NASCAR America: A Matt Kenseth return to Roush Fenway Racing would mean …

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Roush Fenway Racing will make what it is calling a major partner announcement at 10 a.m. Wednesday, and a report states that it will include details on Matt Kenseth returning to drive for the team.

NASCAR on NBC’s Nate Ryan reported Tuesday that Roush Fenway Racing declined comment on SB Nation’s report that Kenseth would run select races for Trevor Bayne beginning May 12 at Kansas Speedway. Ryan reported that multiple principles, including a former Roush Fenway Racing driver will be at Wednesday’s announcement.

Kenseth, who turned 46 in March, won Cup Rookie of the Year honors with Roush Fenway Racing in 2000 and remained there through the 2012 season.

Kenseth left for Joe Gibbs Racing and raced there from 2013-17. He was replaced after last season in the No. 20 car by Erik Jones, leaving Kenseth without a full-time ride for this season.

NASCAR on NBC’s Kyle Petty said on NASCAR America that should the report of Kenseth’s return to Roush Fenway Racing be true, it would provide a nice homecoming.

“He knows the players,’’ Petty said of Kenseth. “He knows everything about the place. He grew up there. He came of age there. He won (a) championship. He won races there. So from all those pieces, it makes sense for a guy like Matt Kenseth to go back there just as it would if Jeff Gordon said I want to go back to Hendrick. It makes perfect sense. But only Matt can answer that question (of why).’’

Ryan noted it is not unusual for teams to put another driver in a car to benchmark that car’s performance.

Bayne is 26th in the points. The 2011 Daytona 500 winner has not finished better than 12th (Texas) this season. Every driver ahead of him in the points has at least one top-10 finish this season.

“Even in a part-time basis, what could he bring?’’ Petty said of Kenseth. “He brings so much. It’s an intangible. I think we saw it when he went to Joe Gibbs Racing. What did he bring there? That team just, all of a sudden, just took off. Was it all Matt Kenseth? No, but it’s part Matt Kenseth, it’s part that knowledge, it’s part that experience, it’s part that desire to run up front, win races and build something and I think Matt felt he had built something that first go around.’’

Kenseth scored the 39th Cup win of his career in November at Phoenix. A week before that win, Kenseth talked to Ryan on the NASCAR on NBC podcast about realizing the end of his career seemed near.

“But like I said, I feel like the way things have gone that for whatever reason — reasons I don’t understand that I think will become really, really clear in the future — that it’s just not meant for me to race next year,” Kenseth said. “I think it’s that simple. Everything lined up this way because I wasn’t going to make the decision myself, so someone made it for me. It’s just not supposed to happen.”

Car owner Joe Gibbs said Tuesday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that he would look forward to a return by Kenseth to Cup.

“I’ve got to tell you I would love it,’’ Gibbs said. “What a great guy, a great person, a great representative for the sport and for sponsors and extremely competitive. I would love that, and I hope that is going to be the case. I hope he can be there on a steady basis.

“It would be a thrill for us to have Matt back. I think he’s a real credit to the NASCAR Series and love the family. I think that would be great for us. I hope that’s going to be the case. I hope he gets to run a bunch of races.’’

For more, watch the video above.

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Bump & Run: Who are drivers seeking first win of the year to watch?

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Among non-winners this season, who is one driver who has your attention and why?

Steve Letarte: Recently it’s been Jimmie Johnson. At the beginning of the year it was obvious the equipment wasn’t up to par. I don’t think the equipment has got a whole lot better yet, but I think Jimmie and Chad (Knaus) are learning to race with not-winning cars. I think Bristol and Richmond were two races that they performed very, very well. My point being we have seen Jimmie make mistakes and crash and have accidents, but in the last two weeks they have found a way to take their car and get better finishes than they were running most of the day.

Kyle Petty: Besides Jimmie Johnson? Ryan Blaney. He has started off these first few races stronger than I anticipated. Leading laps, stage wins, just the total effort he and that team have shown so far this season. I believe the usual suspects will get their wins in time. Oh, did I mention Jimmie Johnson?

Parker Kligerman: Alex Bowman; I know he hasn’t been flashy or spectacular, but he’s currently 13th in points and still ahead of his seven-time champion teammate Jimmie Johnson. He is showing consistent pace each week, and I’m sure there will be weekends like this past one at Richmond. If he keeps up his average, he may be a lock to make the playoffs. 

Nate Ryan: Erik Jones. He’s been among the least discussed of the youth brigade, but aside from some short-track stumbles, he has exhibited the promise to indicate his breakthrough is near.

Dustin Long: Joey Logano. He has eight top-10 finishes in the first nine races of the year. The only other driver who has accomplished that is Kyle Busch. Logano may be returning to Victory Lane soon.

Daniel McFadin: Aric Almirola. His instant speed this season and ability to move up through the field – especially going from 25th to second in the Stage 1 at Richmond – has been more than surprising. I expected it to take longer for the No. 10 team to get most of its wrinkles smoothed out. Now they just need to be consistent in putting together full races.

Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski have combined to win six of the past 13 restrictor-plate races for Team Penske. Who do you view as their biggest threats this weekend at Talladega?

Steve Letarte: Each other. Let’s be clear, Talladega is still somewhat of a crapshoot, but good cars still tend to trend toward the front. The big thing that nobody is talking about in my mind is the new ride-height rule, I thought, changed Daytona dramatically and I think will change Talladega dramatically. This is only the second restrictor-plate race without ride heights. I think someone may have an advantage. We’re going to have to see who. You can’t throw out what Brad and Joey have done, but you’ve got to diminish it a little bit with the rule changes.

Kyle Petty: Anyone in a Ford. Honestly, if I go back to Daytona, Penske, SHR and Roush were all strong once the green flag fell, and I believe almost all the drivers have won on a plate track … almost.

Parker Kligerman: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Kyle Busch; fairly simple choices in my opinion. Since Kyle is a great superspeedway racer and is on fire. Ricky, obviously has the record and has so much confidence. He also is in a Ford and we know how the Fords are the cars to beat at superspeedway tracks.

Nate Ryan: Denny Hamlin, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Kevin Harvick. Along with Logano and Keselowski, those are the five best plate drivers in Cup. Throw in Ryan Blaney and Kurt Busch as dark horses and Kyle Busch because he can do no wrong lately.

Dustin Long: Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Kevin Harvick are the names that immediately come to mind.

Daniel McFadin: I expect Logano and Keselowski to be challenged by Aric Almirola and their own Penske teammate, Ryan Blaney, who was the class of the field at Daytona before the late caution. As far as non-Ford drivers, I expect Chase Elliott and Alex Bowman to again be fast. It has to pay off as some point, right?

When the season is over who will have won more races — the drivers who have won already this year (Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Martin Truex Jr., Clint Bowyer and Austin Dillon) or the rest of the field (Kyle Larson, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, etc)?

Steve Letarte: I think the rest of the field wins by a race or two. I don’t think Austin Dillon is a threat to win maybe more than one more race. I would say Clint Bowyer maybe one more race. I just think there are too many big names, Larson, Elliott, Johnson, Jones, too many guys that I think can go out and win multiple races.

Kyle Petty: Kevin and Kyle. Those two together could win more than everyone else combined. Their teams are that good and they are that good. 

Parker Kligerman: Barring some massive change in the rules, the drivers who have already won. I feel that for whatever reason, with the current packages and tire specs, it obviously is suiting those drivers’ styles and therefore they are producing at a high level. 

Nate Ryan: Between Busch, Harvick and Truex, that trio could account for half of this season’s wins.

Dustin Long: It’s hard to see Busch, Harvick and Truex not piling up more wins in the coming weeks.

Daniel McFadin: With the first group containing Truex, Harvick and Kyle Busch, I would not be surprised if they have more victories than the current non-winners. 

Friday 5: Is it time for tracks to adopt rain ticket policy like Texas, Pocono?

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Few things can be worse to fans than a postponed race.

While many fans return the next day despite the inconvenience, others are not as fortunate. Some are unable to go back because they must work, travel home or cannot afford to stay an extra day.

Admittedly, it’s a risk associated with attending an outdoor sporting event. But should tracks do more for fans, who can spend hundreds of dollars on tickets and then never see the race?

Most NASCAR tracks do not offer refunds or exchanges.

While a few track officials told NBC Sports that if fans called the ticket office, the track would seek to work with them on a solution, no such formal policy is listed on track websites as of today. Some track officials said they’ve allowed fans to attend both an Xfinity or Camping World Truck race and the Cup race when they’ve been scheduled for the same day instead of emptying the stands before the Cup event.

Two weeks after Martinsville Speedway’s Cup race was postponed a day by snow, the series returns to action at Texas Motor Speedway.

Those tracks offer contrasts in what they offer fans who can’t return for a rescheduled race.

Martinsville Speedway, like tracks owned by International Speedway Corp., offers no refunds and no exchanges.

All ISC-owned tracks have a partnership with TicketGuardian that, for a cost, insures a fan’s tickets, along with any other enhancements they purchase — scanner rental, prerace pit passes, premium parking, etc. A TicketGuardian spokesperson told NBC Sports that the company is extending coverage until the newly scheduled date should the event be postponed.

Texas Motor Speedway has a policy that does not cost the fan extra. If a ticket holder is unable to attend a rained-out race on its rescheduled date, they will have the ability to redeem that ticket for a future event at equal or lesser value for up to one calendar year. That policy has been in place since 2013.

The wunderground.com forecast for Sunday shows a 0 percent chance of rain in Texas, so there’s no worry of that race being rescheduled.

But the Texas policy was used in 2014 when the April Cup race was postponed a day by rain.

That is one of 11 Cup races to have been rescheduled since 2013 (a span of 186 races). That equates to a rescheduled race 5.9 percent of the time.

Eight of the 23 tracks that host a Cup race have had at least one rescheduled race since 2013. Charlotte, Bristol and Pocono have each had two Cup races rescheduled since then.

