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Matt Kenseth focused on making playoffs, not 2018 plans

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Matt Kenseth, who holds the final playoff spot with three races to go, says he’s more focused on that than what he’ll do in 2018.

Kenseth does not have a ride for next year with Erik Jones replacing him at Joe Gibbs Racing after this season.

Asked if he had any plans for 2018 on Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway, Kenseth said: “No, not at the moment. When I do I’ll tweet something. Like on a Monday or something. No plans right now. Just raise kids and hang out with my family.

“I’ll be honest with you … I’m not worried about (2018) even really one percent anymore to be honest with you. I’m just not concerned about it. I’m really concerned about 2017 and that’s the truth. I mean we’ve got 13 races or something left. Three to try to get into … the playoffs. We’re not in there yet. Kind of got ran over at the end of the race last week by the 24 (Chase Elliott), trying to race him. But hopefully we get a win, get in the playoffs and try to race for a championship. That’s our goal every year, and really that’s what I’m been concentrating on.’’

Kenseth leads Clint Bowyer by 31 points heading into Saturday’s race at Bristol (7:30 p.m. ET on NBC). Kenseth was in position to build that lead last week until the final restart at Michigan. He restarted third but contact caused him to fall back. He finished 24th, the last car on the lead lap, breaking a streak of four consecutive top-10 finishes. Kenseth lost 21 points from where he restarted to where he finished.

Kenseth said his strategy hasn’t changed even with his position in the points.

“I’ve never been in a race I didn’t want to win,’’ he said. “I’ve never been in a race where I didn’t feel like I needed the win. I don’t know that it really changes. You know ever since Daytona we’ve been trying to win and know that quote unquote needed that win. To me it doesn’t really change. You’re going to race as hard as you can and try to get that win anytime you can.

“It’s really hard to win races at this level. I’ve been doing it a long time, really haven’t won that many races compared to how many I’ve started, so I realize how hard it is to win. You always try to take advantage of those opportunities if you have them.”

Kenseth has six career Cup wins on a short track. That ranks tied for fifth with Kevin Harvick behind Jimmie Johnson (14 wins), Kyle Busch (10), Kurt Busch (nine), Denny Hamlin (nine).

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Cup teams testing Tuesday, Wednesday at Chicagoland Speedway

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Ten Cup teams are scheduled to take part in an organizational test today and Wednesday at Chicagoland Speedway. The track hosts the opening race in the playoffs Sept. 17.

Each Cup organization is allowed to have one team at the test.

Those scheduled to test, according to NASCAR, are:

Austin Dillon (Richard Childress Racing)

Jamie McMurray (Chip Ganassi Racing)

Ty Dillon (Germain Racing)

Matt Kenseth (Joe Gibbs Racing)

Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick Motorsports)

Brad Keselowski (Team Penske)

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (Roush Fenway Racing)

Aric Almirola (Richard Petty Motorsports)

Kurt Busch (Stewart-Haas Racing)

Ryan Blaney (Wood Brothers Racing)

Also, each manufacturer will have a car testing. Alex Bowman will drive the Chevrolet car. David Ragan will be in the Ford car. Drew Herring will drive the Toyota car.

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Danica Patrick: ‘I want to continue racing if I have an opportunity to do well’

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KANNAPOLIS, N.C. — While Danica Patrick’s future remains uncertain, one thing is certain.

She doesn’t have interest in racing full-time in the Xfinity Series next year.

“Cup only,’’ she said Monday after unveiling the throwback paint scheme her car will have in next month’s Southern 500.

Patrick’s future with Stewart-Haas Racing remains cloudy because of lack of sponsorship for next year. Nature’s Bakery was to have been in the second of a three-year deal with the team but terminated its contract in January. The team filed a $31 million lawsuit against Nature’s Bakery. A settlement was later reached in May.

Without sponsorship, Patrick could be out of a ride. She says she’s not fretting about her job status.

