How another major victory slipped away from Matt Kenseth on a split-second decision

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AVONDALE, Ariz. – Matt Kenseth leaned against his crumpled No. 20 Toyota and gracefully answered every question after quite possibly the greatest letdown of his NASCAR career.

With two laps remaining at Phoenix International Raceway, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver was a lock to win the Can-Am 500 and advance to

Fifteen minutes later, he was standing in the pits as Joey Logano roared by on a smoky burnout to victory lane.

How was Kenseth handling the feelings of disappointment so well?

“Is there anything I can do or say right now to make it better?” he asked. “The only thing I can do or say right now is make things worse, so really I’m just trying not to do that.”

It also might have helped that he had some recent experience with processing those painful emotions. Kenseth’s 2016 season will be remembered as being bookended by two enormous split-second decisions that immediately were ripe for second-guessing.

In the Daytona 500, it was a last-lap move to throw a block while leading, handing the win to teammate Denny Hamlin and raising questions about whether the absence of normal spotter Chris Osborne feeding him good information cost him a third win in the sport’s crown jewel.

Osborne, recovered from injuries in a car accident, was atop the spotter’s stand Sunday, but he was taking the blame for Kenseth’s 21st-place finish after a crash on the first restart of overtime.

Kenseth was in the lead and on the outside of Alex Bowman at the green flag. Bowman got bumped by Kyle Busch, but he recovered to hold the bottom line entering the first corner – where he drove into the left side of Kenseth’s car.

Kenseth had swooped from the bottom believing he was clear on the advice of Osborne.

“(Bowman) laid back, but I thought I got an OK restart, and (Osborne) said I was clear, so after he said I was clear, I started just looking at the corner,” Kenseth said. “I didn’t know any different until I was in the wall. So I don’t know if he just drove in and hit me or if I wasn’t quite clear. I really don’t know what happened there.”

Neither did Bowman, who apologized to Kenseth and his fans but also said both drivers on the front row had spun their tires.

“You just don’t want to wreck somebody and take them out of the Chase like that,” said the interim driver, who led a race-high 194 laps in the No. 88 Chevrolet place of Dale Earnhardt Jr. “I tried to get a little low and (Busch) just turned me sideways. I was up against the inside wall and I think (Kenseth) just thought he was clear. We didn’t get a terrible restart. It wasn’t the best. But we were going forward until (Busch) hit us.

“I had a couple of people already say that (Osborne) said (Kenseth) was clear. There is not really anything I can do when the spotter clears you, and I’m inside of you. I hate that it happened. It’s very disappointing. I never would intentionally do that. … I don’t think many people will be that hung up on it. If people were going to be that hung u, he’d be down here screaming at me now.”

It seemed Busch felt worst about the incident, taking the blame for the contact with Bowman. Busch, who advanced to defend his title in the final spot on points, was trying to force Bowman up the track in hopes of also blocking Logano.

“Right now it feels pretty (crappy), but tomorrow it might feel a lot better,” he said. “It depends on what Matt’s interpretation is and whether or not he can forgive.  I just feel really bad about what happened.  It just wasn’t what I anticipated, and I just feel bad.”

Of course, there also was a question of whether Kenseth needed to be in the bottom lane. Though it had been his preferred line throughout the race, he said “it didn’t matter that much.

“I was fine if I had to run through the middle,” he said. “I felt like our car was pretty good. I felt like I could have got off the top just fine.”

But taking the bottom line offered an edge that might have carried Kenseth to the victory because “that gets the guys behind you in a worse aero situation. So I got it turned down to the white line. (Osborne) hollered ‘inside’ at the same time I got turned backward and was headed toward the fence. So I really don’t know what happened. I was just going off the information I had to try to make the best corner I could.”

“It’s a team effort. Win as a team, lose as a team. I can’t blame (Osborne). I didn’t see what happened. He said I was clear, so I started looking toward the corner and got turned around. So many things happen in a hurry.”

It’s been a long wait for another title opportunity for the Cambridge, Wis., native, who won the championship in 2003 – the last season before the Chase. Though he has finished runner-up twice, Kenseth, 44, hasn’t advanced to the championship round since the playoffs were revamped in 2014, and the window is closing on his career.

“Disappointed would be to put it lightly,” he said. “It probably hurts more in a way if you’re one year away from your last championship instead of 13 years away from your last championship. I think it’s harder to take 13 years away.

“You don’t know how many more chances you’re going to have.”

It could be the epitaph for his season.

