Monday, Sep 26

 

There was a big question going into the Sprint Cup Series race at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday, whether or not Matt Kenseth would send payback to one Joey Logano.

The driver of the No. 20 promised payback following the Oct. 18 race at Kansas Speedway. At Talladega on Oct. 25, Logano made a bold move cutting off Kenseth during a cycle of green flag pit stops. This week it was Kenseth who returned the favor.

On Lap 453, the tide turned for the No. 22 team. After leading 207 of the first 453 laps, Kenseth found himself behind Logano heading into Turn 1 with the optimal decision on whether or not to pay Logano back. He deliberately pulled over to let Logano go and drove his damaged Toyota into Turn 1 and wrecked Logano.

“It was just a complete coward move, especially by a championship driver and race team” Logano after being taken out by Kenseth. “Just a complete coward. It’s a chicken you know what move to completely take out the leader when your race is over.”

NASCAR red-flagged the race and pulled the No. 20 car from the remainder of the race if they were able to return.

The prior caution came out when Kenseth was spun when making contact with the other driver from Team Penske, Brad Keselowski and also tagging Chase driver Kurt Busch into the wall. Thus leading to the beginning of the end for both Logano and Kenseth in Martinsville.

“Some days you’re the bat, some days you’re the ball, it’s never any fun when you’re the ball,” Kenseth said about the incident. “The splitter was dragging things down and we got into the corner and unfortunately ruined his day. He’s got the best car, he has a couple of races left to till have a shot at it (championship). Certainly disappointed that it came down to that.”

After parking the Joe Gibbs Racing team for the remaining 47 laps in Martinsville, NASCAR had a meeting with Kenseth, crew chief Jason Ratcliff and car-owner Joe Gibbs.

“I think in general you saw a terrific race today,” said the Executive Vice President of NASCAR Steve O’Donnell. When you talk about the incident between that took place with Matt, in our estimation that was a driver who was a number of laps down and we still have some things to look at it, but we were disappointed with what took place. When you look at Kansas, that was two drivers going for a win and really competing. In this instance, it’s a driver multiple laps down who looked like may have waited and came up on the leader and we all saw what happened. I would say it’s a little different with two drivers going for a win.

It’s too early to speculate on what if there will be any repercussions for Kenseth in the coming weeks. If he is facing any penalty it will be announced on Tuesday, the day in which NASCAR announces all of its weekly penalties. 

The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will travel to Las Vegas, Nevada this week for the Kobalt Tools 400.

Las Vegas Motor Speedway is considered a “Cookie Cutter” race track, but it is much different than other 1.5-mile tracks. It is a fast and very aero-sensitive race track. Having a loose race car is a common problem at Las Vegas. This makes passing very difficult so track position will be at a premium this week.

The key to winning this race will be to have a car that has balance through turn four. Most of the wrecks in the race involve cars trying to carry too much speed through the tricky turn. Teams will push the limits to have a car that is fast through this turn, but teams who go over the limit will find their car in the garage.

Keep in mind the teams who had success last week at Atlanta will be the favorites Sunday. Although the race tracks are nothing alike, teams that figured out the new down-force and aero-packages last week will be the teams which will be fast Sunday.

Here are my picks for the Kolbalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas…

 

Yahoo Group A Picks

The drivers in Group A of the Yahoo Fantasy Auto Racing game are placed into this group because they have had a lot of success at the 1.5-mile race tracks. It is impossible to be considered an elite driver in the Sprint Cup Series without being able to navigate the race tracks which make up a majority of the race schedule.

Team Penske will be the team to watch this week. Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano started on the front row last year with Keselowski finding his way to Victory Lane. Logano is off to a great start this season and there is no reason why he should cool off in the desert. Both drivers would be excellent selections for your team.

My sleeper pick for Group A this week is Dale Earnhardt Jr. He had this race won last year. Earnhardt started 14th and led 51 laps before running out of gas on the last lap. Earnhardt is off to a good start this season with two top-five finishes. He may not qualify up front, but he will be one of the drivers competing for the win at the end of the race.

Here are the two drivers I selected for Group A…

Jimmie Johnson

Another name for Las Vegas Motor Speedway could be Jimmie’s Playground. Johnson four wins in his 13 career starts in Sin City. He will have momentum after winning the race last week. The No. 48 team is back and fantasy NASCAR players must consider Johnson a favorite at each race track.

