Matt Kenseth’s spotter talks about return to track, void he can fill

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Chris Osborne, the spotter for Matt Kenseth and Daniel Suarez, will make his return this weekend at Martinsville Speedway after missing the season’s first five races while recovering from injuries suffered in a December car crash that also injured his wife and son.

Although Osborne had hoped to be cleared to begin work earlier this month, he told “The Morning Drive” on Tuesday he’s ready for this weekend.

Osborne suffered a compound fracture of his right leg in the crash. His wife suffered nine broken ribs and broke her right hip, shoulder and elbow. Osborne’s son, Austin, suffered a partially collapsed lung, cracked sternum, concussion, broken nose and lost a few teeth.

N.C. State Highway Patrol cited the driver of the other car, Michael Dale Kellison, with driving while impaired, careless and reckless driving and having an open container in his vehicle. His court case Monday was continued to May 3.

While Osborne has been out, Kenseth has been fast but has yet to score his first victory of the season.

Kenseth was in position to win the Daytona 500 when he decided to go from the bottom lane to the top lane with about a mile left to block teammate Denny Hamlin’s charge. Hamlin, who got a push from Kevin Harvick, steered underneath Kenseth and nipped Martin Truex Jr. at the finish line to win the race.

The following week, Kenseth led 47 laps early but was penalized for an infraction on pit road. As crew chief Jason Ratcliff disputed the call with NASCAR, Kenseth was not informed of the violation.

NASCAR stopped scoring Kenseth for a lap before he came down to pit road after being informed of the penalty. Kenseth lost another a lap in the process and was two laps down. The race went green for the first 210 laps, giving Kenseth no chance to get his laps back and he wasn’t a factor, finishing 19th.

Kenseth’s bad luck continued at Las Vegas when he slid up the track into the path of Chase Elliott, ending the race for both. Kenseth finished 37th. Kenseth placed seventh at Phoenix and 19th at Auto Club Speedway.

Asked on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio by NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan about what it had been like to watch what has happened to Kenseth this season, particularly at Daytona and Atlanta, Osborne said:

“That’s been a mental struggle as well. I’ve watched each and every race. I’ve watched all the practices, the qualifying sessions for each division. I’ve watched all the races, and I listen to the in-car stuff as well through the course of the race.

“I can’t sit here and tell you that there is a guarantee that any of those finishes would have been any different had I been on the roof. All I can tell you is I know the chemistry myself and Matt Kenseth has and myself and Daniel Suarez. For myself and Matt, there’s just that continuity, if you will, between a driver and spotter just like there is with each and every team on the circuit. There’s things that I know he’s thinking about before he ever says it. I know what he’s looking for. I know what kind of information he wants.

“In the situation like that at the Daytona 500, it would have been a situation where I would have been on the button (talking to Kenseth) for the last lap for sure from the middle of the backstretch to the start/finish line, and I would have never let off. I would have been constantly giving him information on everything that was going on behind him in the lower lane and with the run with (Hamlin) and (Harvick) and those guys on the top.

“Hindsight is 20/20. We would have won the Daytona 500 if we could go back and change things. So would (Truex). In reality, it’s just a situation of knowing what is expected of you. Lorin Ranier came in and done an exceptional job at Daytona and Speedweeks. It’s just the first time he and Matt had worked together in a lot of years. They had worked together way back in the early stages of Matt being at Roush for a few races but it had been a long time.

“Then Curtis Markham coming in and filling out the rest of the four-race schedule until California last week, he’s done an exceptional job as well, but you know in those situations, had I been on the roof at Atlanta I would have just told Matt. I wouldn’t have waited on somebody to tell me that I should or shouldn’t be telling him.

“When the (NASCAR) tower tells you that the 20 car is receiving the black flag and what the penalty is for, it’s not my responsibility on the first time by to tell him he has to pit, but it’s as much my responsibility as it is Jason Ratcliff’s or anyone else to tell him the situation just so he’s aware of what is going on and he can start looking for the black flag.

