Upon Further Review: Martinsville

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The question was simple and so was the answer.

What did Kyle Larson take out of his season-best third-place finish Sunday at Martinsville Speedway?

“That I’m not as bad as I think I am here,’’ he said with a smile.

Sunday could prove to be a race that could be viewed as a key moment in his progress.

By running toward the front, Larson got to see how some top drivers at Martinsville run there, particularly Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski.

Remember, Johnson struggled early in his career at this track until he followed Tony Stewart in one race.

Larson got a similar experience Sunday.

“This track is single-file, but you can move your line around half a groove or a full groove and really pick up speed,’’ Larson said. “I’ve struggled with knowing when to move around before. Following Jimmie, it gave me a better idea of when to move around and stuff like that.’’

Larson said that running the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race on Saturday also helped, noting that Martinsville is one of the few tracks where a Truck drives similar to a Cup car. Good chance he’ll drive in the Truck race there when the series returns in the fall.

While Sunday was a good starting point for Larson, work remains. This weekend’s race at Texas Motor Speedway is a type of track where Larson and Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Jamie McMurray have not found speed this season.

“I know with the off week they worked on it quite a bit to learn on maybe some mistakes we made with our cars and I haven’t done a great job either,’’ Larson said.

— Woe is Matt Kenseth. He’s been fast at most tracks this season and in contention for wins but has just one top-10 finish.

Sunday continued his frustrating year.

He was second on the final restart but finished 15th. Earlier in the race, he and Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch worked together on restarts with the leader taking the outside lane and being allowed to cut down in front of the teammate.

That changed when they aligned for a restart with 11 laps to go and Busch leading.

On the radio Busch discussed the plan with crew chief Adam Stevens: “That’s right on the border of whether we do the deal or not. What do you want to do, Adam?”

Said Stevens: “It’s time to race, pal. It’s time to race.”

Busch remained in the preferred bottom line, keeping Kenseth on the high lane.

“We essentially told each other all bets are off with under 10 to go,’’ Busch said afterward of helping a teammate on restarts.

After being told on the radio by his spotter that it didn’t appear they would do the same thing as before, Kenseth said: “Yeah, I was going to race until we got off Turn 2. That’s fine. I got it. We’ll just pass him on the top here.”

On the final restart, AJ Allmendinger, who was third, got under Kenseth. That allowed other cars to do the same, keeping Kenseth in the slower top lane. Kenseth, who did not pit for tires during that final caution, could not get down to the bottom lane and soon fell back to eighth and was fighting cars that had fresher tires. Kenseth had no chance.

It’s just another case of bad timing, bad luck, bad karma or whatever you want to call it this season for Kenseth.

Consider:

  • He led the Daytona 500 until attempting to block Denny Hamlin on the high line with less than a mile to go. Hamlin cut underneath them, they made contact and Kenseth fell back, finishing 14th.
  • At Atlanta the following week, Kenseth had a strong car early, leading 47 laps, but was penalized on an early pit stop. While the team argued the penalty, Kenseth was not told of the infraction and NASCAR did not score him a lap for ignoring the black flag. He lost a second lap while serving his penalty. He never recovered, finishing 19th.
  • At Las Vegas, Kenseth was running sixth with 43 laps to go when he slid up the track and was hit by Chase Elliott. Kenseth finished 37th.
  • At Auto Club Speedway, Kenseth had a strong car in the first half of the race before pitting under green for a tire issue. He was penalized for speeding on pit road. He fell a lap down, got it back and was penalized for an uncontrolled tire on the pit stop before the overtime finish. Kenseth placed 19th.

Brian Vickers will be back in the No. 14 car this weekend for Stewart-Haas Racing at Texas Motor Speedway. It marks the first time he’s been in the car back-to-back weeks. He’s shared duties with Ty Dillon but Dillon will be in the No. 95 car this weekend for Circle Sport – Leavine Family Racing.

“For me right now I’ve had plenty of time off, I’m rested and ready to go and looking forward to having two weeks in a row with these guys and build some momentum,’’ Vickers said after finishing a season-best seventh at Martinsville.

