Matt Kenseth glad Erik Jones news is out so he doesn’t ‘have to pretend anymore’

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LOUDON, N.H. – In the wake of the news he won’t be returning to Joe Gibbs Racing, Matt Kenseth had a busy week – which didn’t involve fretting about his NASCAR future.

Kenseth spent his week hanging in Wisconsin with childhood friends from his hometown of Cambridge, traveling to Detroit to take in a Metallica concert Tuesday at Comerica Park. Though he read Tuesday’s release from JGR announcing Erik Jones as his replacement in the No. 20 Toyota, Kenseth said he mostly had been disconnected and had “nothing new to report there at the moment” when asked if he’d been contacted by prospective teams.

“I hope to race next year,” he said Friday before practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I still enjoy racing. I still feel like I could be an asset to somebody, so I hope so.”

The 2003 champion, said he had “a pretty good indication” about his impending departure from Gibbs for “about the last 12 or 13 months.” He said there was no firm timetable for finding a ride after breaking the news he didn’t have anything for 2018 last weekend at Kentucky Speedway.

“I probably have some personal cutoff times, maybe to some point,” he said. “But not really. It’s only July. I’ve got to be honest with you, I’m really not that concerned about it. I’m OK. Everything’s fine.

“I’m just glad they finally put it out so you don’t have to pretend anymore. Everyone asked Erik about it last week, and it was, ‘I don’t know what’s going on. Nobody’s told me.’ It’s just better to get it over with, get it done. Everybody can ask you about it, everybody can move on and get back to racing.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. predicted last week that Kenseth would land another ride, and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson echoed that sentiment this morning. Hendrick’s No. 88 Chevrolet, which is being vacated by Earnhardt, would seem among the best options for Kenseth.

“I don’t think he’ll be left out in the cold,” Johnson said Friday. “I know Junior had a similar response last week. Matt’s just too good. The guy can win races and win championships, and that won’t be overlooked, but I do feel like Matt’s at a point in his career where he’s not going to take just any ride.”

With indications that JGR’s choice of Jones was sponsorship-driven, Kenseth said he wasn’t taking the move personally.

“It’s a business,” he said. “They’ve got their reasons. It doesn’t necessarily mean I understand it necessarily or agree with it. But yet I’m not the most subjective person because we’re talking about me. It’s been great.”

Kenseth joined Gibbs in 2013, winning a series-high seven races in his first season with the team. He has notched seven more victories in the past three seasons (though none this year).

“When I first went there we had a two-year deal,” he said. “We definitely fulfilled that. I felt like we got the 20 car back to winning again, and be a contender, which it wasn’t for four or five years. We won a whole bunch of races.

“We got two different sponsors to come and renew and be real good sponsors. We got Dewalt to come back there, which Erik will benefit from the next couple of years. Got (Dollar General) to renew that first time and stuff. I feel like we did a lot of great things. I feel like I helped them do what they were trying to accomplish with the car. At the same time, it was a great opportunity for me to go try something different where I was at in my career. I don’t think there’s anything to be bitter about or feel bad about. We’re both living up to the agreements we made.”

Kenseth isn’t expecting his team to be affected by the news, either, which might have been indicative of why he spent the week seeing his favorite band for the first time in 10 years.

“I actually had an incredibly fun week,” said Kenseth, who named one of his cats after Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. “(The concert) actually made me feel 20 again for about four hours, which was pretty fun. I could still hear when I got home, so that was good.”

Starting lineup for Talladega Cup race: Christopher Bell wins pole

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Six playoff drivers will start in the top 10 for Sunday’s 500-mile NASCAR Cup Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

Christopher Bell won the pole for the race Saturday with a speed of 180.591 miles per hour. He was followed by Kyle Larson, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola and Chase Briscoe.

MORE: Talladega Cup starting lineup

MORE: Talladega Cup qualifying results

Playoff drivers starting in the top 10 are Bell, Larson, Hamlin, Briscoe, Ross Chastain (sixth) and William Byron (ninth).

Noah Gragson, who qualified seventh, is replacing Alex Bowman, who is sitting out the race with concussion-like symptoms.

