Can-Am 500

NASCAR America: Scan All from Phoenix Raceway

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With likely two races left in his Cup career, Matt Kenseth threw a wrench in the playoffs by winning Sunday’s Cup race at Phoenix Raceway.

It was the 39th Cup win for the 45-year-old driver, who was left in tears at the start-finish line as he celebrated before a thunderous crowd.

“You guys are going to see the biggest cry baby you’ve ever seen,” Kenseth said over his radio after taking the checkered flag.

Kenseth and crew chief Jason Ratcliff recap their winning effort in this week’s edition of “Scan All.”

Here’s some more highlights from the scanner traffic during the Can-Am 500:

  • “I’m trying to survive here and I don’t really have any ideas.” – Brad Keselowski as he struggled to be in a position to advance to the championship race.
  • “Just throw this thing in the garbage.” – Danica Patrick, who finished 25th in her next to last race with Stewart-Haas Racing.
  • “That was pretty entertaining to watch, to be honest with you.” – Ryan Blaney after watching the battle between Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin that resulted in Hamlin crashing from damage suffered in the duel.

Watch the above video to hear more.

NASCAR America: How did Brad Keselowski make it to Miami?

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When he was interviewed on NBC after Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway, Brad Keselowski looked more like a guy who had lost a close race than someone who just earned his way into this Sunday’s championship round at Miami.

He knew he had a rough day. He knew he had a car that wasn’t fast. The Toyotas were much faster. And had it not been for Chase Elliott taking out Denny Hamlin late in the race, going to Miami was the last thing that would have seemed likely for Keselowski.

He should have been more excited and animated, but it was more like Keselowski was just happy to get there barely.

Here’s part of what a dour-looking Keselowski had to say after the race:

“We probably had great speed at Martinsville, great execution at Texas and great luck today. You would like to have them all on the same day. That’s really how you win. … We knew we didn’t have the speed but just tried to be smart and put yourself to a position to have an opportunity for good things to happen. We caught some breaks.”

On Monday’s NASCAR America, analyst Jeff Burton gave his take on Keselowski’s race and also what he and the rest of the No. 2 team need to do at Miami:

“I think their good moment was pit strategy to pit when no one else did, and when other people pitted, he stayed out.

“I wonder if that strategy moving him within four cars of Hamlin, whether that go in Hamlin’s mind when he was racing Elliott.

“I wonder if that kept enough pressure on them to put them in an uncomfortable situation and then make the ultimate mistake.

“They did not run well. There’s no sugar-coating it, they ran bad, never had speed the entire weekend. You could see it in practice, they kept looking, kept searching.

“None of the Penske cars ran well at all, very surprising that they ran so poorly at Phoenix. Now they have to regroup, just have to put it behind them.

“They did what they had to do, they’re playing with house money, so to speak, and just go to Homestead and get all they can get.”

Check out more of what Burton had to say in the above video.

NASCAR America: Why did Denny Hamlin battle Chase Elliott late in the race when he didn’t have to?

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Had he stayed on track and on focus, Denny Hamlin woulda, coulda, shoulda wound up with the final Championship 4 berth last weekend at Phoenix.

But he didn’t and it cost him possibly his first Cup championship.

On Monday’s edition of NASCAR America, analysts Dale Jarrett, Jeff Burton and Nate Ryan broke down what happened in Sunday’s Can-Am 500 at Phoenix Raceway.

They discussed why, when Hamlin was ahead of Brad Keselowski, who was the only driver he should have worried about when it came to Hamlin’s hopes to reach the title race via points, he chose instead to race Chase Elliott for third place with less than 50 laps left.

Elliott had to win to advance. As long as he didn’t and Hamlin remained ahead of Keselowski, Hamlin would take the final transfer spot.

Instead, Hamlin raced Elliott. The result was Elliott moved Hamlin up the track, forcing Hamlin into the wall in what many portrayed as payback for Hamlin wrecking Elliott out of the lead two weeks ago at Martinsville. The contact at Phoenix led to a cut tire and sent Hamlin into the wall, ending his race and title hopes.

Here is what our analysts had to say (watch the video above for all their comments on the incident).

Dale Jarrett:

“Why was (Hamlin) even putting up a battle with someone, who we knew there was potential because just a few short weeks ago that things escalated to a bad situation at Martinsville with him? So why would you race that person when it didn’t make any difference?