Kevin Harvick

I had a hard time selecting the last driver for Group A. The Team Penske drivers would have been great for qualifying points. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth are almost locks for a top-10 finish. I went with Harvick, although his stats here are not great. Harvick was running down Kyle Busch for the lead last year when he had rotor problems. He is too hot to ignore right now.

Other good choices: Dale Earnhardt Jr., Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Matt Kenseth

 

Yahoo Group B Picks

I learned three things from last week’s race at Atlanta about Group B… 1. Carl Edwards will be the best driver in this group so fantasy teams need to use their allocations wisely with the No. 19 team. 2. It is sad to say, but Tony Stewart looks like he should be retiring at the end of the season. 3. There are many sleepers in this group including Martin Truex Jr., Aric Almirola, AJ Allmendinger and Casey Mears.

My sleeper pick this week is Brain Vickers. Some teams may forget about him since this is his first race back in the car. Last week Brett Moffitt finished eighth in the no. 55 car. Vickers should be able to run up front this week too.

Here are the four drivers I selected for Group B…

Carl Edwards

Las Vegas is Edwards’s third-best race track. He has two wins and six top-10 finishes in his 10 career starts at the race track. Edwards has a streak of four consecutive top-five finishes at Las Vegas. These stats are with Edwards driving for Roush Fenway Racing. He should be one of the favorite to win in his No. 19 Joe Gibbs racing Ford.

Kasey Kahne

It is hard to trust Kahn on your fantasy team. Last week he looked like a lock for a top-10 finish, but barely finished in the top 15. His stats at Las Vegas are good, so it may be wise to give him another chance. Kahne finished the last two races at Las Vegas in the top 10. Hendrick Motorsports looks like the team to beat, so Kahne should have a fast car Sunday.

Martin Truex Jr.

If there is one thing I learned the first two weeks of these season it is that the No. 78 car looks like the car Kurt Busch drove two years ago. Truex is off to a great start this season. He finished second in the Sprint Unlimited, fifth in the Budweiser Dual, eighth in the Daytona 500 and sixth at Atlanta. If you need some luck in Las Vegas, grab Truex for your team.

Paul Menard

Las Vegas is Menard’s second-best race track. He has a streak of three consecutive top-10 finishes, including a third-place finish in last year’s race. Menard always runs well on the 1.5-mile race tracks early in the season. This is the time to use Menard for your team.

Other good choices: Brian Vickers,Aric Almirola, Clint Bowyer and Jamie McMurray

 

Yahoo Group C Picks

Selecting a driver for Group C is not as difficult as it looked on paper entering the season. Danica Patrick has shown improvement this season. David Ragan and Regan Smith are providing teams an option while the Busch brothers are out of their cars. Some unknown drivers (Brett Moffitt and Matt Crafton) have came out of nowhere provided some help for fantasy teams.

My sleeper pick for Group C this week is Ryan Blaney. He will be driving the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford. The team has an alliance with Team Penske and he should be able to learn a lot from Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski this week.

Here are the two drivers I selected for Group C…

David Ragan

Ragan has not had much success at Las Vegas. When he drove for Roush Fenway Racing he finished most of his races in the top 25. Ragan did have a seventh-place finish at the race track in 2008. Last week was his first race with the No. 18 team and he finished 18th. Ragan should be able to learn from last week’s race and finish in the top 20 this week.

Regan Smith

Smith has not been great while filling in for Kurt Busch, but he has not been too bad either. Smith has two consecutive top-20 finishes this season and there is no reason to believe he cannot finish in the top-20 again this week. It will be important to use Smith to save allocations for other drivers later in the season.

Other Good Choices: Danica Patrick, Ryan Blaney and Justin Allgaier

 

Fantasy Live Picks

One of the biggest misconceptions for Fantasy Live is that fantasy teams must select drivers who start in the back of the field. Fantasy teams get too caught up in where a driver starts the race and overlook the best drivers for the race. Track position is so important at Las Vegas that it will be important to select the best drivers in the field, regardless of where they begin the race.

Last season three drivers led over 50 laps at Las Vegas. Each of these drivers scored at least 25 bonus points for their fantasy teams. If a driver qualifies up front and has a dominant car in the Saturday practice there is a good chance the driver will lead many laps in the race Sunday. These drivers must be on your team at Las Vegas.