“I want to continue racing if I have an opportunity to do well,’’ Patrick said. “I have no interest, as I’ve said for years now, to run 25th. It’s not fun. So if I don’t feel like I can have the opportunity to move on from there and have a better opportunity, then honestly I don’t care. It’s just because it’s not fun. I don’t drive because I love the thrill of getting sideways. In fact, I don’t like getting sideways. That’s not why I do it. I’m just letting things evolve the way they can without being forceful about anything.’’

While some could infer that means she doesn’t care. Patrick says that’s not the case.

“When I was younger I used to get so mad all the time,’’ she said. “Trust me. I still get mad and throw things. I try not to do it in front of people. I still get fired up.

“But there was so much when I was younger that happened with me getting mad. I felt like if I didn’t portray a displeasure with anything but the best, but first place, then I was somehow showing people that I didn’t think that I could do it.

“I finally came to the conclusion a long time ago, and I’ve only just gotten better at it that I don’t have to look like I hate everything and hate everybody and be awfully unhappy about everything to do well on the track. In fact, sometimes it would get in the way if I was too unhappy. Me being more at peace with everything and not getting so fired up at certain points in time is just really because it’s unproductive, and I don’t need to prove to people that I care.’’

Since a run of four consecutive top-15 finishes — her best four-race stretch in two seasons — she has placed 22nd at Watkins Glen and last weekend at Michigan. She enters Saturday night’s race at Bristol 28th in the points.

“I think that we have finally got away from bad luck,’’ she said.  “I think we have finally found ourselves having clean races and staying out of trouble and getting lucky on top of not having bad luck, we’ve had some good luck, too.’’

Her team isn’t the only one at Stewart-Haas Racing searching for sponsorship.

Stewart-Haas Racing recently declined the option on Kurt Busch’s contract for next year because Monster Energy hasn’t decided if it will return to sponsor Busch’s car. The team expects Busch to return next year. Haas Automation, the company founded by team owner Gene Haas and that sponsors Kurt Busch‘s team, has been the sponsor on Clint Bowyer’s car in 13 of the season’s first 23 races.

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What drivers said after Michigan race

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Kyle Larson — Winner: “It was an awesome finish for us. Kind of a struggle all day, honestly. I felt like we were ‑ I was good and I could find clean air on my car, but any time I’d get any bit of dirty air or any bit of the wake from the car in front of me, I’d get extremely loose, even when I wasn’t close to anybody. We definitely didn’t have the car that we had here the last two times we won, but we kept fighting, probably even harder than we did in those other two wins. Caught a caution at the right time there to line up eighth on fresh tires, got to fifth, and then edged in front of Chase for fourth as the caution was coming out, and that allowed me to line up behind Martin (Truex Jr.) and get a good restart. I was running a few different options through my head under that red flag of what to do, and that one was one of them, and it played out exactly how I had hoped. Yeah, so this win feels amazing to steal one in a way. My other three wins, I felt like we had the first or second-best car, but today at times I didn’t think we were a top-10 car. But to get the win that way is awesome.

Martin Truex Jr. — Finished 2nd: “I just tried to do something a little different there with (Kyle) Larson behind me, but when he hit me, I went and I spun the tires. They just got too cold under that red flag and not enough time to get them warmed up. Our car generally took a few laps all day to get warm, but while we had enough caution laps I could kind of keep heat in the tires. Just spun them a bit and he got a run and there was no way he was going to go around me on the bottom with all that stuff down there, and I just went into (Turn) 1 and spun the tires because they were so cold. It’s one of those deals, sometimes these things don’t work out. I’m proud of everybody on the team, they did a great job today and we had a really fast race car again. Proud of that, and I hate I didn’t get it done for those guys and all our fans out there, but all in all it’s a good day. Michigan has just been tough. We’ve been fast here, we just can’t get that ‘W,’ but we’re fast here and we’ll learn from it.”

