Tag: Matt Kenseth

NASCAR In An Interesting Box

Hindsight is always 20/20, so looking back at NASCAR’s decision of an emphasis on winning it shouldn’t be surprising that tempers are flaring at every turn. With time running out before the season finale, another flare up at the Texas Motor Speedway has again put NASCAR in an interesting box.

Post-race fisticuffs have demonstrated that NASCAR handles it as a crap shoot. For the most part financial penalties are used. Precedence for this year includes the famous Ambrose v. Mears situation from Richmond in May, and then there was Charlotte just last month.

In that instance, at Charlotte, Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, and Brad Keselowski were involved in post-race shoving matches. On the track, Keselowski and Tony Stewart used their cars to point out their frustrations. Keselowski and Stewart got fines and probation for the use of their cars. Hamlin and Kenseth on the other hand, walked away without any penalty. This seems to fit into how NASCAR has made on track safety a priority after the death of a sprint car driver in August during an altercation with Stewart.

On Sunday there was no on track altercation, minus the contact between Jeff Gordon and Keselowski that led to Gordon losing a tire late in the race and his temper after the race. The race was over and once the cars were parked on pit road, Gordon came down to talk to Keselowski about what happened. While Gordon was yelling at Keselowski and being held back by crew members, Kevin Harvick shoved Keselowski close to Gordon, close enough for Gordon to grab onto Keselowski’s uniform and then it was chaos as crew members all piled on top of the drivers. Once it was broken up Gordon had a fat lip and Keselowski had blood on him, presumably not his own.

So what to do this time around? No drivers used their cars to settle scores, so the fine and probation route that was seen at Charlotte is null. Even though both Gordon and Keselowski were left bloodied, neither landed a punch on each other. In fact, it was a crew member of Gordon’s who landed a punch on Keselowski. This then makes the Ambrose/Mears precedent null because no drivers struck one another. That time around Ambrose landed a right hook on Mears’ face, which led to NASCAR having to act.

Then there is the Kevin Harvick variable in all of this. Harvick threw no punches, but was the clear catalyst for the whole scene. His shove of Keselowski got him close enough for Gordon to act and then all Hell broke loose. How should he be penalized and should he be penalized for his part?

The answer to what should happen is simple, no penalties. Add to it that Keselowski’s probation from Charlotte should have no bearing since he did nothing but be a punching bag on pit road. On the track his move that drew the ire of Gordon was a racing moving, he went for a hole between Gordon and eventual race winner Jimmie Johnson, and the hole closed up. There’s nothing that NASCAR can or should do to penalize that, it’s just racing. Based on what we saw from Charlotte, tackling a competitor is ok in NASCAR’s mind, so that will clear both Keselowski and Gordon in all of this. Looking at Harvick, I can’t imagine he’ll be penalized based on that as well, especially because all he did was shove Keselowski then get the heck out of there.

While NASCAR is likely to come out and condone the actions of Sunday night, in private they will be loving this. This “boys have at it” type feuding has brought a buzz and excitement to the sport it hasn’t seen in a long time. If the temperature keeps rising, one can only imagine what the scene will be at Homestead in two weeks for the finale.

That kind of unknown anticipation should bring a lot of people either to the track to see it or on TV to watch what might happen. Should everything go well, you know there will be clips from this Chase that NASCAR will make into commercials to promote the new Chase.

If not NASCAR, then Texas Motor Speedway will jump at the chance to promote these antics. Jimmie Johnson ran away with the race on Sunday, one of the more boring races of the season, but no one will remember that. The new Chase is here along with a new era of NASCAR racing, where winning is everything.

Commentary: Defending Keselowski

Bank_Of_America_500_14_Charlotte_Brad_Keselowski_Denny_HamlinTempers and the pressure of the Chase got to a few drivers last night unlike any that we’ve seen in recent times. Brad Keselowski tried to pick fights with Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin, which inadvertently involved Tony Stewart in some post-race fireworks. Many fans on Twitter have taken to calling out Keselowski for his actions, but I am here to defend him.