Martins Motorsports adds sponsorship to No. 44 Xfinity car

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Martins Motorsports announced Tuesday that it has renewed a partnership with Gilreath Farms Red Angus for the 2020 Xfinity Series.

Gilreath Farms and AAN Adjusters, which also is owned by Ken Gilreath, will be the primary sponsor of the No. 44 Xfinity car for 25 races this season. Gilreath Farms sponsored Martins for a race at Bristol Motor Speedway in 2018 when Martins drove for BJ McLeod Motorsports.

“Having Gilreath Farms Red Angus on the car again is special,” Martins said in a statement. “This is really where my partnership with Ken started in 2018, so to see his commitment to us this year…I mean I’ve said it before, it completely changes our entire outlook for this season. It’s really special.”

The first race for the Red Angus Chevrolet will be at Bristol Motor Speedway.

Truck Series playoffs expands to 10 teams

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The playoffs for the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series will expand from eight to 10 drivers in 2020, NASCAR announced Tuesday.

Two teams will be eliminated after the first round and four eliminated after second round.

How each round of the playoffs will unfold:

Round of 10: World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway, Canadian Tire Motorsport Park and Bristol Motor Speedway

Round of 8: Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway, Martinsville Speedway

Championship 4: Phoenix Raceway

“Expanding the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series playoff field to 10 is a win-win for drivers, teams and, most importantly, the passionate fans who support our Gander Trucks,” Truck Series Managing Director Brad Moran said in a statement from NASCAR. “This will only increase the competitive intensity this series offers, as more drivers and teams vie for one of the most coveted championships in all of racing.”

Had there been 10 drivers allowed in last year’s playoffs, ThorSport Racing’s Ben Rhodes and Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Harrison Burton would have gotten those spots. KBM did not have any drivers in the playoffs.

The first two races of the playoffs, at Gateway and Canada, will feature the new pit road rules for standalone races in the Truck and Xfinity Series.

Reports: Daniel Suarez to drive for Gaunt Brothers Racing

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Multiple reports state that Daniel Suarez will drive the No. 96 Cup car for Gaunt Brothers Racing in 2020.

The team has not made any an announcement.

Toby Christie reported Friday at tobychristie.com that a deal was done for Suarez to drive the full Cup season for Gaunt Brothers Racing. Motorsport.com reported Monday that Suarez would join Gaunt Brothers Racing for the full season.

Suarez would replace Parker Kligerman, who confirmed to NBC Sports on Friday that he would not return to the No. 96 car this season.

This would be the fourth Cup season for Suarez. He drove for Joe Gibbs Racing in 2017-18 before being replaced by Martin Truex Jr. Suarez moved to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2019 and was replaced after the season by rookie Cole Custer.

Suarez continues to seek his first Cup win. He has eight top-five and 32 top-10 finishes in 108 Cup starts. He won the 2016 Xfinity title, a year after winning rookie of the year honors in that series.

Gaunt Brothers Racing debuted in 2017, running one race with D.J. Kennington. The team ran 22 races the following year between Kligerman, D.J. KenningtonJeffrey Earnhardt and Jesse Little. The team ran 15 races last year with Drew Herring running once along with Kligerman’s 14 starts.

HighPoint to sponsor Chase Briscoe in multiple Xfinity Series races

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Chase Briscoe will have a new sponsor in 2020 in HighPoint.com, a customer service and technology solutions company, Stewart-Haas Racing announced Tuesday.

Briscoe, who returns for a second full-time Xfinity Series season with SHR, will have HighPoint as a primary sponsor on his No. 98 Ford for 10 races. The Sparta, New Jersey-based company will make its debut with the Feb. 15 season opener at Daytona.

For all other races, HighPoint will be an associate sponsor.

“Even though we race stock cars, there’s nothing stock about what we do,” Briscoe said in a press release. “The science of our cars is impressive, but the technology that goes into building our Ford Mustangs and then making them perform is even more advanced. Our IT needs are pretty complex, and we demand a lot from our technology every day, whether it’s at the shop or at the track. HighPoint is more than just a sponsor – they’re a partner that helps us perform.”

As part of the deal, HighPoint will be the team’s official IT solutions provider.

“Walk around our race shop during the week and the garage area on a race weekend and you’ll see how our race cars and our entire industry relies on technology,” Mike Verlander, SHR’s vice president of sales and marketing, said in a press release. “From engine diagnostics to fuel-mileage calculations, our business is dependent on service and technology solutions. Every company needs what HighPoint provides, and we’ll work diligently to facilitate those introductions.”