DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — If only the “light bulb,’’ as Matt Kenseth said, would have come on at the end of his qualifying race Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway.
Instead, Kenseth kept racing and was collected in a last-lap crash that will cost him his front row starting spot in Sunday’s Daytona 500.
His trouble started a few laps earlier.
Kenseth, who had been running second, dropped down when Jimmie Johnson tried to go below him with six laps left. Cars passed Kenseth and Johnson on the outside and trapped both behind lapped cars. Both fell out of the top five.
“They got outside of me before I knew what happened,’’ Kenseth said. “I was basically stuck in the middle, and Jimmie was on the bottom, and we caught those lapped cars. We were just stalled out in bad air. That would have been a real great time for the light bulb to come on and call it a day.’’
Instead, Kenseth kept racing and didn’t fall back far enough. He was eighth on the final lap. Ahead, Jamie McMurray shot up the track in second place trying to block Johnson.
“I had stalled out right when I got to (Busch), and I didn’t think (Johnson) had much of a run either,’’ McMurray said. “It felt like our momentum was about the same. I saw the replay and I still don’t know if he was up to my rear bumper or if it was the air that made his car turn. I’m just not sure.”
The result was that Johnson turned into the wall, triggering a six-car accident that sends Johnson, Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr. and A.J. Allmendinger to backup cars for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
“Jamie tried to put a move on (Busch) and left the bottom in a hurry to come up and block my run,’’ Johnson said. “I could see with his aggression how fast he was coming up and that our line was going to take me into the wall. I tried to check up and get out of there and it just didn’t work out and it took me into the outside wall a little bit and turned me down across the field. Just a block that didn’t turn out.’’
Johnson wasn’t critical of McMurray’s move, though.
“Man, we’re racing,’’ Johnson said. “They’re split-second decisions.’’
One that caused Kenseth’s car to suffer extensive damage and not be usable for the Sunday’s season-opening race.
“I just saw (Johnson) going across the race track,’’ Kenseth said. “I was in the process of trying to get out of there. I did a poor job of that, and I got ran over from behind.’’
Ty Dillon was behind Kenseth when the accident started.
“He slammed on brakes so quick I had no time to react,’’ Dillon said.
Now, Kenseth will start at the back of the 40-car field.
“I don’t know if starting in the back is as big of a deal as losing your (primary) car,’’ Kenseth said. “In 500 miles if you can’t get to the front in 3 1/2 or 4 hours, you have an issue.’’
There’s a few notable holes on Kyle Busch‘s Cup Series resume.
He’s never won the Daytona 500 or the Coca-Cola 600.
To be even more specific, he’s never won a Cup points race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
He’s won at every other track on the Cup circuit.
In 28 starts at the 1.5-mile track, Busch has 11 top fives and three runner-up finishes. The most recent was in last year’s Coke 600. That was a week after he won the All-Star race for the first time.
He’s combined for 15 wins at the track in the Camping World Truck and Xfinity Series, making him the track’s winningest driver.
Busch, who has three victories this season, made his effort to finally get a points win at Charlotte easier on Thursday when he qualified first for Sunday’s race.
“It’s important to me, but I’m not sure it’s important in the grand scheme of things,” Busch said of getting a win at Charlotte. “It’s certainly important to me and I would love to get that knocked out-of-the-way and to be finished with it until another new track comes up on the circuit and certainly it’s been a trying time here over the course of my career and to have it come to fruition in a points race, the last I checked I have a trophy at home that says, ‘winner at Charlotte Motor Speedway,’ so I’ll take that to my grave with me if I do never get a points win here. That will be my saving grace I guess.”
Busch came in second in last year’s Coke 600 after a fuel mileage gamble by Austin Dillon‘s team paid off, giving Dillon his first Cup win.
On NASCAR America, Steve Letarte, Landon Cassill and Kyle Petty discussed Busch’s struggle to get a Cup win at the track.
“At some point it’s kind of like Chase Elliott, ‘When’s he going to win? When’s he going to win?'” Letarte said. “Now, I think Kyle Busch feels like, when is he going to win? When is he going to win Charlotte? Starting on the front row matters, but we all know 600 miles … is very, very difficult.”