“When they tell you they’re going to display the black flag with the white cross, the talking is over then. You have to come down pit road and serve your penalty because you’re only hurting yourself after that. So it just goes back to the communication thing and knowing what is expected of you, knowing what the driver wants from you and feeding him that information.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s in the Daytona 500 on the track, if it’s penalties being served, if it’s pit stop stuff, whatever it is, that’s what I’m up there for: No. 1 for safety, but No. 2 to communicate with the driver and keep him aware of situations on the race track because, obviously, when they’re strapped in that race car, they know what is going on around them, but they don’t know anything outside of that until they’re told.’’

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

NTSB
Photo: Dustin Long
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Pilot error played a key role in the August 2019 crash of a plane carrying Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his family, a final report by the National Transportation Safety Board stated Wednesday.

Earnhardt, wife Amy and daughter Isla were on board the plane, which crashed after a hard landing at Elizabethton (Tennessee) Municipal Airport on Aug. 15, 2019. The report stated all three suffered minor injuries. 

The NTSB listed the probable causes of the accident as: “The pilot’s continuation of an unstabilized approach despite recognizing associated cues and the flight crew’s decision not to initiate a go-around before touchdown, which resulted in a bounced landing, a loss of airplane control, a landing gear collapse, and a runway excursion. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s failure to deploy the speedbrakes during the initial touchdown, which may have prevented the runway excursion, and the pilot’s attempt to go around after deployment of the thrust reversers.”

A “go-around” occurs when a pilot pulls out of a landing and gains altitude to make another landing attempt.

The report stated that “the flight crew made several comments about the airplane flying too fast and allowed the airspeed to increase well above the reference speed for the approach.”

The report stated that “the pilot did not extend the speedbrakes upon touchdown, which landing checklist required, but instead attempted to deploy the thrust reversers immediately after touchdown, which was a later item on the landing checklist.”

Earnhardt’s Cessna 680A Citation Latitude bounced twice upon landing as it traversed the 5,001-foot runaway.

After the fourth touchdown, the right main landing gear collapsed. The plane went off the road and through a 400-foot long area of grass. It went down an embankment, through a creek and a chain-link fence. It continued up an embankment. The plane came to rest about 600 feet beyond the runway at the edge of a four-lane highway.

The passengers and two pilots escaped as the plane burned.

The full report can be read here.

Champion or not, Chase Briscoe won’t let Xfinity title define season

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Like the 11 drivers he’ll compete against in the Xfinity Series playoffs, a championship is the endgame for Chase Briscoe.

However, with the Stewart-Haas Racing driver one win from matching his preseason goal of at least eight victories, Briscoe wouldn’t be too disappointed if he failed to claim the title at the end of the seven-race playoff.

“I feel like to this point if we don’t get to eight (wins) … I feel like I accomplished or proved what I was trying to say at the beginning of the year,” Briscoe told NBC Sports on Tuesday. “There’s still no reason why we can’t get to 10 wins. I feel 100% confident in my team that we’re going to have the cars capable of doing it, I just need to do my job. If we do that, hopefully we can get to Phoenix and then (whoever’s) the best team once we get there wins.”

As he prepares to open the playoffs Saturday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN), Briscoe is wary of not letting “the championship define you and define your season. … Winning races is a big deal. That’s what you get paid to do is go win races and obviously win championships as well, but today’s format anything can happen in that final race.”

Briscoe can attest to importance of winning races. He enters the playoff with a series-leading seven wins, which has helped him start the postseason with 2,050 points and ties him with Austin Cindric.

Briscoe’s impressive numbers come a year after he had just one win in a season where Tyler Reddick, Christopher Bell and Cole Custer combined to win 21 of 33 races.

Briscoe believes the perception of his abilities as a driver are “way different” from last year as he struggled to chase those three drivers now competing in Cup.

