake line and I had no brakes.”

All four Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas had to serve pit road penalties during the 400-mile event. Carl Edwards, whom rebounded to finish seventh, had one with 80 laps to go, but played strategy late in the race where he led at one point with 40 laps remaining.

Hamlin had to serve two penalties, one for speeding and one for pitting too soon on Lap 25. The other top Toyota team, Martin Truex, Jr. had to serve a penalty late in the race. He finished the race 32nd after Logano put him in the wall late in the race. The No. 78 team was out front for 21 laps.

The other big incident came on Lap 120 as Kasey Kahne hooked Danica Patrick and sent her into the wall heading into Turn 1. Like Larson, the No. 10 car got airborne and she was not pleased with the driver of the No. 5 car.

The Cup Series will return to action on April 3, beating and banging on the half-mile paperclip, Martinsville Speedway.

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