Pocono Raceway saw both its Cup races and its IndyCar race in 2016 postponed a day by rain. The track responded with what it calls the Worry-Free Weather Guarantee. It debuted in 2017 and is in place again this year.

The guarantee provides a money-back option for fans if they cannot make the rescheduled race provided they purchased an advance ticket directly from Pocono Raceway.

The only other Cup track with something comparable is Atlanta Motor Speedway with its Perfect Race Weather Guarantee.

That policy states that if the maximum high temperature for either its Saturday races or Sunday Cup race fails to reach at least 50 degrees, or if the event is postponed and a fan cannot attend on the makeup date (and has not had their ticket scanned), they can request credit for their tickets.

It is easy to suggest that every track should have a policy to provide credit or a ticket exchange for those who can’t attend a rescheduled race. The reality is each track is a business — and many are owned by publicly traded companies that must answer to shareholders.

The impact of 10,000 fans or more wanting a refund or to exchange tickets to a future race could create some financial challenges for tracks.

Yet, for a sport that espouses the benefits of going to a race — the sights, sounds and smells — having fans unable to attend a rescheduled race or recoup what they paid could cost a track a future customer.

Is there a better way to do business?

2. Future Cup schedule

The announcement of the 2019 Cup schedule this week drew little notice except for those complaining about not seeing any changes with it.

NASCAR entered five-year agreements with tracks before the 2016 season. That goes through the 2020 season. It is the 2021 season that could see a significant shake-up in tracks and be the time for NASCAR to possibly make significant changes.

3. Playoff Preview

This weekend starts a stretch where five of the next six Cup races will be held on tracks hosting playoff races. Those tracks are Texas, Richmond, Talladega, Dover and Kansas

After Kansas, which is May 12, the only other track the series will visit that hosts a playoff race is Charlotte Motor Speedway. But Charlotte’s playoff race will be on the roval, the combination road course/oval track. That will be the first time the NASCAR has run on that course.

4. NASCAR on NBC Podcast

If you’re not a subscriber to the NASCAR on NBC podcast with Nate Ryan, take the time to do so and check out many of the episodes. This week featured an informative two-part podcast with Brad Keselowski.

Previous guests have included Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Mark Martin, Cole Pearn, Rodney Childers and others.

5. FantasyLand

There’s still time to sign up in the NASCAR America Fantasy League and compete against NBC’s broadcasters and writers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Steve Letarte, Jeff Burton, Dale Jarrett, Kyle Petty, Rick Allen and others.

You can join the league by going here.

NASCAR America explores who needs to step up at Texas

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Six races into the 2018 NASCAR season, it is already time to start wondering when certain drivers will step up their performance.

Each organization has at least one driver who needs to improve their results. For some, like Team Penske, the overall strength means that a driver like Joey Logano has to win a race.

For other teams, like Hendrick Motorsports, it is a matter of maximizing potential.

“I think Chase Elliott has been the leader of the pack at Hendrick Motorsports,” Jeff Burton said in Tuesday’s edition of NASCAR America. “I think Chase gives them their best chance to win and they need something good to happen. They have not had a typical Hendrick Motorsports type of year, it’s been well documented. But I just look at what Chase Elliott has done at Texas Motor Speedway – eighth, ninth, fourth, fifth. He won his first Xfinity race at Texas Motor Speedway. So this is a place where I believe he can get a win.”

Kyle Petty’s choice for a driver who should — and perhaps will — step up at Texas is the newest member of Stewart-Haas Racing

“(Aric Almirola) has started the year really, really strong and we heard from Clint Bowyer last week after Clint won at Martinsville: ‘We’ve got to get Aric into Victory Lane,’ ” Petty said “So I think there’s a push to get Aric there. He’s been consistent — top five, top 10, right along in there. Led Daytona going into turn three. But this is a place where I think it suits Aric’s driving style. And he can break out of that pack and have another victory for Stewart-Haas Racing.”

For more about who needs to step up their performance, watch the video above.

NASCAR America: How should tracks use the Tire Dragon?

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New track surfaces require special attention and two races after a repaving and reconfiguration project at Texas Motor Speedway completed before the 2017 season, officials are again using a special piece of equipment known as a Tire Dragon — a sled that works rubber into the asphalt surface—to create multiple racing grooves.

The question is less of whether if they should use it, but rather where according to NASCAR America’s Kyle Petty and Jeff Burton.

“When you have a freshly paved racetrack—one that was just repaved, no races on it—I think you first have to establish a bottom groove,” Burton said during Tuesday’s NASCAR America. “Now, maybe you can establish a bottom groove and a second groove, which means you run the Tire Dragon longer. But anyone who has gone to a track with a repave — getting that first lane to come in is exceptionally difficult.”

Once the track is into its third Cup race, as Texas will be this weekend, the needs change.

The discussion was in response to a plea from Dale Earnhardt Jr. on his Dale Jr. Download podcast to run the Tire Dragon in something other than the preferred groove. Burton points out that track President Eddie Gossage not only agreed about the need to work in a second groove, but also tweeted about that to Junior.

For more about what Burton and Petty had to say about the Tire Dragon, watch the video above.