“Personally, I felt like I could win races, and I think a lot of it was learning,” Briscoe said. “Last year, there were still a lot of tracks I had never been to before and didn’t even have 100 pavement starts in my entire career, and now I have that experience. I have the confidence to go with it and all of those things are totally different, and when I said what I said at the beginning of the year (about winning eight races) I felt like I was capable of doing that.

“If I could back it up, it would look even better. … I think I’ve proven my worth in this sport. I feel like if I do get the opportunity to move up, I feel like I’m ready, but I also feel like I could get a lot of benefit out of coming back to the Xfinity Series and running again.”

Briscoe, a Ford development driver, says he still doesn’t know what’s in store for him in 2021.

He said the uncertainty of his future is a “little bit easier” to handle compared to last year because of the wins he’s racked up.

Regardless of not knowing his NASCAR fate, if Briscoe can “somehow get to 10 wins this year and win the championship, then that would just make it, I feel like, a lot easier for the decision-makers.”

Mike Wallace’s appeal of indefinite suspension denied

NASCAR suspends Mike Wallace
Mike Wallace
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Mike Wallace‘s indefinite suspension by NASCAR was upheld by the National Motorsports Appeals Panel on Wednesday.

Wallace, who has made three Xfinity Series starts this season, was suspended Sept. 10 for violating Sections 12.1; 12.8; 12.8.1.e of the rule book.

According to the rulebook, a violation of section 12.8.1.e is any “Public statement and/or communication that criticizes, ridicules, or otherwise disparages another person based upon that person’s race, color, creed, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, marital status, religion, age, or handicapping condition.”

As part of the suspension, Wallace is required by NASCAR to attend sensitivity training.

The three-member appeals panel was made up of Dixon Johnston, Bill Lester and Kevin Whitaker.

Wallace has the right to appeal the decision to the National Motorsports Final Appeals Officer.

Wallace wrote the following on Facebook shortly after his suspension was originally announced:

“You know as I fly across the United States today I’m ready various people’s political views and I have to say a famous four star Military General that I spent time with in the MidEast told me Mike let me give you some advice don’t ever get in a conversation about politics or religion unless you are really smart. I said why do you say that comment His response it’s like being balanced on a single edge razor blade if you slip you will get cut!

Think about that before we all make foolish uneducated post! Moral of this story is most of use just repeat what we have heard we really don’t know.
Have a great positive day!”

Bubba Wallace to receive Stan Musial award for extraordinary character

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Following months of speaking out in support of racial justice and inclusion in NASCAR, Bubba Wallace‘s work has been recognized by The Musial Awards.

The Richard Petty Motorsports driver has been selected as the recipient of its Award for Extraordinary Character.

The award honors “an individual who demonstrates remarkable poise, perseverance and overall sportsmanship.”

The Musial Awards – presented by Maryville University in St. Louis – is named after Stan Musial, a former St. Louis Cardinal baseball player. St. Louis is also the home to one of Wallace’s sponsors, World Wide Technology.

More: Michael Jordan excited for NASCAR future with Denny Hamlin

In the wake of the death of George Floyd in May, the 26-year-old Wallace has been active in helping lead NASCAR through social changes, including the banning of the Confederate flag at series events and tracks.

He also drove a Black Lives Matter car at Martinsville Speedway in June.

“Bubba Wallace exemplifies what the Stan Musial Award for Extraordinary Character is all about,” Frank Viverito, president of the St. Louis Sports Commission, which produces the Musial Awards, said in a press release. “He has overcome much to be where he is, and he has courageously stepped forward to take an important stand for change. He is most deserving of an award that stands for sportsmanship and character, and is named for Stan Musial, whose own actions promoted racial acceptance and unity.”

Wallace joins baseball legend Hank Aaron as a 2020 Musial Awards honoree. Aaron is receiving the Stan Musial Lifetime Achievement Award for Sportsmanship.

The Musial Awards will air nationally on CBS on Saturday, Dec. 26.

After three full-time seasons in Cup racing for RPM, it was announced earlier this week that Wallace would compete in 2021 for a Cup team co-owned by Denny Hamlin and basketball legend Michael Jordan.