Ryan: Blocking brought consequences for Kenseth

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. – If rubbing is racing, then blocking is …

Blasphemy? Badass?

Blocking is …

Well, it’s complicated.

There might be no alliterative witticism in the NASCAR vernacular to describe the practice of deliberately impeding another driver’s progress. Yet there is one truism about the maneuver.

It comes with consequences.

The sort that cost Matt Kenseth a victory at Kansas Speedway.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver was seething Sunday after his No. 20 Toyota was bumped out of the lead – and a guaranteed berth in the third round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup – by race winner Joey Logano.

The anger was understandable from Kenseth, who is having a career season with five victories and seemed on the way to a sixth after leading a race-high 153 of 269 laps. He was a few minutes from a checkered flag that would shore up a championship bid via playoff advancement after enduring a week of nerves frayed by opening the second round of the playoffs with a 42nd at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

In a large plume of white tire smoke, all the elation evaporated and left Kenseth facing the unenviable prospect of a must-win at Talladega Superspeedway to keep his title chances afloat.

Any Sprint Cup star understandably would be upset by those circumstances, and Kenseth fired several razor-sharp digs while subtly vowing retribution.

Yet the ire directed at Logano was misplaced.

The golden rule of racing applies as much as in any walk of life. Do unto others as you would like others to do unto you.

When Kenseth threw a backstretch block that squeezed Logano’s No. 22 Ford into a scrape with the wall at over 190 mph several laps earlier, it established the justification for payback.

As a rule of thumb in racing, you might get to throw one block – and even that ultimately might be determined by whether the driver behind you wants to risk a rear-end collision – but all bets certainly are off after that.

If you continually try to obstruct the path of a faster car and force a competitor to choose between lifting off the accelerator and lifting your rear tires off the asphalt, you increasingly create an untenable set of circumstances.

Should Kenseth have gone for the win at the risk of putting himself in the position for being roughed up? With Talladega looming, it might have seemed the smart play, but he also had refused to label Kansas a win-or-else proposition two days earlier. If he had finished second Sunday, there still might have been a chance to advance with a top five at Talladega (where he finished second last year).

Regardless, Kenseth took his shot at stopping Logano, who unquestionably had the faster car since a restart 15 laps earlier. The first block merely delayed Logano’s charge – and guaranteed there’d be no more dispensation when the opportunity arrived again to challenge for the lead on Lap 263 entering Turn 1.

“I feel like he raced me the same way,” Logano said. “I’d be surprised if he expected something different.  We were just racing hard, and he’s racing for a win, I’m racing for a win. There’s a lot of aggression there, and that’s what our sport is built on.  Our sport is built on stuff like that.”

The old-school argument made by a 25-year-old rising star (who is 18 years Kenseth’s junior) is intriguing because there seems a growing generational divide about the unwritten rules of racing etiquette.

This is the second straight season in which a Team Penske driver has left a champion feeling aggrieved by aggression. Last season, it was Jeff Gordon, 44, who angrily accused Brad Keselowski, 31, of needlessly causing contact while contending for the lead in the closing laps at Texas Motor Speedway.

Sunday’s incident at Kansas wasn’t entirely analogous because the cars weren’t side by side. Logano was behind Kenseth, which added the wrinkle of whether he could have completed a pass for the lead without contact.

Logano said he didn’t mean to turn Kenseth (“we both went for the same piece of real estate”), who countered that it was “absolutely, 100 percent” intentional.

In other words, it was complicated.

That’s blocking.

 

Joey Logano holds off Aric Almirola for Martinsville pole

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Led by defending NASCAR Cup Series champion and pole sitter Joey Logano, Fords dominated qualifying, capturing the four top spots for Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Logano covered the .526-mile oval with a speed of 97.830 mph, earning the 21st pole of his Cup career — with five of those now coming at Martinsville.

“You just have to be so precise and pushing yourself so hard in the corners, and a mistake is such a penalty,” Logano told Fox Sports 1. “It was awesome to get another pole here at Martinsville and hopefully we can top it off with … another win in the books.”

Aric Almirola was second fastest (97.643 mph), followed by Brad Keselowski (97.458), Kevin Harvick (97.832), Denny Hamlin (97.362), William Byron (97.202), Kyle Larson (97.098), Chase Elliott (97.053), Martin Truex Jr. (97.018), Daniel Suarez (96.830), Clint Bowyer (96.706) and Jimmie Johnson (96.573).

It appeared as if Almirola might take the pole, but Logano overtook him with just 34 seconds remaining in the final round.

“I just barely missed it by a little bit, and that’s all it takes,” Almirola told FS1. “We came up close, but just not enough.”

Kyle Busch failed to advance to the final round of qualifying. He’ll take the green flag Sunday from the 14th position in the 1,000th overall NASCAR start of his career. Just before Cup qualifying, Busch won the 201st race of his NASCAR career in the Truck Series race.

We’ll have the full qualifying grid and starting lineup shortly. Please check back soon.

NOTES:

* The starting lineup is provisional until Sunday morning’s pre-race inspection. Any car that fails inspection will lose its starting spot and move to the back of the field.

* Daniel Suarez was penalized for speeding on pit road during the third and final round. He had to make another qualifying run, as a result.