Erik Jones — Finished 3rd: It wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be, but I thought we could get a good enough restart where we could at least battle through (Turns) 1 and 2 and hopefully make something happen into (Turn) 3. Unfortunately that didn’t work out, both of us couldn’t get going – Martin (Truex Jr.) was spinning his tires and I was spinning my tires. He got a push from (Kyle Larson) and he passed us both. It’s unfortunate; I thought it was going to be a Furniture Row one-two either way it was going to work out.’’

Ryan Newman – Finished 4th: “It was just a good run for the Velveeta Shells & Cheese Chevrolet. Luke (Lambert, crew chief) did a great job making the call for us to stay out and caught the break there with (Joey Logano‘s flat) tire. We got a couple of good restarts and make it a little bit out of nothing. We were challenged all day and struggled a little bit.”

Trevor Bayne – Finished 5th: “That’s what we needed. Man, if it stayed green, we had another shot like Indy to hold off (Martin Truex Jr.), but we had a caution at the wrong time. I got a great restart and pushed (Kyle Larson) to the lead. I went for it in Turn 3 and it didn’t stick. It got massive loose and ended up fifth. Third and fifth, that’s not a big difference. If I went home thinking I should have gone for it in three, I would be kicking my butt. But it’s a great day for our team. We needed this to recover a little bit.” 

Chris Buescher – Finished 6th: “Wild. We had a tire go down early and put us off sequence early on and this team did a good job today.  They played the strategy right and worked hard. We had to fix the car. We had a hole in the nose at one point from debris through one of the crashes. Fought hard all day long, to be able to get to here right now, that is a really cool finish. Really proud of this team.” 

Austin Dillon – Finished 7th: “We have come a long freaking way in the last couple of weeks. The car was very drivable throughout the race.  We just needed a little more speed to really get after it, but we made good pit strategy and adjusted the car well.”

Chase Elliott – Finished 8th: “I think we need a little work and need to get caught up here in a hurry.”

Jamie McMurray – Finished 9th: “I had a great car all day long.  I think we would have finished third or fourth without the random caution at the end. That just put us back to 14th and we got back to ninth on the restart, but a really good day for our car, really good day.”

Kurt Busch – Finished 11th: “We were solid today, but we didn’t do anything right, and we didn’t do anything wrong. We’ll pull together and work hard for next week in Bristol.”

Aric Almirola – Finished 12th: “The bottom lane was not really the preferred lane all weekend in Trucks or Cup or anything, and I restarted on the bottom lane and just couldn’t get going. Brad (Keselowski) got to my inside, and I got stuck in the middle and it was just kind of a dogfight after that. I would have gave anything to restart 10th instead of ninth, but it is what it is.  It was a solid day for us. We worked on it all weekend and got it better and better, and the best we had it was right there in the race. I’m really proud of everybody.”

Kevin Harvick – Finished 13th: “We were just terrible loose when the sun came out, and then the strategy just went the wrong way and we wound up a lap down.”

DALE EARNHARDT, JR. – Finished 14th: “Well, it was alright. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t terrible. Just ain’t had the car just right the way we need it for the race. I think at times we needed track position and we might have been able to run in the top five, but I didn’t know a lot of guys that really passed many people. It was really pretty even out there competition wise. We weren’t like losing a chunk of time to all them guy, I mean I could see them, but just I don’t know what we’ve got to do.”

Ryan Blaney – Finished 15th: “Yeah, it wasn’t too bad. We had a fast car and things just didn’t work out. We have fast cars every week and that gives us something to look forward to. There were some things going on in the car that made me think something might let go, but fortunately that didn’t happen.”

