Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s career best season continues, pit gamble leads to Richmond top five

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When the Toyota Owners 400 started, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. thought he had a top-five caliber car.

Even after a Lap 66 accident that put him in the wall, Stenhouse turned out to be right.

He managed to finish fourth thanks to a pit strategy that kept his No. 17 Ford on the track with five others during the final caution period Sunday at Richmond International Raceway.

Stenhouse’s partners in desperation were Kyle Larson, Chris Buescher, Martin Truex Jr., David Ragan and Cole Whitt.

The strategy wound up only benefiting Stenhouse and Truex, who finished 10th.

Stenhouse’s chance at redemption came thanks to a Ryan Blaney accident on Lap 378.

“I couldn’t run my fastest lap until about Lap 5 or 6,” Stenhouse said. “As soon as that caution came out, I was like, ‘We have to stay (out)’. It worked out for us.”

The Roush Fenway Racing driver earned his second top 10 in two weeks and his second top five of the year. The first, at Phoenix, also came about from pit strategy that kept Stenhouse out of the pits before the final restart.

The big difference between Sunday and the Phoenix race is how much time Stenhouse had to stay ahead of cars on fresh tires.

At Phoenix, Stenhouse only had to make it through a two-lap shootout. In Richmond, he had to endure 19 laps around the .75-mile track.

“I made it a lot of work for us there getting in the fence later in that first stage, and really we were fighting back all day from there,” Stenhouse said. “It was a no‑brainer there to stay out that last caution. I was glad it came out because I thought we missed the opportunity the run before to stay out. It worked out perfect.”

Stenhouse’s result is a career best at Richmond. His previous best in the last eight starts there was 10th in the fall 2013 race. It’s the fourth time in the last six races Stenhouse has earned a career best result at a track. He’s used his performances to rise to 15th in the points standings. In his fifth full Cup season, that’s the highest he’s ever been at this point in a season.

“I think you could say we’ve been a 10th‑place car on the short tracks and gambled some and had some good finishes,” Stenhouse said. “I’ve been finding a lot of success in that even if the car is not perfect, being able to change my adjustments and what I’m doing in the car to get the best out of it. It’s getting that way on (1.5-mile tracks) for sure. We’ve just got to keep building better cars and bringing faster cars to the racetrack and putting the whole weekend together, not making mistakes.”

Stenhouse and the No. 17 team now head to Talladega Superspeedway, where two of his nine Cup Series top fives have come. He finished fifth there last fall after leading six laps.

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Matt Kenseth: Brickyard 400 restarts ‘kind of ridiculous’

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Matt Kenseth came close to winning Sunday’s Brickyard 400, but ultimately finished fifth.

Kenseth called the race “kind of ridiculous” down the stretch because of the several restarts that brought about further havoc and wrecks.

Kenseth competed in his final Brickyard 400 for Joe Gibbs Racing. With his future uncertain and whether he’ll be able to continue racing in 2018, could Sunday have been the final Brickyard 400 of his career, much like good friend Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is retiring after this season?

Check out the video above for Kenseth’s comments on the race.

Rick Hendrick on Kasey Kahne’s future: ‘Our plans are not set for the No. 5 car’

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INDIANAPOLIS – Brickyard 400 winner Kasey Kahne has a contract for 2018 at Hendrick Motorsports but possibly doesn’t have a job next season.

Team owner Rick Hendrick confirmed Sunday night that “our plans are not set for the No. 5 car” after Kahne ended a 102-race winless streak in the Cup Series.

“There’s nothing concrete or done, and that hasn’t changed,” Hendrick said. “We’ll see how things shake out the rest of the year.  There’s a lot of things involved, sponsors and a lot of things we look at.  We’re going to try hard.  But there’s no decisions made at this time.”

Kahne felt the 18th victory of his career helped him make a case for staying in the No. 5 Chevrolet.

“I think this shows I still want to win races,” he said. “It shows I gave it all that I can to get a win and shows that I’m passionate about driving stock cars, and that I can still win races, too.

“I have a deal through 2018 with Hendrick Motorsports. I hear a lot of things, but it’s tough to say exactly what’s going to happen. I don’t know at this point and time. I know me and Mr. H will figure it out. I think this shows that I want to be and still have the drive and passion to do it, so I’m going to keep trying hard I know that.”

During a Sunday morning pre-race news conference to formally introduce Alex Bowman as the replacement next season for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Hendrick said he planned to run four cars next season but deflected a question about Kahne’s status (“that’s for another day”).

Xfinity Series rookie William Byron, who is under contract to Hendrick, would be an option for the No. 5 Chevrolet, but Hendrick said “we’re not ready to cross that bridge yet” when asked about Byron’s Cup future.

Kahne is ranked 22nd in the points standings with only four top 10s in 20 races this season.

“When you’ve had a rough road, your confidence gets down,” Hendrick said. “He said, ‘I know I can do it. The harder I try, the more it seems like I have this rough bad luck.’

“Something like this (win) can be really good for any guy to have, the whole team, to have confidence.  … All I can say about Kasey is he shows up, he shows up on time, and he shows up on time with his game face on, and he puts in the effort. Sometimes it just takes a break.  But he’s done everything.  I know in his heart he wants to do it.  He’s trying, so … ”

Ryan Newman on Brickyard 400: ‘That’s not racing, just craziness’

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Ryan Newman was in the right place at the right time in Sunday’s Brickyard 400, finishing third.

It was Newman’s second-best finish of 2017 after his win earlier this year at Phoenix.

But Newman, who is never afraid to speak his mind, did just that after Sunday’s race. Even with his strong finish, he echoed the comments of several other drivers that the racing action — particularly restarts — by saying, “That’s not racing, just craziness.”

Check out what Newman had to say in the video above.

Joey Logano’s fourth-place finish is bittersweet as playoff chances dip

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Joey Logano had a bittersweet day in Sunday’s Brickyard 400.

He finished a strong fourth in the incident-filled 24th edition of the Brickyard 400. It was just Logano’s second top-five finish and third top-10 showing in the last 11 races.

But there was also bad news, too.

Kasey Kahne‘s win knocked Logano further back in his bid to rejoin the top-16 drivers eligible for the upcoming NASCAR playoffs. With Clint Bowyer dropping out of the top-16 and Kahne moving into playoff contention, Logano has slipped back to 18th place in the playoff-eligible standings.

As a result, Logano all but has to win one of the next six races to qualify for the playoffs — unless he can point his way in with continued strong top-five finishes.

Logano talked about the situation he faces with NBC Sports after Sunday’s race. Click on the above video to see what he had to say.