* Ricky Stenhouse Jr.’s first qualifying attempt was disallowed for speeding on pit road. He came back on-track to try again before the session expired, but could go no faster than 25th, failing to advance to the second round. “I didn’t feel I was going that fast (on pit road),” Stenhouse Jr. told Fox Sports 1. “Either way, our first or second time wasn’t good enough to make it. Definitely not the qualifying effort we wanted.”

* Cody Ware and Cory LaJoie did not make qualifying attempts, having to work on their race cars after being involved in wrecks during Saturday’s practice sessions.

* Sunday’s STP 500 (500 laps/263 miles) will take the green flag shortly after 2 p.m. ET (Fox Sports 1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

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Kyle Busch dominates en route to Truck win at Martinsville

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Less than a week after earning his 200th career NASCAR win, Kyle Busch began working on his next 200, capturing Saturday’s TruNorth Global 250 Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway.

Busch dominated the 32-truck event, leading 174 of the 250 laps around the .526-mile paper-clip shaped oval, winning under caution after Reid Wilson spun on the final lap. It was Busch’s third Truck start and win of 2019 – he also won at Atlanta and Las Vegas – and the 54th of his career.

Busch has two more Truck races left on his schedule this year (NASCAR limits full-time Cup drivers to a maximum of five starts in the Truck Series per year): Texas next Friday and Charlotte in May. If he wins those two races, he will have won all five this year and six in a row dating back to his last Truck start of 2018 at Pocono.

What’s more, Busch now has seven wins in 11 starts across all three NASCAR series thus far this season. He goes for career win No. 202 when he makes his 1,000th career NASCAR start in Sunday’s STP 500 NASCAR Cup race.

“We made wholesale changes to this thing all weekend long, to make it faster,” Busch told Fox Sports. “We had enough tire at the end to hold them off.”

Ben Rhodes finished second, followed by Brett Moffitt, Ross Chastain, pole sitter Stewart Friesen, Myatt Snider, Grant Enfinger, Matt Crafton, Johnny Sauter and Bubba Wallace.

“We just needed a little something more, we got beat by the best in the business,” Rhodes said of Busch to Fox Sports. “Overall, it was a good, happy day. We’ve got some momentum going and we go on to the next race and see if we can beat him the next time.”

Click here for full results.

Click here for updated point standings.

The only significant caution of note in the race occurred with eight laps to go in the first stage, when the No. 12 Chevrolet of Gus Dean went up in flames – possibly from an oil fire. He was uninjured.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kyle Busch

STAGE 2 WINNER: Ross Chastain

WHAT’S NEXT: Vankor 350, March 29 at 9 p.m. ET, Texas Motor Speedway.

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Chase Elliott leads Hendrick Chevy sweep of top three in final practice

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — Chase Elliott paced the final Cup practice Saturday at Martinsville Speedway, turning a 97.542 mph lap on the 0.526-mile oval.

Teammate Alex Bowman was second fastest, and Jimmie Johnson made it a sweep of the top three speeds for Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets, which have been winless since Elliott’s win last October at Kansas Speedway..

Austin Dillon and Paul Menard rounded out the top five in the 50-minute session.

The rest of the top 10 were comprised of Ty Dillon, Daniel Hemric, Kevin Harvick, Erik Jones (the highest-ranked Toyota) and Martin Truex Jr.

Clint Bowyer, who won at Martinsville a year ago, was fastest in the first practice Saturday morning when Chris Buescher was the fastest Chevy in seventh.

The practice ended under a red flag after a crash for Cody Ware.

Qualifying for the STP 500 will be at 5:10 p.m. on FS1.

Click here for speeds during the final practice at Martinsville.

Friesen tops Kyle Busch to take pole for Martinsville truck race

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Stewart Friesen outdueled Kyle Busch to gain the pole for this afternoon’s TruNorth Global 250 Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Martinsville Speedway.

Friesen covered the 0.526-mile, paper clip-shaped oval with a speed at 96.465 mph. It’s the third career pole in the Truck Series for the Canadian driver.

“Our Chevy was fast, we made a couple small air pressure adjustments and a little bit of track bar there for the last round, and it held up,” Friesen told FS1. “They pay the money at the end of the race, though. That’s what we’re concerned about now.”

Friesen will be seeking his first career Truck Series win in today’s race.

Busch was second fastest at 96.366 mph.

“Overnight, we made a ton of changes,” Busch told FS1. “Hopefully, we can get this Tundra to where we want it to be and where it’ll be good on the long runs. Long runs are going to be important.

“It’s going to be all about track position and staying out front and seeing what we can get. It was a top-five truck yesterday. Hopefully, it’ll be a top-three truck now.”

Busch, who earned his 200th career NASCAR victory last Sunday at Fontana, California, will be making his 10th career start in a truck at Martinsville. He has one win (March 2016), five top fives and six top-10 finishes at the track.

Todd Gilliland (96.249 mph) was third fastest, followed by Sheldon Creed (96.200), Brett Moffitt (96.180) and Matt Crafton (96.132).

The rest of the top 12 qualifiers were: Raphael Lessard (96.083), Johnny Sauter (96.015), Austin Hill (95.550), Ross Chastain (95.468), Derek Kraus (95.266) and Austin Dillon (95.165).

Click here for the full qualifying results.

Today’s 250-lap/131-mile race will take the green flag shortly after 2 p.m. ET (FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).

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