How the final call for two tires cost Matt Kenseth a victory at New Hampshire

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LOUDON, New Hampshire – It was a calm, cordial postrace debriefing in front of the No. 20 Toyota at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

No angry gestures from the driver. No shaken fists in frustration by the crew chief.

A lot has happened to Matt Kenseth and Jason Ratcliff over the past week – they both learned they were losing their jobs at Joe Gibbs Racing, and on Sunday, they lost a race – but the pair seemed to take it in stride despite the gut-wrenching reality they missed a golden opportunity to qualify for the playoffs in their final season together.

If Kenseth takes four tires – instead of two right sides – on his final pit stop, he almost assuredly would have snapped a yearlong winless streak with his first victory of the season.

“Without a doubt,” Ratcliff said. “Yeah.

“It’s disappointing. I feel we did everything we needed to win today other than that call at the end.”

Aside from Dale Earnhardt Jr., who took the lead by staying on the track, every car but Kenseth’s pitted for four tires during the final yellow on Lap 262 of 301.

Kenseth snatched the lead from Earnhardt on the Lap 267 restart but quickly was gobbled up by teammate Denny Hamlin, who led the final 34 laps to deliver JGR its first win of 2017. Kenseth hung on for fourth.

It was the latest in a string of tough news for the 2003 champion, who revealed last weekend he was looking for a ride and whose replacement was revealed by the team Tuesday.

The first person to greet him exiting the car was team owner Joe Gibbs, who said in a prerace interview with NBCSN’s Marty Snider that Kenseth “is a great driver with a lot of talent, and we hate the fact we will be racing against him in the future. We got put in a situation, with a lot of things happening to our race team over a period of a year-and-a-half, where we wound up at this spot. We did not want to be here, but we had to make a decision.”

After tossing his heel pads in the car and swigging an orange Gatorade, Kenseth (who apparently has no firm prospects for 2018) defended Ratcliff’s decision while also conceding it left with him with no chance.

“You had to have good left sides to take off today,” he said. “We got ate up those first few laps. I just couldn’t hang on on two tires. Typically you can get away with that. Four tires made big charges all day long. When we were only ones on (two), we were in big trouble.

“It’s a tough one when you’re leading. I’ve seen two tires and four tires win this race numerous times. That’s a tough one to make from the (pit) box. I’ve screwed up way more stuff than (Ratcliff) has. If five or six more cars (took two tires), we’d have a shot.”

Ratcliff, who told NBC Sports after the race that he was also out of the No. 20 beyond 2017, said Kenseth might have won if only three more cars had taken two tires.

“I felt like in five laps, we were matching the time of the leader, it just takes a little while for the right-side pressures to come up,” he said. “I was just playing the track position game, and I felt other guys would do it.

“I don’t know. Obviously it was the wrong call for us, but if I’m running sixth, I’m not going to put four tires on my car to finish sixth. I guess I’m the only guy that thinks that way, but it beat me today, so I’m the one who needs to change my way of thinking.”

With Kenseth possibly needing to make the 16-driver playoff field on points, Ratcliff gambled on finishing second in the first stage and then pitting. Kenseth spent most of the second stage buried in traffic.

That was why Ratcliff decided to make the final call for two tires when the caution flew two laps after Kenseth had taken the lead from Martin Truex Jr., who led a race-high 137 laps.

“I just didn’t want to lose our track position was the biggest thing,” Ratcliff said. “Earlier in the day we lost our track position, and it was just so hard to get by guys when the tires wore off the car. I knew if a few guys took rights, and we got jumbled up in there, we may be able to get two of them but not the last one. At the old Loudon, 25 laps on the left sides, it was thing to do. I know things are different in this day and time with less (downforce). I really thought guys running further back would try that.”

Kenseth did gain a cushion in the battle for the last playoff spot, moving 52 points ahead of Joey Logano.

“We’ll all remember the strategy call that cost us one, but we accumulated some points, which is important now,” Ratcliff said. “Although I don’t know if points would be a big deal sitting in victory lane.

“It’s a Catch-22. We’re in an odd spot where you have to win, but points are a huge deal right now for us. … Hopefully we can carry momentum to the next week. Maybe the frustration of knowing we had a winning car and losing. Hopefully we can take that, bottle it and let it motivate us to do better the next week.”

NASCAR America: Scan All from the Brickyard 400

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Kasey Kahne has dreamed of winning at Indianapolis Motor Speedway ever since he first visited the track in 1999 as a kid fresh from his home in Washington.

The dream came true on Sunday with his victory in the Brickyard 400.

Kahne recounts how he won Sunday’s race in this week’s “Scan All,” which again presents the best scanner traffic from the 24th Brickyard 400.

The highlights include.

  • “That will make for a fun Tuesday.” – Matt Kenseth‘s reaction to the Lap 111 crash involved his teammate Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. Tuesdays are when Joe Gibbs Racing holds a weekly meeting between drivers. It’s also happens to be the day “Scan All” airs.
  • “The 41 is melting down right now.” – Jame McMurray’s assessment of Kurt Busch after a bit of close racing between the two of them on a restart. Busch sarcastically clapped as McMurray drove by him under caution.
  • “(Expletive) Danica! (Expletive) her!” – Clint Bowyer‘s reaction his hard crash that involved Kurt Busch and Erik Jones. Patrick, who was running in front of Bowyer, wasn’t involved in the crash.
  • “Damn it, we had that thing won!” – Jimmie Johnson after his crash in Turn 3 on Lap 158 while racing three-wide with Kahne and Brad Keselowski.

Watch the above video for the full “Scan All” experience.