Here are the five drivers I selected for Fantasy Live for the race at Las Vegas:

Driver 1: Kevin Harvick $27.50

Driver 2: Jimmie Johnson $27.00

Driver 3: Carl Edwards $22.50

Driver 4: Martin Truex Jr. $17.00

Driver 5: Regan Smith $5.00

Pick to Win: Jimmie Johnson

* Driver prices based on prices at Atlanta

 

Fox Fantasy Racing

Fantasy teams will have a tough decision to make for Fox Fantasy Racing this week. This games awards fantasy teams for finding the drivers who start in the back and finish up front. The problem is there usually are not many drivers who can make their way through the field at Las Vegas.

As we saw at Atlanta, anything can happen during qualifying. If for some reason the best drivers have difficulties in qualifying and start in the back of the field it will be important to select the driver for your team. My picks this week are based upon recent success at Las Vegas and drivers with an opportunity to win the race.

Here are my selections for Fox Fantasy Racing for Las Vegas:

Driver 1: Dale Earnhardt Jr. $12,900

Driver 2: Jimmie Johnson $10,500

Driver 3: Brad Keselowski $11,500

Driver 4: Carl Edwards $9,400

Driver 5: Regan Smith $5,200

* Driver prices based on prices at Atlanta

 

*Stats from Driveraverages.com and career stats from Racing-Reference.Info

 

Hugs all around. That’s just how warm-hearted he is. Wife and son. Crew members and owners. Everyone deserves a hug for what this man accomplished.

“The Closer” took it all home at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday. Kevin Harvick, who made the daring swap to Stewart-Haas Racing over the off-season, battled a hard-charging Ryan Newman late in the Ford EcoBoost 400. After a restart with three laps to go, the driver of the No. 4 Budweiser Chevrolet headed off into the sunset to win the race, and more importantly – his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship.

With 25 laps to go, Harvick got around Hamlin. Logano came into pit road on the following caution, along with Newman and Harvick, but the jack fell off on the left side, which put the No. 22 car at the rear of the field. Logano came back to finish 16th, yet it wasn’t enough with his three opponents racing inside of the top-10 throughout the day.

“I knew I needed to get a bunch of them," Harvick said following the race. "I was fortunate to start on the outside. The seas kind of parted there as I came off of Turn 2 and was about to get four or five of them; I don’t really know but it was time to go for broke at that particular point. When the next caution came out, we were fortunate enough again to line up on the outside. That was pretty much what we needed - to get the run on the outside down the backstretch."

Harvick had five wins on the year, which is tied for the most in his career (2006). With 14 top-fives and 20 top-10s, he showed he had the speed to win throughout the year. Although adversity struck the No. 4 team on multiple occasions with pit crew problems and mechanical issues, they rebounded with multiple victories late in the year; including back-to-back wins to end the season. Winning the championship, Harvick has given Stewart-Haas Racing their second triumph, and he becomes the 30th different driver in the sport’s 66-year history to win the title.

"If it wasn’t for Jimmie Johnson and Tony Stewart, I would have been in bad trouble this week," said Harvick. "Those guys really helped me get through the week. Today was fine. I was a little anxious both days of practice, overdriving the car and not doing things I needed to do. After every practice, Jimmie was in there, and in our team debriefs Tony was constantly telling me just to go race and that it’s just another race."

“It was a heck of a race up there,” said Logano following the disappointing result. “I screwed up and hit the wall early and we were able to recover then had the mistake on pit road which didn’t give us enough time to recover from that. It is unfortunate. Execution was our strong point all year and we just didn’t do it tonight. For that reason we finished fourth after I think we scored the most points this whole Chase.”

Denny Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb opted to stay out of pit road along with Jeff Gordon with approximately 20 laps remaining in the race. The No. 11 car had run up front throughout the 400-mile race, and led 50 laps during Sunday’s spectacle. However, without fresh tires and multiple late-race restarts, his Toyota fell back on the restart – finishing seventh at Homestead.

But for Newman, he was extremely close to winning the title. The two-tire call late in the race by crew chief Luke Lambert gave him a chance at winning it all. Before that risk, the No. 31 Chevrolet was racing outside of the top-five, which was sub-par compared to Harvick, Hamlin and Logano, who were each fighting for the lead. Although they didn’t record a victory in 2014, the team was well inside the top-10 in points throughout the regular season.