Because I had picked Keselowski to win last night, I made it a point to listen to his in-car audio throughout the duration of the Bank of America 500 from the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Coming to the first run-in with Kenseth, after it happened, Keselowski and spotter Joey Meier tried to figure out what happened. Eventually Meier concluded he might have missed Kenseth, but there was no room up high anyways.

As the race continued on, an event happened that no one in the reporting world (on Twitter at least) noted until it was mentioned at the end of that race. Kenseth had gotten the lucky dog pass, and as he made his way on the high side around the field to get his lap back, he turned into the side of Keselowski’s Ford. This damaged the right front and relegated them to “junk” as Keselowski put it.

At that point, Keselowski began suggesting he would pay Kenseth a “friendly” visit after the race to discuss what happened. Again he, crew chief Paul Wolfe, and spotter Meier went back to the original incident to recall if they had been in error, coming to the same conclusion.

On the final restart Keselowski scrapped with Hamlin and there was no talk of retaliation on that front. My opinion is Keselowski was dead set on getting to Kenseth, but before he could do that on the cool down lap, Hamlin brake checked Keselowski. An already mad Keselowski then added Hamlin to his hit list; trying to spin out Hamlin, without much success.

Then it was on to finding Kenseth and I’m going to deviate for a second here. What got Hamlin and Kenseth so fired up was that Keselowski hit Kenseth’s car while he had his seat belts undone. That is inexcusable in itself and NASCAR should review the cool down lap procedures. When a driver is in a vehicle going around the race track, going five mph or 200 mph, he should be belted in.

On Twitter I got some flack, with people saying “it is a known procedure to loosen belts on cool down laps,” which is a terrible defense. That’s the same kind of defense that came up when Tony Stewart had his unfortunate accident in August, where it was known that people get out of their cars to confront drivers. It took tragedy to have NASCAR and other sanctioning bodies to step in and enforce rules to keep drivers in the cars. Now I believe NASCAR needs to step in and stop this habit right here because these post-race bumps happen more often than you think.

Back on track, Keselowski and Kenseth make contact, of which it causes Keselowski to get into Tony Stewart’s car. Funniest part of this is how Stewart reacted; by gunning it in reverse to run into Keselowski’s car. Then on pit road Hamlin and Keselowski make more contact before going to the garage, where Hamlin has to be restrained from coming after Keselowski.

See, here again, Keselowski calmly got out of his car, but it is Hamlin who is flipping out to get to him. Hamlin should remember how tangling with a Team Penske driver worked out in the past. Anyways, I’m still confused how Hamlin, who started it by brake checking Keselowski and now trying to fight Keselowski, is coming off as more of a saint than Keselowski.

By the time they defuse the Hamlin bomb, Kenseth comes out of nowhere to tackle Keselowski between the haulers. Again, Kenseth put his nose where it shouldn’t have been, takes a cheap shot at Keselowski while getting his lap back, then takes exception to the retaliatory bump on the cool down lap. How did you not see that coming Kenseth? How did you not think, “Gee, this guy might get back at me.”? How is his spotter not keeping him informed that Keselowski is coming?

I think Keselowski had it correctly in his comments afterwards, saying “those guys can dish it out, but they can’t take it. I gave it back to them and now they want to fight, so I don’t know what’s up with that.”

That’s exactly it, Hamlin and Kenseth can be on the offensive, but once they are put on the defensive, they wig out. The television can only show what they capture, it was dumb luck a cameraman was following Keselowski when Kenseth tackled him. Imagine what else they would have seen had they been following around Saint Hamlin and Saint Kenseth the whole time.

Who Will Be First Out Of The Chase?

The champagne has dried from the celebration Saturday night in Richmond over the 16 drivers who got into the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Now comes the reality check that four of those drivers will be booted from the playoff bracket once the checkered flag falls at Dover in three weeks.

What’s exciting about this year’s Chase is the idea that even one bad run can be erased with a victory in the three race window. Not finish Chicagoland and win New Hampshire, then you’re cruising into the Contender (second) round. Finish near the top at Chicagoland and New Hampshire, then not finish Dover, and you could be on the outside looking in.

The opening round will be the easiest to make predictions on who will not move on, because like all sports it’s easy to identify the weak links. As you progress, the competition gets stronger and you’d be better off throwing a dart at a wall than make an educated guess.