Watch the above video for more.
Reviewing Danica Patrick’s highs and lows at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the legacy left by her success
So much of Danica Patrick’s fame can be traced to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
It’s where she became a household name 13 years ago when she became the first woman to lead the Indianapolis 500 and emerged as a transcendent athlete.
It’s where everything started. This Sunday, it’s where everything will end, too.
In her last warmup before starting the final race of her career, Patrick had a bumpy final practice Friday on Carb Day. She was eighth fastest, but her Dallara-Chevrolet was in the garage most of the session because of an electrical problem in the engine. After returning during the final 10 minutes of the session, Patrick’s No. 13 seemed to be OK.
“At the end of the day, these are things you’re actually glad for, because if this had happened Sunday, we would have been done,” she said. “I’m glad to get the issues out of the way early on. Overall, today felt good. We made some changes when I went out the second time, and I’m feeling good about starting seventh on Sunday.”
Though she has had her share of success – along with a fourth in her debut, there was a third in 2009 and six top 10s in seven starts — Patrick has learned well how to handle frustration at the 2.5-mile track, too.
Fuel mileage might have kept her from winning her debut, a pit collision ruined 2008, and an unstable setup made 2010 a wild ride.
For a review of her up-and-down history at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and her legacy in racing, watch the video essay above that ran during Friday’s NASCAR America Motorsports Special on NBCSN.
Kaz Grala, father reveal how Fury Race Cars came to Xfinity Series
The receiver was Shane Wilson, the long-time Xfinity crew chief who had worked in that role for Grala through the first 10 races of the season.
The elder Grala asked: “Can u talk?”
That was the moment when Fury Race Cars, the race car building company Grala founded in 2016 with Tony Eury Jr. and Jeff Fultz, started becoming an Xfinity Series team.
PUTTING THE TEAM TOGETHER
It wasn’t official until Kaz Grala, 19, drove onto the track Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, in his No. 61 Ford.
It capped a 15-day scramble for the Gralas, Wilson and other members of Fury Race Cars to become the newest Xfinity team. The effort was announced May 18.
It started with Darius Grala’s text. He had just gotten off the phone with JGL Racing owner James Whitener, who had offered to give them three of their Roush Fenway Racing built cars as a form of severance for Kaz Grala.
“We got the three cars from him because we left on great terms,” Kaz Grala. said. “He was a huge supporter of me, right up until the end, emotionally and financially, you name it. He was a big fan of mine and he helped me kick off my Xfinity career. He wasn’t able to continue funding my ride. He definitely wanted to help however he could.”
That allowed the group to get a “good jump” on the team building process in the midst of a two-week break for the series.
The process was made even easier with five of the six crew members who worked on Grala’s No. 24 car joining the team along with Wilson. They joined an operation in Fury Race Cars that for the last two years was devoted to building modifieds, sports cars and late models.
Darius Grala, a native of Poland who moved to the United States when he was 8, had his own background as a sports car driver. That went along with the extensive time served as NASCAR crew chiefs by Eury and Ricky Viers.
But at Fury Race Cars, they’d never worked with a Xfinity car until this month.
“I don’t want you to think we took it lightly,” Darius Grala said. “Because we didn’t we didn’t want to come and embarrass ourselves. But there wasn’t any question right from the first conversation, obviously being Kaz’s dad I want to do everything I can but after speaking with Tony and Jeff, they were all in 100 percent, whatever we need to do, let’s figure it out.”
The group worked many late nights to get ready for Saturday’s race.
“Yes, you have to get the car built, but you’ve got to have the tool box to organize …. you need to have a pit box,” Kaz Grala said. “You need to have the hauler organized, I needed race suits in eight days, I needed polos. Just every single little thing and one of our biggest challenges, just logistically, was that this came together so late, just trying to get our entry forms in in time for this race and for Pocono. Everything came so quickly, all the little I’s had to be dotted and T’s had to be crossed. All that stuff takes time and we just didn’t have time.”
