Matt Kenseth: ‘That’s the most competitive we’ve been at an intermediate track all season’

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FORT WORTH, Texas – A day after announcing he plans to step away from the Cup Series after the 2017 season, Matt Kenseth showed again Sunday why he isn’t ready to do so.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver led 29 laps and finished fourth in the AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, rebounding from starting 35th after being unable to post a qualifying lap because of Friday inspection failures.

It was the most laps led by Kenseth since the Sept. 9 race at Richmond International Raceway and his first top five since a third in the Sept. 24 race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“I felt like that’s the most competitive we’ve been at an intermediate track all season,” Kenseth said after his first top five at Texas in four years. “If we would have had our best setup at the end, we could have had a shot at winning the thing. It certainly was encouraging we ran better.”

During a taping of the NASCAR on NBC podcast Saturday, Kenseth revealed he would be taking an indefinite hiatus from NASCAR’s premier series because he didn’t have any current offers to drive a first-class ride.

He also lamented his team’s struggles in 2017, which he called “the most disappointing season I’ve ever had in my career for having equipment that is capable of winning races and championships … I got to take a lot of the blame because I’m the guy driving the race car, but it’s been so self-inflicted. We’ve made so many mistakes as a team.”

Sunday was mostly flawless until the end, though. Kenseth drove through the field early in the race on new tires (with the competition that made qualifying runs on tires that were scuffed Friday).

He gained 28 spots in 85 laps to finish seventh in the first stage, and crew chief Jason Ratcliff made a shrewd strategy call — pitting the No. 20 Toyota from the lead with 20 laps left in the second stage and taking the lead when the rest of the field stopped at the caution ending the stage.

Kenseth spent the next three restarts battling for the lead with runner-up Martin Truex Jr., who led a race-high 107 laps. He won one of those battles by seizing the lead from Truex on the inside, which is impressive given that Truex’s No. 78 has been the strongest car on 1.5-mile tracks this year.

“I thought we did everything right,” Kenseth said. “I thought we had good pit stops.”

Everything was good until after the final stop. Kenseth restarted fifth but couldn’t gain any ground.

“We just got really tight on that last set of tires,” he said. “I don’t know why, if it was just the track cooled down, and we didn’t realize it would change on us. We just got really tight on that last set, and I was just kind of stuck.”

But there still was something positive to take into Phoenix International Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway — possibly the last two races of Kenseth’s Cup career and certainly his last at Joe Gibbs Racing

“That was our worst run of the day, and it was still pretty competitive,” Kenseth said. “So it was nice to be competitive.”

Kevin Harvick penalized time in final Cup practice

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HOMESTEAD, Florida — Title contender Kevin Harvick will miss 15 minutes of Saturday’s final practice because of inspection issues last weekend at Phoenix.

Harvick is the only one among the four title contenders who will miss practice time Saturday.

Final practice is from 1 – 1:50 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

David Starr is the only driver who missed time in Saturday’s first practice. He missed 15 minutes because his team was late to qualifying inspection Friday.

Jimmie Johnson, David Ragan and Michael McDowell will each miss 30 minutes of final practice because their cars failed qualifying inspection three times Friday.

Harvick, Chase Elliott, Cole Whitt and Starr each will miss 15 minutes of final practice because their cars failed inspection twice before last weekend’s Phoenix race.

Austin Dillon and Matt DiBenedetto each will miss 15 minutes of final practice because their cars failed inspection before qualifying twice Friday.

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Justin Allgaier ‘in the best place mentally’ a year after disappointing title finish

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The biggest disappointment of Justin Allgaier‘s NASCAR career has turned into “the best thing that’s ever happened” to it.

It only took “about a week” for the 31-year-old driver to accept that.

The JR Motorsports’ driver is one of the four competing for the Xfinity Series title in today’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN).

It was in this race a year ago that Allgaier was within arm’s reach of a possible championship, his first in NASCAR.

But it was snatched away on the final restart.

With three laps to go, Allgaier restarted in the third row on the outside. In front of him was fellow championship driver Erik Jones. In front of Jones was Cole Whitt in a car normally found toward the back of the pack. Whitt had not pit under the caution because his team had used up its tire allotment.