— Eight-time Martinsville winner Jimmie Johnson failed to lead a lap Sunday. This marks the fourth consecutive Martinsville race he has not led at least one lap. The only other time he’s gone so long without leading a lap at the track was in his first four starts there.

Carl Edwards’ sixth-place finish Sunday was his first Martinsville top-10 finish in the last nine races there. He has six career top-10 finishes in 24 starts there.

— The eight caution flags Sunday were the fewest at Martinsville since the spring race there four years ago had seven cautions. The seven Martinsville races before Sunday’s event had averaged 14.7 cautions per event.

— Richard Childress Racing placed all three cars in the top 10 for the first time since the Oct. 2014 race at Kansas. Add runner-up AJ Allmendinger’s JTG Daugherty Racing team, which is part of the RCR alliance, and it made for an even bigger day for that group.

— Five-time Martinsville winner Denny Hamlin finished 39th Sunday – his worst finish at the track.

— The pole has not proved to be the best spot in terms of finishing positions this season. Here’s a look at the average finish for the top five starting spots:

Pole-winner — Average finish 14.8

Second starter — Average finish 10.5

Third starter — Average finish 18.0

Fourth starter — Average finish 9.3

Fifth starter — Average finish 8.2

Helio Castroneves rules out Daytona 500

Helio Castroneves Daytona 500
Robert Scheer/Indy Star/USA TODAY NETWORK
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Helio Castroneves might be at the 2023 Daytona 500, but the four-time Indy 500 winner won’t be in a race car.

During a news conference Thursday at Daytona International Speedway, Castroneves confirmed in response to a question from NBC Sports that he essentially has ruled out attempting to make his NASCAR Cup Series debut in the Feb. 19 season opener.

As recently as last Thursday at Rolex 24 Media Day, Castroneves, 47, said he still was working on trying to piece together a deal.

The Brazilian had been negotiating with the Cup team co-owned by boxer Floyd Mayweather and would have been in an “open” entry that lacked guaranteed entry to the Great American Race. That potentially would leave him in the precarious position of needing to make the race on qualifying speed or a qualifying race finish (as action sports star Travis Pastrana likely might need in his Cup debut).

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“Unfortunately for me, lack of experience, no testing,” Castroneves said. “A lot of things. I believe it would be a little bit tough throwing myself in such a short notice, and to go in a place that you’ve got to race yourself into it. So as of right now, yes, it’s not going to happen.

“But we did have an opportunity. We just got to elaborate a little bit more to give me a little more experience on that. So there is more things to come ahead of us, but as of right now, I want to focus on the IndyCar program as well and (the Rolex 24 at Daytona).”

Castroneves, who has a residence in Key Biscayne, said he still might attend the Daytona 500

“I might just come and see and watch it and continue to take a look and see what’s going to be in the future,” he said.

Castroneves enters Saturday’s Rolex 24 at Daytona having won the event the past two years. He made his signature fence-climb after winning last year with Meyer Shank Racing, which he will be driving for full time in the NTT IndyCar Series this year. He became the fourth four-time Indy 500 winner in history in his 2021 debut with Meyer Shank Racing.

The 2020 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar champion also has indicated an interest in Trackhouse Racing’s Project 91 car that aims to place international drivers in a Cup ride (such as Kimi Raikkonen at Watkins Glen International last year). Team co-owner Justin Marks recently tweeted Trackhouse wouldn’t field the Project 91 car at the Daytona 500.

After winning the 2022 Superstar Racing Experience opener, SRX CEO Don Hawk had promised he would help secure a Daytona 500 ride for Castroneves.

Castroneves has been angling for a NASCAR ride for years, dating to when he drove for Team Penske from 2000-20. After winning the Rolex 24 last year, he said he had been lobbying Ray Evernham and Tony Stewart for help with getting in a Cup car.

Though Castroneves is out, Sports Business Journal’s Adam Stern reported that Mayweather’s The Money Team Racing still is considering IndyCar driver Conor Daly for its seat.