Here’s my prediction on who will not make it out of the Challenger (first) round of the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup (no particular order, done alphabetical):

AJ Allmendinger

It has been a great year for Allmendinger and his JTG-Daugherty Racing team. They got the monkey off their back with a victory at Watkins Glen, which punched their ticket into the Chase. The problem is this single car team is despite all the support they get from Richard Childress Racing, it’s still David vs. Goliath for them. Allmendinger admitted after Richmond that he drove a less than good car that race because they were saving their best for these three races. I believe that their best is still light years behind the bests of other organizations. This is not a knock, but reality. That said, they have a lot to build on and hang their hat on for this season.

Aric Almirola

This paragraph is going to sound a lot like Allmendinger’s above, Almirola picked up the random win at the rain-shortened race at Daytona in July. He’s been good this season, but without the win, we wouldn’t be talking about him now. He’s in the Chase and anything can happen, but most likely he will run decent with others out pacing him each of the three weeks. He and his Richard Petty Motorsports team have much to build on with this and the rumored alliance with Team Penske in the future, but for now it’ll be a quick three races and back to reality for the team.

Greg Biffle

Biffle tried everything in his power to not be in the Chase on Saturday night. He finished 19th and was just horrible out there. In a race where they had it nearly locked up, but anything could have happened, Biffle and his Roush Fenway Racing team brought a knife to a gun fight. He had positive vibes after the Richmond race based on testing at Chicagoland earlier in the year. I’m calling bull on that and he’s been mid-pack most of the season. It won’t take long until he’s bounced out of the Chase and we’re left wondering what is wrong with Roush Fenway Racing once again, despite having two out of three cars in the Chase this season.

Matt Kenseth

After racking up seven wins last season, how could Matt Kenseth have gone 26 races without a win? Well it happened, and Kenseth has been a slow sinking ship since the end of July. New Hampshire and Indianapolis saw back to back fourth place finishes. Then it was 38th at Pocono. He followed that with a ninth at Watkins Glen, then a 38th at Michigan. Bristol he was third, Atlanta he was second, and this past weekend he was 41st. That’s exactly how I opened this was someone doing well twice in a row, and then bombing out the third race. Without winning one of these races, I’m leaning towards it being a short post-season for Kenseth and his Joe Gibbs Racing bunch this year.

The Double Standard Of Sports

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NASCAR is no different than any other sports organizations when it comes to handing out punishments, yet exploiting it at the same time. This will happen again as Marcos Ambrose and Casey Mears were fined and put on probation. In time the footage that got them in trouble will be used for marketing purposes by NASCAR.

In the NFL, highlight reels are handed out of players hitting other players. Some of those hits cause concussions, which the NFL is trying to eliminate while using it to promote the hard hitting action each Sunday. The NHL plays hard open ice hits over and over that leave players bruised, battered, or worse.

This happens time after time in NASCAR.  There was outrage when Kevin Harvick confronted Greg Biffle after a 2002 Nationwide Series Bristol race. Now you can’t see a promo for Bristol without seeing that footage. Go back to 1979 when Donnie Allison, Bobby Allison, and Cale Yarborough’s fisticuffs at the end of the Daytona 500 have gone down NASCAR history lore.

I’m of the opinion that if NASCAR finds the need to fine drivers for “actions detrimental to stock car racing,” then NASCAR should not be allowed to exploit the footage. If they see an opportunity to use it in a promotion, then no disciplinary action should be taken, like when Carl Edwards and Brad Keselowski tangled in the “Boys Have At It” era.

I am not saying that fines and probation should not be used, because like Edwards and Keselowski proved, if left unchecked drivers will continue to push the  boundaries until it is painfully obvious NASCAR needs to step in.

What I am saying is NASCAR needs set the example, not condone actions while secretly hoping or pushing for conflict on the track. There also needs to be a clearer line of what is tolerated and what will not be tolerated. While Mears/Ambrose drew fines and penalties, Brad Keselowski’s brake checking and damaging Matt Kenseth, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and others was acceptable.

What Can We Learn From The Budweiser Duels?