Elliott Sadler (far right) and Daniel Suarez pull away on the final restart of last year’s Xfinity race at Homestead as Justin Allgaier (red car, middle) boxed in. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

At the green flag, Whitt spun his tires and backed-up the outside lane. That allowed Elliott Sadler and Daniel Suarez to get separation from Allgaier and Jones and race each other for the win and championship, which Suarez claimed.

“We’re sitting here and not standing on that (championship) stage over there like I think all of us would have liked to have been,” Allgaier said after he finished sixth.

Before Allgaier could come to terms with anything positive from the experience, he spent the following week just wanting to be left alone.

“If I could have locked myself in a dark room and not talk(ed) to anyone, I’d have been perfectly okay with that,” Allgaier said Thursday during the NASCAR championship media day in Miami Beach, Florida.

Allgaier got back in touch with those year-old feelings this week when he watched a replay of the race while flying to Florida.

“It still bugs me that we didn’t have a shot because of somebody else’s decision,” Allgaier said.

But Allgaier views the end of the 2016 race through a wiser lens. One where he accepts there’s only so much he can do in a 200-lap race against 39 other drivers.

“What if I had broken a transmission or run into the wall a little bit too hard on one of those times that I got (into) the wall like 37 times in the race last year and cut a tire?” Allgaier said. “What if a meteor fell out of the sky? … There’s so many things that, when you have 40 competitors on the racetrack every week, there’s so many things that can happen that are out of your control.”

His attitude has been helped by the best year of his career. Allgaier enters the championship race with a career-best two wins – including at his home track Chicagoland Speedway.

Allgaier also leads all Xfinity regulars with 497 laps led.

 “I look at 2017 as we have done everything we can do up to this point,” Allgaier said. “We’ve had the best race cars I’ve ever had. We’ve had great pit stops. We’ve got guys that work together on the race team that are incredible. I feel like for me personally I’m in the best shape of my life, on and off the track. I’m in the best place mentally.

“And at the end of the day, no matter what happens on Saturday night, I know that we have the best product on the racetrack and we’re in the best position we can be. And if it doesn’t work, it’s not because we weren’t in the right spot or because we didn’t do things right. It’s because circumstances are out of our control. And that’s taken so much pressure off of me this year.”

MORE: Previewing the Xfinity championship drivers

 

Goodyear signs extension with NASCAR

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HOMESTEAD, Florida — NASCAR announced Saturday a multi-year renewal with Goodyear for the company to be the series’ sole tire supplier. The deal goes through the 2022 season.

The move wasn’t in doubt with NASCAR and Goodyear having previously done tests for the 2018 season. Goodyear has been the exclusive tire supplier for all three of NASCAR’s top series since 1997. Goodyear has been a race tire supplier for NASCAR since 1954.

“We proudly join Goodyear in celebrating our renewed and longstanding partnership,” said Brent Dewar, NASCAR president, in a statement. “For more than half a century, NASCAR and our teams have trusted Goodyear tires. Our partners’ commitment to innovation and excellence plays a key role in our unyielding pursuit to deliver the best racing product in the world.”

Goodyear’s current five-year deal was set to expire after this season.

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Today’s Xfinity race at Miami: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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The Xfinity season comes to an end this afternoon with the Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Elliott Sadler, Justin Allgaier, Daniel Hemric and William Byron will race for title in the 200-lap race, which concludes the 33-race season that began in February at Daytona.

Below is all the vital info you need prior to the race.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Wild Bill Wichrowski from Discovery Channel’s “Deadliest Catch” will give the command to start engines at 3:37 p.m. Green flag is scheduled for 3:45 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 200 laps (300 miles) around the 1.5-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 45. Stage 2 ends at Lap 90.

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 7:30 a.m. Qualifying is slated for 11:15 a.m. Driver/crew chief meeting is 12:45 p.m. Driver introductions are at 3:05 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Jacqie Rivers wil perform the anthem at 3:31 p.m.

TV/RADIO:  Countdown to Green begins at 3 p.m. on NBCSN. NBCSN will air the race at 3:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race on radio and at mrn.com, starting with its pre-race show at 3 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts a temperature of 79 degrees and a four percent chance of rain at race time.

LAST TIME: Daniel Suarez won the race and clinched the series title, beating Ty Dillon and Elliott Sadler. Suarez led 133 laps from the pole to become the first foreign-born driver to win a national NASCAR title.

STARTING LINEUP: Qualifying is scheduled for 11:15 a.m.