Even acquiring a fuel can was a hassle.
“They’re not easy to come by, it’s not like you can go to (a store) and buy one of those,” Darius Grala said.
They also had to pick a number.
“We let the team at Fury pick the number,” Kaz Grala said. “Actually you would be surprised when looking into numbers, I know I was, how few are actually on the market. Most of them are not. It really worked out perfectly, because Fury being modifieds is one of their main things that they build and all the guys at Fury are old-time, old-school guys and of course the 61 being Richie Evans’ was immediately what jumped out at them. That was kind of the inspiration for it. Not to mention my mom is actually from Rome, New York, as well, as Richie Evans was. Seemed like a good fit.”
The team loaded up its lone car for the Charlotte race weekend by 9 p.m. Wednesday, placing it in the team’s logo-free white hauler.
“That was the first relief since the day we started,” Darius Grala said.
He had a “really, really good” night of sleep.
A DEAL WITH GOD
With the sun setting on Fury’s first day as an Xfinity team, Kaz Grala pulled his No. 61 Ford into his garage stall – the very last stall meant for the lowest team in points or a new team without any – at the end of final practice.
On his last run, Grala posted the eighth best speed in the session at 179.784 mph. That placed him ahead of Chase Briscoe, Austin Cindric, Ty Dillon and other drivers from big teams.
Where did they get that speed?
“I don’t know, I guess a lot of hours and a lot of hard work right there, the car’s pretty darn good,” Grala said. “Couldn’t really ask for more than that.”
Has the driver who has competed in a full season of the Camping World Truck Series (and won one race) and 10 Xfinity races ever felt this good after a practice?
“Not in Xfinity, no,” he said. “I think we’re closer than we’ve been. We were within a couple of tenths of the 22 (Team Penske’s Brad Keselowski). If you’re within a couple of tenths of the 22 then you’re pretty darn good.”
In the Xfinity garage, JGL Racing’s No. 28 Ford driven by Dylan Lupton is parked right across from Fury’s stall. Lupton finished the session 24th.
“We’re still on good terms, we’re friends with all of them,” Grala said. “A little friendly competition, we’re a little bit quicker than them. We’re going to try and stay quicker than them. But we’re trying to be quicker than everyone here.”
The team’s next chance to be quicker than everyone else comes Saturday in qualifying. And the No. 61 team needs to qualify. They also need it to not rain. If it rains, they won’t be in the race.
“There’s 43 cars here and we have zero points,” said Darius Grala, noting the field would be set by owner points. “That’s about the only goal we have right now is we need to make a deal with God on the weather.
Qualifying is set to begin at 10:10 a.m. ET. The chance of rain then is 60 percent.
Regardless of the weather, the team will be back next week at Pocono and the two races after that. That fulfills the original sponsor deal Kaz Grala has with NETTTS, which has backed him since 2013 when he raced in modifieds.
The team is prepared to go beyond those four races, but won’t just stop looking for partners.
“As of right now, yes, it’s been a lot of work, but no one at Fury is scared of work,” Darius Grala said. “We’re looking at this being a step forward if at all possible.”
Heck of a way to make our on-track debut with @FuryRaceCars… P8 in final practice! I can’t say enough about everyone’s hard work and dedication over the last 8 days to get this program up and running. BRING ON SATURDAY! https://t.co/JrNiSNikEN
Charlotte Motor Speedway is doing as much as it can to improve the racing product and create opportunities for passing this weekend at the 1.5-mile track.
A blue tractor spent Friday dragging two sets of tires in the upper groove in each turn, an effort to freshen the area where the PJ1 traction agent was applied.
A track spokesperson confirmed to NBC Sports that the substance was added to the upper grooves in both corners on Monday and Tuesday.
The spokesperson was not aware of plans to add more PJ1 or to drag the tires on Saturday.
“The Xfinity cars ran on that PJ1 a lot and definitely activated it and got the grip definitely up there,” Joey Logano said after qualifying second for the Coke 600. “It’s hard for me to say what was what, but, overall, the car got faster and that’s all I really care about.”