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Matt Kenseth not worried about JGR’s slow start in 2017

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Given how the four Joe Gibbs Racing NASCAR Cup teams have fared in the first two races of 2017, some observers might ask “What’s wrong with JGR?”

Two races into the season and at 15th in the standings, Matt Kenseth is the highest-ranked JGR driver, followed by Denny Hamlin (18th), Kyle Busch (24th) and rookie Daniel Suarez (30th).

Don’t count Kenseth among the naysayers. He’s adopted a “What, me worry? Nah.” attitude.

Well, I mean, man, you’re only two weeks in,” Kenseth said Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. “Really it’s hard to count Daytona. It’s so easy to get caught up in a wreck there, and like our wreck at Daytona, I really didn’t have anything to do with that. We were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, so there’s just nothing you can do about that.

“I don’t put a lot of stock in where you leave in the points standings after Daytona. I just never have because it doesn’t really have much to do with the rest of the season.”

Hamlin, the 2016 Daytona 500 winner, could not repeat in this year’s edition of the “Great American Race,” finishing 17th, tops of the four JGR drivers.

Suarez was next among the Gibbs crew (29th), followed by Kyle Busch (38th) and Kenseth (40th).

This past Sunday at Atlanta, Kenseth rebounded from his Daytona showing to become the highest-finishing JGR and Toyota-powered driver at third place.

Busch was next at (16th), followed by Suarez (21st) and Hamlin (38th).

Still, it’s not a lot to concern Kenseth this early in the season.

“Last week, Denny had mechanical failure, not sure about Kyle,” Kenseth said. “I thought we ran pretty well really the whole day. We just had those (two) speeding penalties.

“As far as that, we knew they added segments, it’s just you go through the segments pretty fast. When they’re twice as long, even if you’re not trying to cheat a segment or do something like that, if you look away for a second at your pit stall or whatever and you get going a little bit, you’ve got some room to slow down and correct because they’re timed segments. Where now you went through them last weekend so fast like if you ever did get one light over or whatever, there was no time to correct.

“But for us we just had the stuff set too aggressively, and I think especially after they changed something at track, you’ve just got to kind of start over and get a good baseline and err to the slow side and then go from there for the next race.”

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Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne fastest in first Cup practice at Loudon

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Kyle Larson was fastest in Friday’s lone NASCAR Cup practice session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Larson covered the 1.058-mile flat track at 135.714 mph, followed by Kyle Busch (135.342) and Kasey Kahne (135.198).

Points leader and Chicagoland winner Martin Truex Jr. was the early speed leader before the other three surpassed his speed, dropping him to fourth (135.188 mph).

Ryan Blaney was fifth (135.030 mph), followed by Denny Hamlin (134.973), Matt Kenseth (134.901), Erik Jones (134.606), Jamie McMurray (134.340) and Kurt Busch (134.240).

Jones was the only non-playoff driver in the top 10.

Two incidents occurred within minutes of each other and involved Hendrick Motorsports teammates.

About 21 minutes into the session, Jimmie Johnson hit the Turn 3 wall, his No. 48 Chevrolet suffering heavy right rear damage.

About 10 minutes later, Chase Elliott drifted up the track and couldn’t catch his No. 24 Chevy before it skimmed the wall.

Both drivers went to backup cars as a result.

MORE: Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott hit wall early in practice

Even in backup cars, both drivers struggled for speed.

Johnson was 22nd fastest (133.021 mph), while Elliott was 32nd (131.320 mph).

Other playoff drivers that struggled included Austin Dillon (23rd, 133.017) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (24th, 132.836).

The only other Cup related on-track action takes place late this afternoon at 5:15 p.m. ET with qualifying for Sunday’s ISM Connect 300.

The Cup cars have two additional practice sessions on Saturday.

Jimmie Johnson, Chase Elliott hit wall early in practice

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LOUDON, New Hampshire – Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Chase Elliott each hit the Turn 3 wall within minutes of each other in Friday’s opening practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Both will go to backup cars.

Johnson slammed the wall on his second lap of practice. He had recorded what was the second-fastest lap of the session on the previous lap before drifting from the top lane and bouncing off the Turn 3 wall the next time by. Johnson drove the car back to the garage but his team quickly unloaded a backup car. Johnson’s incident happened 21 minutes into the 85-minute session.

“I just got in there with a lot of speed and anticipated it sticking and it didn’t quite stick,” Johnson told NBCSN. “Definitely not the way we wanted to start.”

Elliott hit the wall less than 10 minutes after Johnson. He also drove his car back to the garage.

Elliott is without crew chief Alan Gustafson and car chief Joshua Kirk this weekend. NASCAR suspended both one race, along with docking Elliott and the team 15 points each, for modifying components to affect aerodynamic properties of the car last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

“It’s not what we needed,” Elliott told NBCSN, adding his car also didn’t stick when he went into Turn 3. “We’re behind this weekend and that is never good.”

NBCSN’s Marty Snider reported that Elliott’s team did not plan to run the backup car in this session – the only session before qualifying today. Johnson made it on track in his backup car with less than 15 minutes left in the session.

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Cup playoff contenders docked practice time

Cup playoff contenders docked practice time
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LOUDON, New Hampshire – Playoff contenders Martin Truex Jr. and Jamie McMurray will each miss 30 minutes of practice in Saturday’s final session at New Hampshire Motor Speedway for inspection issues last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

Both are being docked practice time because each car failed inspection before the race three times at Chicagoland.

Daniel Suarez and Erik Jones each will miss 15 minutes of the 50-minute final practice session Saturday because their cars failed inspection twice before last weekend’s race at Chicagoland.

Final Cup practice will be from 11:30 a.m. to 12:20 p.m. ET Saturday.

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Friday’s schedule for New Hampshire (Cup, Trucks) and Kentucky (Xfinity)

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In what will be a busy weekend,  on-track action starts today at both New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Kentucky Speedway.

The Cup Series will have one practice and qualifying in Loudon. The Truck Series will have two practices there.

At Kentucky, the Xfinity Series will have two practice sessions in preparation for Saturday’s race there.

Here is today’s schedule for both tracks:

(All times are Eastern):

At NEW HAMPSHIRE

9 a.m. – 7 p.m. – Cup garage open

11:30 a.m. – 12:55 p.m. – Cup practice (NBCSN)

11:30 a.m. – 6:30 p.m. – Truck garage open

1:30 p.m. – 2:25 p.m. – First Truck practice (FoxSports1)

3:30 p.m. – 4:25 p.m. – Final Truck practice (FS1)

5:15 p.m. – Cup qualifying (multi-vehicle, three rounds) (NBCSN, Performance Racing Network)

At KENTUCKY

1:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. – Xfinity garage open

4 – 4:55 p.m. – Xfinity practice (NBCSN)

6:30 p.m. – 7:25 p.m. – Final Xfinity practice (NBCSN)