“(Hamlin) goes out in the first two stages and does everything he needs to do, he’s doing well in the third stage. By then, he had set himself up to where all he had to do was beat (Keselowski). So I don’t understand why he was letting the (Elliott) affect him. If (Elliott) was going to pass him and go on to win the race, he couldn’t do anything there, so just focus on (Keselowski).

“I don’t understand why they weren’t telling Denny more that this isn’t your battle, the battle is still behind you and that’s all you have to worry about.”

Nate Ryan:

“There wasn’t a lot of communication telling Denny that Brad Keselowski is behind you. At that point, Brad had just catapulted into the top 10 due to some shrewd strategy by his crew chief, Paul Wolfe. … He got from the mid-teens into the top 10 and he was in Denny Hamlin’s mirror for the first time all race.

“I think he also had on his mind probably that he’s battling Chase Elliott for third and Chase is fast. If Elliott gets past him and gets the win, then it’s game over either way and Denny has no shot at advancing by points.”

Jeff Burton:

“What really confuses me is that there were comments on social media that Denny was trying to let Chase go.  … I don’t possibly see how that’s accurate. When you come off a corner side-by-side with a guy at a tight racetrack, that’s not letting the guy go.

“There was a bigger picture. Chase and Denny had two completely different agendas at this point in the race. Chase really had nothing to lose. If Chase didn’t win this race, he was not going to move forward.

“Denny didn’t have to win the race because of the great job he did in the first two stages. I just don’t think Denny and the 11 team didn’t respond to the great work they did in the first two stages. They didn’t need to race Chase, they just needed to let him go. Once (Elliott) is underneath you, just get on the brakes and slow down and let him go. I’m sorry, it’s not that hard.

“If you think you’re better than (Keselowski)) and you’re still racing (Elliott), that was not a good decision.”

 

Martin Truex Jr. heads to Miami looking to cap off career-best year with Cup title

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The 35-race preamble is over for the Cup Series and Martin Truex Jr.

After dominating all season in almost every statistical category, Truex now knows who he has to fend off to win the Cup title .

The Furniture Row Racing driver will face Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 19 (2:30 p.m. ET on NBC).

The 37-year-old driver stands out among the group. He’s the only one without a Cup title.

“That means it’s my turn,” Truex said.

The No. 78 team heads into the race after finishing third at Phoenix.

Truex placed in the top three in all three Round of 8 races. Those three top fives give him a season-high 18. Keselowski is tied with Denny Hamlin for second with 15.

Among those top fives for Truex are a series- and career-best seven wins.

“Definitely excited about the position we’re in, to go to Homestead,” Truex said “Feel like we’ve got a lot of momentum, we’ve got a lot of consistency in our team, and doing all the right things right now. ”

With a series-best 19 stage wins and 2,175 laps led, Truex is the statistical favorite heading into the Ford EcoBoost 400. The season finale is held at a 1.5-mile track. Truex has earned six of his seven wins on similar tracks.

“If I’m the favorite, perfect, I like that,” Truex said. “I think it’s a better position to be in.  I was the underdog before (in 2015) and I finished fourth, so yeah, bring it on.”

Truex will try to capture his first Cup title in his 12th full-time season. Keselowski’s title (2012) was in his third season, Busch’s in his 11th season (2015) and Harvick’s title came in his 14th (2014).

“I don’t think it’s any extra pressure at all,” Truex said. “I have a lot of respect for all three of these guys. Two of them were in the Final Four when I made it in 2015 (Busch and Harvick). Definitely have a little bit of experience in this position, but you know, honestly just excited about the opportunity. I feel like we’re in a whole lot better spot as a team than we were the first time we had a shot at it, and we’re going to go out there and just do the best job we can do.

“I’ve got a lot of confidence in our team right now and what we’re doing, and I think today was a perfect example of that for us, so just keep doing what we’re doing, go down to Miami and just have fun and do what we know how to do. Do the best job we possibly can and hopefully come out on top.”

If Truex does take the title, he will do it without the presence of team owner Barney Visser at the track.

Visser is recovering from bypass surgery on Nov. 6, two days after he suffered a heart attack. Truex said he had been home since Friday.