Fire at Reaume Brothers Racing shop injures three

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A Thursday fire at the Reaume Brothers Racing shop in Mooresville, North Carolina, injured three individuals, according to Mooresville (North Carolina) Fire-Rescue.

Firefighters were dispatched to the shop, which is scheduled to field entries for driver Mason Massey in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series this season, at about 11:30 a.m. Thursday.

The fire department extinguished the blaze quickly. The department stated on its Facebook page that one individual was transported to Lake Norman Regional hospital for smoke inhalation, and another was transported to Baptist Hospital in Winston-Salem, N.C. with burn injuries. A third was treated and released.

The team stated Thursday night on social media that Taylor Collier and Devin Fokin had been treated and released. The team stated that Taylor was treated for smoke inhalation and Fokin was treated “for serious burns.”

The Mooresville Fire Marshall’s office is investigating the cause of the fire. The fire department said the shop sustained “significant fire damage.”

In a tweet, the team said it is determining the extent of damage to the building. “More importantly,” it said, “a few of our team members did sustain injuries during the fire and are being transported for medical treatment.”

 

Trackhouse, RFK Racing, Front Row Motorsports sign sponsorship deals

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Trackhouse Racing, RFK Racing and Front Row Motorsports announced sponsorship deals Thursday morning.

Trackhouse said WWEX, a Dallas-based global logistics group, will increase its sponsorship presence with the team this year, serving as the primary sponsor in 21 races for drivers Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez.

WWEX will appear on Chastain’s Chevrolets in 19 races and will sponsor Suarez twice. The organization was a Trackhouse sponsor in 11 events in 2022, which was a breakout season for both Chastain and Suarez.

RFK announced that Solomon Plumbing, which joined the team last season, will expand its presence this season and in future years. The Michigan-based company will serve as the primary sponsor for several races on driver Brad Keselowski‘s No. 6 Ford.

MORE: Chase Briscoe signs contract extension with Stewart-Haas

Solomon specializes in plumbing and fire services for new development and construction. It initially sponsored Keselowski last season in the dirt race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Front Row Motorsports has signed Quincy Compressor, a Bay Minette, Ala.-based compressor manufacturer, as a sponsor for four races.

Quincy will sponsor Todd Gilliland‘s No. 38 team in three events and Michael McDowell‘s No. 34 team in one race.

 

 

Stewart-Haas Racing signs Chase Briscoe to contract extension

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Chase Briscoe has signed a multiyear contract extension to remain at Stewart-Haas Racing, the team announced Thursday.

The length of the deal was not announced.

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Briscoe is entering his third Cup season with the team. He won his first series race last year, taking the checkered flag at Phoenix last March. That victory put him in the playoffs. He finished the season ninth in the standings. 

“It’s huge to have stability, with my team and my partner,” Briscoe said in a statement from the team. “It just gives you more confidence. Stewart-Haas Racing is where I want to be for a long time. It’s the place I’ve known longer than anywhere else in my NASCAR career.

“I remember getting signed by Ford in 2017 and I told people, ‘You know, if I could pick one place to be, it would be Stewart- Haas Racing. And if I could drive one car, it would be the 14 car. That would be the ultimate dream.’ And now, here I am.

“SHR has such a great group of people, from the Xfinity Series to the Cup Series, and they’ve all just guided me in the right direction. From drivers to crew chiefs to crew members, they’ve always had my back, and that’s been a huge help – just having people believe in you.”

The 28-year-old Briscoe has been with SHR since 2018. He split a limited Xfinity schedule that season between what is now RFK Racing and SHR. He ran full time with SHR in the Xfinity Series in 2019 and ’20 before moving to Cup in 2021.

“Chase has made the most of every opportunity and the proof is in the results. Keeping him at SHR was a priority and we’re proud to have him in our racecars for many more years to come,” said Tony Stewart, who co-owns SHR with Haas Automation founder Gene Haas, in a statement from the team. 

Briscoe’s signing comes two weeks after teammate Kevin Harvick announced that this will be his final season in Cup. 

The Cup season begins Feb. 5 with the Busch Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum before going to Daytona for the Feb. 19 Daytona 500.