Gordon led the most laps on Sunday evening as he paced the field 161 times. But after starting on the pole, he finished 10th to end his season. Brad Keselowski, Paul Menard and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top-five in the 400-mile event. Keselowski fell a lap down during a green-flag pit cycle, but took the wave around to get back on the lead lap, and was able to fight for the win for the last 50 laps.

Jimmie Johnson, who finished ninth at Homestead, finished 11th in the championship standings. Prior to this season, his worst season result was sixth in 2011. Keselowski finished fifth in points with Gordon, Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch rounding out the top-10.

Kyle Larson locked up the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. Throughout his first full-time season, the 22-year-old had an average finish of 14.2 with eight top-fives and 17 top-10s. Larson had some inconsistent moments throughout the year, but he had three runner-up finishes, and was able to lead 53 laps. Austin Dillon finished second to Larson in the rookie standings, but not earning a DNF over the course of the season wasn’t enough for the Richard Childress Racing driver.

 

 

Four drivers. One will be crowned the champion. It’s going to be an intense 400-mile race at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the southern edge of “The Sunshine State.”

After 35 races, 13 drivers have won at least one event in the 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season. Only two drivers have finished every race. Dreams were crushed. Some were made. Two young men won their first career race in astonishing fashion. But when it is all said and done, only one driver will be crowned the 2014 Sprint Cup Series champion.

With that being said, here is what you should watch for the in Ford EcoBoost 400:

-Jeff Gordon starts on pole for the 200th time in Hendrick Motorsports history. After being eliminated from the Chase for the Sprint Cup after a runner-up finish at Phoenix. He’s going to be gunning for his 93rd career victory.

-Each of the four championship-eligible drivers have never won a Sprint Cup Series title. Harvick has won championships in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in the past, yet neither one of his competitors have held a championship trophy.

-Kevin Harvick is looking to win his first title after 14 years in NASCAR’s top division. It would be the first time that Stewart-Haas Racing has won a championship since team owner Tony Stewart captured it in 2011. He has been the quickest of the Chase drivers throughout the weekend. The No. 4 team will start fifth on Sunday afternoon, but he was just behind Hamlin during the Saturday practice sessions in terms of 10 consecutive laps run.

-Ryan Newman is the only one of the four drivers without a victory this year. He came in clutch when he needed to, and now he is set to win Richard Childress Racing their first championship since Dale Earnhardt did so in 1994. Although he has just four top-fives this year, the driver of the No. 31 car has an average finish of 13th, and he has five top-10s throughout the Chase. He’s going to be starting 21st at Homestead, which is the worst of the Chase drivers. However, he was 12th in each of Saturday’s practices as he looks to capture his first title in his 13th full-time season in the sport’s top division.

-Denny Hamlin came close to winning the title in 2010, but he came short after finishing 14th at Homestead. Last year, his only win of the season came at the 1.5-mile track. However, Joe Gibbs Racing has struggled at the intermediate tracks this year and he has an average finish of 14.5, which is the worst of the Chase drivers. But Hamlin came on strong in the last round, and now he is set to win Joe Gibbs Racing their first championship since Tony Stewart captured the 2005 title when the team was with General Motors. Winning it all would also give Toyota their first championship in the Cup Series.

-Joey Logano joined Team Penske after underperforming at JGR. With high expectations and too much pressure to contend for wins with his teammates, Logano opted to move over to Team Penske. The decision paid off and he has been victorious five times in the No. 22 Ford this year. Two of his victories came at intermediate tracks, and the 24-year-old is determined to win the title. The pressure might be on his shoulders once again as he is hoping to give Penske their second championship of the weekend after winning the owner’s title in the Nationwide Series. However, with an average finish of 11.2 this year and 16 top-fives, the extremely consistent driver could come out on top.

-Marcos Ambrose is running his final race for Richard Petty Motorsports in the No. 9 car this weekend. He’ll be replaced by Sam Hornish, Jr. in 2015, but Ambrose could return to run the road course events since he does have off weekends in the Australian V8 Supercar Series. But he’s going to be with Penske, which means he could run a third car for them just like Juan Pablo Montoya did in 2014. Over 226 career starts, Ambrose has two victories with 18 top-fives and 46 top-10s. This year has been a struggle for him, but coming off of a top-10 finish at Phoenix – Ambrose might end his full-time NASCAR career on a high note.