Brad Keselowski – Finished 17th: “The team did a good job. We executed in qualifying and all of those things, and we really made the most out of everything we had today, it just didn’t come out our way. It just didn’t come together there at the end, but it was nice to lead a bunch of laps. That was good and something I was really proud of, but I just didn’t have enough to really run with the 77 (Erik Jones) and the 78 (Truex). We tried a little strategy to kind of get something out of it, but the way it all played out I ended up getting the bottom lane on the restarts and getting absolutely swallowed. We tried. We put in as much effort as we could. We knew we didn’t have as much as those two, but we gave it 100 percent effort, and I was really proud of my team for that.” 

Ty Dillon – Finished 21st: “The balance of our GEICO Chevy felt a lot better yesterday in practice than it did today, but we were able to bring the car to us with some wedge adjustments. We had a fast race car there toward the end. The strategy was to go long on fuel mileage in the final stage of the race and it worked great. We were able to pit for four fresh tires and fuel and get a decent finish at the end of the day.’’

Danica Patrick — Finished 22nd: “We just weren’t as good as we needed to be today. Then the No. 10 Code 3 Associates Ford was just too loose there at the end, and we weren’t able to make up any ground on that last restart.”

Landon Cassill – Finished 25th: “We needed to have a solid race with a good finish. We haven’t had one in a while. It was really, really loose the whole (race) and the speed came when we tightened it up, but to start the race, it was really, really loose. I think if we get that balance right to start the race in the future, then we won’t get behind at all.”

JOEY LOGANO – Finished 28th: “The speed wasn’t there. We were a little better and obviously in qualifying our cars are good, but we just couldn’t hang with the Toyotas up front there. Those two cars there – really the Furniture Row cars is what I should say. They’re just lights-out fast. The fastest car didn’t win the race, I can tell you that much for sure. We had a flat tire. I don’t know why we had a flat tire, but maybe we ran something over.’’

David Ragan – Finished 30th: “Our balance was OK at times during the race, but the strategy just didn’t work into our favor. We’ve been really fortunate this year to have good strategy during the stages and with no cautions those first two stages we got a little behind, and then tried to short-pit there at the end and the caution came out that cost us a lap or so. That’s one of those days when you don’t have a lot of attrition, not many cautions, and you just have an average race car and we kind of paid the price.”

Paul Menard – Finished 34th: “We were fighting hard on that late restart to get the free pass and we got caught up with Michael McDowell off Turn 2. I was able to drive the Dutch Boy / Menards Chevrolet back to Matt Borland and the crew, but the damage to the nose knocked the oil cooler back and we had to push it back to the garage.”

DANIEL SUÁREZ — Finished 37th: “I was very, very tight and I was just trying to hold my line. I think (Kasey Kahne) – he was passing me obviously and he went up a little too soon for me. I was trying to give him some room, but actually I got out of the throttle at that point, but I don’t know if he was told it was already time to go up – I don’t know. It’s just unfortunate because we came from a streak of top (10s) and now this is going to be the end of it. We’re going to regroup and come back stronger next week.”

KASEY KAHNE — Finished 38th: Daniel (Suarez) was going backwards and I was going by and I ran the bottom. I expected we could be close off the corner, and I was just coming off and then we hit. So, I don’t know. I expected to run side-by-side down the backstretch, but not give a lot of room, because you don’t. Nobody does. But I was making the pass and I don’t know how we hit. Ruined it. It’s over.”

 

 

Who’s hot, who’s not, heading into Michigan

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Just four races remain for drivers to make – or miss – the upcoming NASCAR Cup playoffs.

This weekend, the series returns to Michigan International Speedway, which is the fastest track on the circuit. It’s a place where 200 mph-plus is the norm, not the exception.

This will be the 97th NASCAR Cup race to be held at the two-mile oval.

Kyle Larson has won the last two races there: last August and this June.

Drivers like Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch are among the hottest drivers going right now.

But other drivers are in big trouble, particularly Joey Logano and Dale Earnhardt Jr. If they hope to make the playoffs, they’ll have to do so with a win only.

So without further adieu, here’s the hottest of the hot and, well, the not so hot:

WHO IS HOT?