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Last night’s Budweiser Duels provided an interesting insight into what we can expect in Sunday’s Daytona 500. With most of the early practices gear towards single car qualifying, it wasn’t until the Sprint Unlimited where we saw how the racing could be with this new package on the Daytona International Speedway.

Results there were of a wreckfest, with nearly have the field eliminated in accidents because cars were unstable and drivers were unused to the closing rates. Wednesday during practice we had a similar situation which saw more cars destroyed, and drivers opted not to practice much in the night time session.

What we saw in the Budweiser Duels was a lot different and should translate into the Daytona 500. Drivers raced side by side, but did so with caution they did not have prior. Whether this was because teams couldn’t afford to wreck any more cars or drivers got acclimated to the new package has yet to be seen. The first race went caution free and the second nearly went caution free, and that caution was due to Jimmie Johnson running out of fuel, not errors by any drivers.

Something that is a bit disturbing, from a fan’s perspective, is that there was very little movement in the top-5 during the final six laps of each race. The first Duel saw the same drivers who were first through fifth with six to go cross the finish line the same way to end the race. Second place Kevin Harvick was disqualified as his car fail post-race inspection, which throws this example off on paper.

In the second Duel, it was shaping up to finish the same way until Johnson ran out of fuel. That jumbled the order up, but the same drivers who were first, second, and third with six laps to go crossed the finish line as the top three drivers. Only Jeff Gordon managed to get past Kurt Busch for second place when it was all said and done.

Each race featured minimal lead changes (eight total between the two races) with five drivers leading 96.67% of the total laps run last night. The others who led did so because of pit stops or because they started on the front row.

Another indicator that drivers were happy riding last night is the average position of each driver. In the first race, the top four finishing drivers had the top four best average positions (minus Harvick, who had he finished second would have made it five for five). Kenseth and Earnhardt average a running position of fourth place (along with Harvick), Marcos Ambrose averaged a fifth place position and Kasey Kahne averaged a seventh place position.

The second race has nearly the same result with Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, and Kurt Busch among the best average running positions with seventh, third, and fourth respectfully. With the accident at the end it did drop drivers like Jamie McMurray (averaged eighth), Casey Mears (averaged eighth), and Carl Edwards (averaged sixth).

On the flip side, drivers who were out back didn’t really gain much by the race’s conclusion. The bottom three finishers in the first race had the worst three average running positions (excluding Harvick). In the second race, the fourth worst running drivers were aided by Brad Keselowski’s problems and Ryan Truex and Justin Allgaier were able to get past Michael Annett by the finish, who had a better average running position than both of them. This is a moot point for Truex, who missed the Daytona 500, whereas Allgaier and Annett both made it.

Passing as always will be critical and one thing did jump out at me when looking over the box score. Factoring in that each race only featured 24 drivers, there was a good number of drivers who were in the 90% of quality passes. Quality passes is a stat NASCAR keeps track of for every time a driver makes a pass of a car for position who’s running in the top-15. Marcos Ambrose led the way with 64 of his 64 passes being quality passes for a 100% mark. Others who rated high include: Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (96.3%), Brad Keselowski (92.9%), AJ Allmendinger (92.8%), Kurt Busch (91.9%), and Jimmie Johnson (90.6%).

I didn’t like that Earnhardt tried to go with Ryan Newman to the front in the closing laps of the first race, but Newman passed on the invitation citing it was too early and the bottom of the track wasn’t good for a run. I hope we see some racing near the end instead of just a single file line to the finish.

My theory is that during the Daytona 500 most drivers will be happy to ride single file if they can for as long as they can. There will be the traditional jockeying for position around mid-pack, but once someone gets to the lead they will try to stay there. This might mirror last year’s race, when Matt Kenseth put his Toyota on cruise control for much of the race until his engine expired. As the second race showed, when it comes to the end of the race, anything can happen and probably will.

Even if drivers want to stay single file, someone is going to try a move to position themselves to potentially win the Daytona 500. Not only would they gain the accolades of winning the Super Bowl of stock car racing,  the win could secure them into the Chase for the Sprint Cup after one race.

With the stakes that much higher we might see more moves than we did Thursday night when they were racing for starting position and not a points paying victory. The action gets underway at 1 PM EST and can be seen on FOX.