-Carl Edwards is running his final race for Roush Fenway Racing this weekend. He’s starting 15th in the No. 99 Ford, but he was 18th of 30 cars to run 10 straight laps in final practice. Edwards is on the move to a fourth car at Joe Gibbs Racing, and he’s going to be working with a new crew chief as well. Homestead will be the final race on the top of a pit box for veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig. Since joining Roush in 1997 with Mark Martin, he has won 38 races and the first Chase for the Sprint Cup championship format with Kurt Busch in 2004. The pair has struggled with the new ride height package this year, and that was a key for Edwards when he made the decision to leave the team.

-Trevor Bayne is running his last race for the Wood Brothers. He’s going to be replacing Edwards, but they’re rebranding the No. 99 team back to the legendary No. 6 Ford. Bayne has been with Roush since he left Michael Waltrip Racing’s developmental team in 2010. The 2011 Daytona 500 champion finished sixth in the Nationwide Series standings over the past two seasons, but he failed to score a victory in 2014.

-Kyle Larson is set to win the Sunoco Rookie of the Year title over Austin Dillon. The No. 42 team has been extremely impressive this year with eight top-fives and 17 top-10s for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates. With an average finish of 14.2, he is arguably the best rookie since Hamlin in 2006.

-This is ESPN’s final race broadcasting the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series – for now. For the next decade, the worldwide leader in sports won’t be telecasting NASCAR events. Instead, they have signed multiple on-air talents to continue coverage of the sport as NBC Sports will take over starting in 2015. It has been a long journey with ESPN, and they have helped the sport get noticed with long segments on their flagship show “SportsCenter.” Hopefully, they will continue their NASCAR coverage in 2015 and beyond in great ways like they have over the years.

Starting out from scratch last winter gave Rodney Childers a chance to start fresh. After leaving Michael Waltrip Racing, he set his sights on one thing: the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship trophy.  

Childers and Kevin Harvick have gelled throughout the year. With four victories on the year, they have advanced to the championship round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup. However, there were plenty of times throughout the year where the team struggled.

The Stewart-Haas Racing crew has issues on pit road over the course of the season. That alone cost Harvick about two to three wins. But the real adversity came in the first half of the year. Recording four finishes of 36th or worse within the first two months of the 2014 season, Harvick dropped outside of the top-20 in points. Childers was a true leader and excelled when they needed to.

Setting their sights on the championship, the two went out and dominated Phoenix, in which they led a season-high 264 laps. Over the course of the year, the No. 4 car was out front for at least one lap in 26 of the 35 events. Moreover, he’s led 100 or more laps in nine events – proving why he is set to win his first Sprint Cup Series title.

“I feel like everything we did last week with our -- it was one and done,” said Harvick during the championship press conference on Wednesday evening. “The guys did a great job preparing the car, called a good race, had good pit stops.  I feel like they had more pressure last week than they did this week, so I feel like we've already experienced it, and it was just last week.  I feel like that was a good exercise as a team for us to go through, and you know, I just told everybody this week, just go out and do exactly what you did last week, and everybody knows what to expect.”

Winning a title would be the second in the team’s history. Team co-owner Tony Stewart took home the championship as an owner-driver in 2011. Since then, the organization has been plagued by inconsistency. Stewart was out of the seat for the latter part of the 2013 season, and missed a few races this year, which threw away his shot at winning another championship. Ryan Newman left the team for Richard Childress Racing after a few unsuccessful seasons full of being mediocre. Now, Newman is battling Harvick after they swapped organizations.

Showing speed since the first test with the new aero package last December, the No. 4 team has been the one to beat throughout the year. Stewart has been a big supporter of Harvick, and it has paid off for both sides.

“Well, I think the main thing was from the first test that they had in December after the season was over last year, they showed a lot of speed,” said Stewart. “You know, with this format, there's so many things that can go wrong, and one bad day can change the complexion of whichever phase of the Chase you're in at that time.”

Although Harvick doesn’t have the most victories out of the four drivers competing for the championship, he has led the most laps (2,083) and he’s shown the most speed throughout the year. Heading into Homestead, his biggest competition is going to be Joey Logano, who has five wins on the year. Logano has an average finish of 11.2, compared to Harvick’s 13.3.

With four victories at intermediate tracks this year, Harvick the edge over his competition. There would be nothing better for Childers to show that his decision to leave MWR has certainly been worthwhile. 

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