“It’s definitely a bummer,” Truex said. “For a long time he thought he was bad luck because we only won when he was not here. So if we do win it next weekend and he’s not there, he may never show up again.”

 

Can Brad Keselowski go from Miami underdog to top dog of 2017?

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Brad Keselowski doesn’t have delusions of grandeur. He knows he managed to reach the Championship 4 race in not exactly the way he would have wanted to.

Keselowski made it on points, not third-round wins. Had the driver of the No. 2 Ford won Sunday at Phoenix instead of Matt Kenseth, he might have entered Miami with a bit higher standing.

Martin Truex Jr. has a series-leading seven wins this season, including six on 1.5-mile tracks like Homestead-Miami, so it’s fair to say he’s the likely favorite there next Sunday.

Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch won in the Round of 8 and are also strongly considered as potential champs.

But because he reached the Miami showdown on points in the last race possible, Keselowski is essentially the underdog heading there.

On one hand, that’s a lot of pressure for Keselowski to outperform his other three championship contenders.

But at the same time, even without a win, the highest-finishing driver points-wise leaves Miami as champion.

While a win would clinch it for Keselowski, just finishing higher than the other three is the key motivation for the 2012 champion.

And that’s one key thing in Keselowski’s 2017 title bid. He IS a past NASCAR Cup champion. But so, too, are Harvick (2014) and Busch (2015). Only Truex has yet to win a Cup title.

But Keselowski will have to do much better at Homestead than the 16th-place showing he had at Phoenix. It was by fate and happenstance that he hung on with enough points to advance to the final round of the playoffs — and Keselowski will be the first to admit it.

“We overcame a lot of obstacles and jumped a lot of hurdles today,” Keselowski said after Sunday’s race. “I am glad I don’t have to relive this day, that is for sure.

“I am just looking forward to going to Homestead. This feels a little bit like Christmas. Sometimes you need a little luck on your side. Today, we had that. It wasn’t by any means where we wanted to run. We wanted to run up front and have a shot for the win. That wasn’t in the cards. We tried to run the smartest race we could and survive and it ended up paying off in the end.”

Because Homestead is the end-all and be-all of 2017, Keselowski understands his focus only has to be on getting to the front — or at least ahead of his three Championship 4 peers — and staying there.

The big problem — and which has plagued both Keselowski and teammate Joey Logano, who failed to make the playoffs — is speed. Or in their case, lack thereof.

Somehow, some way, Keselowski’s team needs to find more horsepower in the next seven days if he hopes to leave Miami with the championship. Right now, it would appear his other three counterparts have more speed than he does — and that’s job No. 1 for the No. 2 team. 

“Homestead is a lot different than Phoenix,” Keselowski said. “Hopefully, we can find what we need to run up front there and catch some breaks and win it.

“I am very hopeful for that. I am proud of the whole team. We had a solid day of not making any mistakes and that put us in position here. It was a great team effort.”

Added crew chief Paul Wolfe, “That (qualifying for Homestead) is the key takeaway for me. We have been strong in these playoffs and scored a lot of points and bonus points and that is ultimately what put us in a great position to be off a little today and still have an opportunity.”

An interesting side note is that Chevrolet will not have a representative in Championship 4. It will be two Toyotas vs. two Fords.

“It is great (and) exciting to have the two Fords in there,” Wolfe said. “The 4 (Harvick) has been really good and come on strong and I feel like we have put in a good effort here over the last few weeks to make sure we had a little more speed in our cars going to Homestead.

“We get in these types of situations and I think Brad will be able to find a little more and we just need to go down there and do what we do all year, give it our best. I think we will have a shot at this.”

Speaking of Fords, here’s some interesting stats heading into Miami that could potentially involve Keselowski and Harvick:

  • A Ford driver has not won the NASCAR Cup championship since Kurt Busch in 2004.
  • Ford has sponsored the season-ending NASCAR Cup race since 2002. Even though Busch is the only driver to win the championship in a Ford during that time, a Ford driver has won the season-ending race seven times since 2002: Kurt Busch (2002), Greg Biffle (2004-2006), Matt Kenseth (2007) and Carl Edwards (2008, 2010).
  • Technically, Edwards also tied for the championship in 2011, tying Tony Stewart, who was awarded the title by virtue of the tie-breaker: more season wins (Stewart had five, Edwards just one).