Ryan Blaney, starting 19th, is the lowest playoff driver on the starting grid.

 

Christopher Bell wins Cup Series pole at Talladega Superspeedway

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Playoff driver Christopher Bell won the pole position Saturday for Sunday’s 500-mile NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama.

Bell, 11th in the playoff standings and below the cutline entering Sunday’s race, ran 180.591 mph to edge second-place Kyle Larson at 180.516.

Playoff drivers took six of the top-10 starting spots.

MORE: Talladega Cup qualifying results

The race is the second in the second round of the playoffs. Any playoff driver who wins the race will automatically advance to the next round.

Joey Logano leads the playoff standings.

Noah Gragson, replacing Alex Bowman, who is sitting out the race with concussion-like symptoms, qualified seventh.

The race (2 p.m., ET) will be broadcast by NBC.

 

 

Sunday Talladega Cup race: Start time, TV info, weather

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Sunday will mark a difficult crossroads for NASCAR. As several of its top drivers express serious concerns about safety, the Cup Series is at Talladega Superspeedway, the circuit’s biggest track and site of many massive wrecks over its 53 years of existence.

Adding to the tension is the fact that Sunday’s 188-lap, 500-mile race is the middle event in the second round of the playoffs. With a win automatically advancing any of the 12 playoff drivers to the next round, the final laps are likely to be frantic.

Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET, NBC) will begin with Joey Logano atop the playoff point standings. Following him in the top eight are Ross Chastain, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Denny Hamlin, Daniel Suarez, Chase Elliott and Chase Briscoe.

Below the cutline are Austin Cindric, William Byron, Christopher Bell and Alex Bowman. Byron fell below the line this week when NASCAR penalized him for bumping Hamlin under caution during last Sunday’s race at Texas Motor Speedway. Hendrick Motorsports has appealed the penalty.

Bowman will miss Sunday’s race because of concussion-like symptoms he has experienced after a crash at Texas. Noah Gragson will replace him.

Bell won the pole Saturday with a speed of 180.591 mph.

Details for Sunday’s race:

START: The command to start engines will be given by Jimmy Rane, president of Great Southern Wood Preserving, at 1:52 p.m. (ET). … Green flag is scheduled to wave at 2:04 p.m.

PRERACE: Cup garage opens at 11 a.m. … Driver introductions are at 1:15 p.m. … The invocation will be given by Barbara Embry, chaplin of Citizens Baptist Medical Center, at 1:43 p.m. … The national anthem will be performed by the 313th U.S. Army Band at 1:45 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is 188 laps (500 miles) on the 2.66-mile speedway.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 60. Stage 2 ends at Lap 120.

STARTING LINEUP: Talladega Cup starting lineup

TV/RADIO: NBC will broadcast the race at 2 p.m. Countdown to Green begins at 1 p.m. … Motor Racing Network coverage begins at 1 p.m. … SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

STREAMING: NBCsports.com

FORECAST: Weather Underground — Mainly sunny. High of 78. 5% chance of rain.

LAST TIME: Bubba Wallace won last October’s race, which was shortened to 117 laps by rain. Brad Keselowski was second.

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Saturday NASCAR schedule at Talladega Superspeedway

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Both the Xfinity Series and Camping World Truck Series will race Saturday at Talladega Superspeedway.

Cup cars will start the day’s action by qualifying for Sunday’s playoff race, followed by the Truck playoff race and then the Xfinity playoff race.

Talladega Superspeedway (Cup, Xfinity and Truck)

Weekend weather

Saturday: Sunny. High of 78.

Saturday, Oct. 1

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. — Cup Series
  • 9:30 a.m. — Truck Series
  • 1 p.m. — Xfinity Series

Track activity

  • 10:30 a.m. – Noon — Cup Series qualifying (NBC Sports app, Motor Racing Network, Sirius XM NASCAR Radio)
  • 12:30 p.m. — Truck Series race (94 laps, 250 miles; FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 4 p.m. — Xfinity Series race (113 laps, 300 miles; USA Network, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)