Martin Truex Jr.

Won at Watkins Glen, his series leading fourth of 2017

Finished in the top-10 15 times this season, the most

Won 14 stages this season, the most

34 Playoff Points this season, 18 more than anyone else

Wins at Las Vegas, Kansas, Kentucky and WG

Led a series high 1315 laps in 2017, led the most laps in seven races

Best Michigan finish is second, twice

Finished sixth in June at Michigan after leading 62 laps, victim of the outside line on restarts

Clint Bowyer

Finished 5th at Watkins Glen, top 10 in five of the last seven races this season

Finished runner up three times in 2017

10 top-10s in 2017, had only three in all of 2016

Only one top five finish at Michigan in 23 starts

Best finish at Michigan in the last four races is 23rd, finished top 10 in his nine previous races there

Kyle Busch

Finished 7th at Watkins Glen after multiple issues

Won from the pole at Pocono, first win of 2017 and at Pocono

Had four wins at this point in 2016

Won the pole for the last three races

One Michigan win, this race in 2011 (last on the old pavement), only two top 10s there since (six finishes of 31st or worse)

Denny Hamlin

4th at Watkins Glen, top 4 finishes in six of the last eight races including a win at NH

Two-time winner at Michigan but last came in 2011

Finished top 10 in three of the last four Michigan races including fourth in June

Kevin Harvick

Finished 17th at WG, heavy damage on pit road

Finished top-10 in 12 of the last 16 races of 2017

One Michigan win, this race in 2010

Finished top 5, including five runner ups, in seven of the last nine races at Michigan

Kyle Larson

23rd at WG, third straight finish of 23rd or worse

Finished second in seven races this year

Two wins this season, ACS and Michigan

Won the last three races on 2.0 mile tracks including the last two races at Michigan

Daniel Suarez

Finished third at WG, best career finish

Top 10 finishes in the last four races

Won the Open at Charlotte

First career NXS win came at Michigan last year

Finished 24th at Michigan in June, only Cup start there

WHO IS NOT?

Joey Logano

24th at WG, ninth finish outside the top 20 in the last 13 races

Won at Richmond but was encumbered

Now 95 points outside the bubble, he must win to make the playoffs

Top 10 finishes in the last nine races at Michigan including two wins

Dale Earnhardt Jr.

37th at WG, ninth finish of 30th or worse this season

Only two top-10s in the last 10 races

Two-time Michigan winner

Top 10 finishes in five of his last six starts at Michigan including ninth in June

Kasey Kahne

Finished 16th at WG, his three best finishes in the last 11 races have come in the last three races

Won at Indianapolis ending a 102 race winless streak, took a super lucky timed caution and turned it into a win

One Michigan win, 2006

Finished 13th or worse in the last six races at Michigan

Will not return to Hendrick Motorsports next season, likely to be replaced by William Byron.

Jimmie Johnson

29th at WG, ran out of fuel late

DNF accident in three of his last five races in 2017

One top-10 in his last seven races (10th at New Hampshire)

Three top 5 finishes this season, all wins

One Michigan win, June 2014

Only one top-five at Michigan in the last 10 races, his win in 2014

Kurt Busch

Sixth at Watkins Glen, his best finish in the last eight races

Three DNFs in the last six races of 2017

Just 10 top 10 finishes this season, had 16 after 22 races in 2016

Has not had back-to-back top 10 finishes since Richmond and Talladega

Three wins at Michigan, all came with different manufacturers

Finished 12th at Michigan in June

Austin Dillon

26th at WG, only one top 15 finish in the last eight races

Won on fuel mileage at Charlotte

Only two top 10 finishes this season, had nine at this point last year

Only two top 10 finishes in 10 Michigan starts but they both came in the last four races there

AJ Allmendinger

Five top-10s in 2017 three were in the last six races (ninth at Watkins Glen)

Best Michigan finish is 11th, twice

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