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.”

NASCAR America: The challenges of Martinsville Speedway

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What Martinsville Speedway lacks in size compared to other tracks it makes up in difficulty say drivers and NASCAR America’s analysts.

Landon Cassill joined Carolyn Manno, Parker Kligerman and Jeff Burton on Thursday’s show and discussed the challenges of the half-mile paperclip track.

“It can be fun when it’s going well,’’ said Cassill, who will make his Cup season debut this weekend in the No. 00 for StarCom Racing. “That place, if you’re car is not handling well, you can end up going backwards and just by the time you’ve got some clear race track the leader is right behind you. So it can be frustration. I tend to like Martinsville.’’

Kligerman calls racing in the pack at Martinsville Speedway “the most aggressive racing I’ve ever been a part of in my life.’’

Jeff Burton said: “It’s … one of the hardest race tracks we go to period because you have to do it lap after lap after lap and it’s so easy to get, quite simply, just really, really mad at the guy you’re racing with because he’s hitting you and he’s banging on you.’’

Cup drivers have their description of the track. See what NASCAR America’s analysts and Cup drivers have to say about the track that hosts Sunday’s Cup race in the video above.

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Richard Childress Racing reinstates Xfinity crew chief Nick Harrison

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Richard Childress Racing has reinstated Nick Harrison to crew chief  of the No. 3 Xfinity team after he served a five-race suspension for a violation at Daytona International Speedway. 

Harrison’s first race back will be April 8 at Texas.

Harrison was suspended after the No. 3 car of Austin Dillon had a rear suspension violation in pre-qualifying inspection. Harrison and the team’s car chief were ejected by NASCAR after the violation. RCR imposed the suspension.

“I’m looking forward to being back with my team and winning races after my five-race suspension,” Harrison said in a statement from the team.

Brandon Thomas served as the interim crew chief while Harrison was out. Austin Dillon finished a season-best fourth for the team last weekend at Auto Club Speedway.

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NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Martinsville breakdown, Aric Almirola and Bubba Wallace

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features host Carolyn Manno and Parker Kligerman in Stamford, Connecticut, and Jeff Burton and Landon Cassill from Burton’s Garage.

Among the topics today:

  •  Prepare for paint swapping, bent fenders, and bruised egos. It’s time to go short-track racing at Martinsville Speedway! Jeff, Parker and Landon will tell you what to expect this weekend at the famous half-mile. We’ll also see what it takes to succeed there, as Parker takes us for some quick laps in the NBCSN iRacing Simulator.
  • After making the switch to Stewart-Haas Racing in the offseason, Aric Almirola is off to the best start of his Cup Series career. Currently 10th in the standings, he’ll tell Marty Snider about his early season success.
  • Since finishing second at the Daytona 500, rookie driver Bubba Wallace has cooled off. Now he faces his first Cup Series start at Martinsville in the iconic No. 43 car, and he’s feeling confident — it’s where Wallace scored his first truck series win nearly five years ago. We’ll examine the struggles he might have to work through this season and also hear his reflections on his early years of racing in the latest edition of “A Driver’s Drive.”

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

Weekend schedule for NASCAR at Martinsville Speedway

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NASCAR returns to its backyard this weekend after the three week West Coast swing.

The Cup and Camping World Truck Series visit Martinsville Speedway in Southern Virginia.

The weekend is capped off by Sunday’s STP 500. It will be the first Cup race broadcast on Fox Sports 1 this year.

Here’s the full weekend schedule complete with TV and radio info.

(All times are Eastern)

Friday, March 23

8:30 a.m. – 6 p.m. — Truck garage opens

11:05 – 11:55 a.m. — Truck practice (No TV)

1:05 – 1:55 p.m. — Truck practice (Fox Sports 1)

3:05 – 3:55 p.m. — Final Truck practice (FS1)

Saturday, March 24

7 a.m. – 8 p.m. — Cup garage open

7:30 a.m. — Truck garage opens

10:05 – 10:55 a.m. — Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

11:05 a.m. — Truck qualifying; multi-truck/three rounds (FS1)

12:15 p.m. — Truck driver-crew chief meeting

12:30 – 1:20 p.m. — Final Cup practice (FS1, MRN)

1:30 p.m. — Truck driver introductions

2 p.m. — Alpha Energy Solutions 250; 250 laps/131.5 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

5:10 p.m. — Cup qualifying; multi-car/three rounds (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

Sunday, March 25

9:30 a.m. — Cup garage opens

Noon — Driver-crew chief meeting

1:20 p.m. — Driver introductions

2 p.m. — STP 500; 500 laps/263 miles (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)