Landon Cassill: ‘Still haven’t really wrapped my head around’ Brickyard penalty for disobeying red flag

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Landon Cassill said Tuesday he is still trying to understand the situation that resulted in his Brickyard 400 ending in the garage after NASCAR parked his No. 34 Ford for not heeding a red flag during the overtime period of the race.

Cassill was parked on Lap 162 after he continued to pit road when the red flag had been displayed for a wreck on the first overtime restart. The field was stopped in Turn 4.

After the race Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR executive vice president and chief racing development officer, said Cassill was parked because he “disobeyed a red flag.”

NASCAR’s official infraction report says Cassill was parked for “pulling up to pit.”

Cassill, taking part in a Goodyear tire test at Dover International Speedway, said he, his crew chief Seth Barbour and the team’s two spotters did not see the red flag displayed.

“I still haven’t really wrapped my head around it completely,” Cassill said. “They themselves did not see the red flag while I was rolling, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t out, I guess. The button they push in timing and scoring to trigger the red (flag) in their system is different than the flag man actually displaying the red flag. The flag man displaying the flag is what we have to work off of as drivers. It could have been the flag man had the red flag out the whole and the four of us as a team just missed it. That’s kind of why I kept rolling. I am very understanding of the rule and why it is what it is.”

With Cassill parked, the race ended on Lap 167. The Front Row Motorsports driver placed 22nd with his third DNF of the season.

Despite how it ended, Cassill earned his best result at a track other than a restrictor-plate track since he finished 21st at Kansas Speedway in May.

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NASCAR America airs live 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN: Brad Keselowski extension, Scan All

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs for an hour beginning at 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN and continues to breakdown all the big stories from the Brickyard 400.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Steve Letarte, Slugger Labbe and Parker Kligerman in Stamford, Connecticut.

On today’s show:

· The Silly Season brings more news for next season. Brad Keselowski will stay with Team Penske after agreeing to a multi-year contract extension. How does this impact others drivers potentially needing rides for 2018?

· Kasey Kahne became the 12th driver to virtually guarantee himself a playoff spot due to his Brickyard 400 win. Steve and Slugger will see how Kahne’s win impacted the playoff picture and focus on those drivers who have to clinch a spot.

· If you thought the Brickyard 400 was chaotic. Just wait until you see the race from the teams’ point of view in today’s edition of Scan All: Indianapolis.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, you can also watch it via the online stream at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com

If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. defends crew chief Greg Ives’ performance

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Dale Earnhardt Jr. said he had heard enough “chatter” from fans about crew chief Greg Ives that he needed to tell them to “shut THAT (expletive) down.’’

Earnhardt, in his final full-time season driving in Cup, sent the tweet after exiting Sunday’s Brickyard 400 because of contact on a restart damaged his car. He finished 36th.

Some fans were upset about Ives’ pit strategy before the incident. Earnhardt could have stayed out on a caution at Lap 72 with others. Had he done so, Earnhardt would have restarted fifth. Instead, Ives called him to pit road and Earnhardt restarted 24th.

Ives told NBC Sports that it was an easy call because of what he felt was the difference between old tires and new tires. With what he thought would be a limited cushion of cars between Earnhardt and those with new tires on the restart, Ives said it was best to pit.

On the restart, the field got jumbled and Earnhardt ran into the back of Trevor Bayne’s car, damaging the radiator on Earnhardt’s Chevrolet.

It was another disappointing finish for Earnhardt, who needs a win to make the playoffs. He is 22nd in the points with one top five and four top-10 finishes in 20 races. He’s led 24 laps this season. 

As some fans complained about the strategy, Earnhardt reacted with the tweet.

Earnhardt explained during a break in tire testing Tuesday at Dover International Speedway why he sent the note to his fans.

“I just have heard the chatter over the season,’’ Earnhardt said. “We’ve had a difficult year and there’s just been a little rumbling in the background from the fans. They just love to target the crew chief. Our struggles are no one individual’s responsibility.

“I think that being my crew chief, we have such a very passionate fan base, very large fan base, it’s a challenging position for anybody. I’ve seen that with all the guys that I’ve worked with and they’ve all had to deal with criticism, was it the right call this week, what about the next week? They just get really picked apart.

“This is our last season. We’ve had some pretty difficult results and had opportunity to be frustrated and miserable, but I don’t want this season to be remembered by my crew chief, by myself, by my guys as a miserable time. The fans have an influence on that. They can definitely ease up a little bit on Greg and realize that he’s extremely talented, he’s in that position for a reason.’’

Ives has been praised for how he kept the team together after Earnhardt was out 18 races because of concussion symptoms. Jeff Gordon and Alex Bowman drove the No. 88 Chevrolet in Earnhardt’s absence. Hendrick Motorsports announced last week that Bowman will take over Earnhardt’s ride next season.

Earnhardt, who will join NBC Sports’ broadcast team next year, said he can’t wait to watch Bowman and Ives next year.

“He’s going to have incredible success beyond my driving career as a crew chief at HMS, and I look forward to seeing that happen as soon as next season with Alex,’’ Earnhardt said Tuesday of Ives. “He was able to work with Alex in a matter of a few weeks and have Alex up to speed, confident and fast and almost winning races. (Ives) won a championship with Chase (Elliot) in the Xfinity Series. He won five championships with Jimmie Johnson as the lead engineer.

“Maybe Twitter ain’t the place to be drawing attention to things like that. You just hear enough chatter through the course of a long period of time. It wasn’t something that happened that particular weekend. … It’s not OK to be a fan and dog the crew. You’re a fan of the team. I know it’s important that they embrace the crew chief, the guys on the crew, the mechanics, the tire changers, they’ve got to embrace the whole thing.’’

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