How the final call for two tires cost Matt Kenseth a victory at New Hampshire

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LOUDON, New Hampshire – It was a calm, cordial postrace debriefing in front of the No. 20 Toyota at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

No angry gestures from the driver. No shaken fists in frustration by the crew chief.

A lot has happened to Matt Kenseth and Jason Ratcliff over the past week – they both learned they were losing their jobs at Joe Gibbs Racing, and on Sunday, they lost a race – but the pair seemed to take it in stride despite the gut-wrenching reality they missed a golden opportunity to qualify for the playoffs in their final season together.

If Kenseth takes four tires – instead of two right sides – on his final pit stop, he almost assuredly would have snapped a yearlong winless streak with his first victory of the season.

“Without a doubt,” Ratcliff said. “Yeah.

“It’s disappointing. I feel we did everything we needed to win today other than that call at the end.”

Aside from Dale Earnhardt Jr., who took the lead by staying on the track, every car but Kenseth’s pitted for four tires during the final yellow on Lap 262 of 301.

Kenseth snatched the lead from Earnhardt on the Lap 267 restart but quickly was gobbled up by teammate Denny Hamlin, who led the final 34 laps to deliver JGR its first win of 2017. Kenseth hung on for fourth.

It was the latest in a string of tough news for the 2003 champion, who revealed last weekend he was looking for a ride and whose replacement was revealed by the team Tuesday.

The first person to greet him exiting the car was team owner Joe Gibbs, who said in a prerace interview with NBCSN’s Marty Snider that Kenseth “is a great driver with a lot of talent, and we hate the fact we will be racing against him in the future. We got put in a situation, with a lot of things happening to our race team over a period of a year-and-a-half, where we wound up at this spot. We did not want to be here, but we had to make a decision.”

After tossing his heel pads in the car and swigging an orange Gatorade, Kenseth (who apparently has no firm prospects for 2018) defended Ratcliff’s decision while also conceding it left with him with no chance.

“You had to have good left sides to take off today,” he said. “We got ate up those first few laps. I just couldn’t hang on on two tires. Typically you can get away with that. Four tires made big charges all day long. When we were only ones on (two), we were in big trouble.

“It’s a tough one when you’re leading. I’ve seen two tires and four tires win this race numerous times. That’s a tough one to make from the (pit) box. I’ve screwed up way more stuff than (Ratcliff) has. If five or six more cars (took two tires), we’d have a shot.”

Ratcliff, who told NBC Sports after the race that he was also out of the No. 20 beyond 2017, said Kenseth might have won if only three more cars had taken two tires.

“I felt like in five laps, we were matching the time of the leader, it just takes a little while for the right-side pressures to come up,” he said. “I was just playing the track position game, and I felt other guys would do it.

“I don’t know. Obviously it was the wrong call for us, but if I’m running sixth, I’m not going to put four tires on my car to finish sixth. I guess I’m the only guy that thinks that way, but it beat me today, so I’m the one who needs to change my way of thinking.”

With Kenseth possibly needing to make the 16-driver playoff field on points, Ratcliff gambled on finishing second in the first stage and then pitting. Kenseth spent most of the second stage buried in traffic.

That was why Ratcliff decided to make the final call for two tires when the caution flew two laps after Kenseth had taken the lead from Martin Truex Jr., who led a race-high 137 laps.

“I just didn’t want to lose our track position was the biggest thing,” Ratcliff said. “Earlier in the day we lost our track position, and it was just so hard to get by guys when the tires wore off the car. I knew if a few guys took rights, and we got jumbled up in there, we may be able to get two of them but not the last one. At the old Loudon, 25 laps on the left sides, it was thing to do. I know things are different in this day and time with less (downforce). I really thought guys running further back would try that.”

Kenseth did gain a cushion in the battle for the last playoff spot, moving 52 points ahead of Joey Logano.

“We’ll all remember the strategy call that cost us one, but we accumulated some points, which is important now,” Ratcliff said. “Although I don’t know if points would be a big deal sitting in victory lane.

“It’s a Catch-22. We’re in an odd spot where you have to win, but points are a huge deal right now for us. … Hopefully we can carry momentum to the next week. Maybe the frustration of knowing we had a winning car and losing. Hopefully we can take that, bottle it and let it motivate us to do better the next week.”

Results, point standings after Kansas Xfinity race

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John Hunter Nemechek led the final 30 laps to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Kansas Speedway for his first Xfinity win.

Nemechek beat Daniel Hemric, Elliott Sadler, Shane Lee and Tyler Reddick.

Nemechek is the third first-time winner this season.

Hemric finished second after leading 128 laps. He is winless this year and has finished in the top three 11 times.

Click here for the results.

Points

After earning his best finish since the July race at Daytona, Elliott Sadler trails Daniel Hemric by nine points.

The top four – which will advance to the championship round – is rounded out by Tyler Reddick (-12) and Christopher Bell (-22).

The eight driver playoff field is completed by Matt Tifft (one point back from Bell), Justin Allgaier (five points from Bell), Cole Custer (23 points back from Bell) and Austin Cindric (43 points back from Bell).

Hemric’s car was found to be too low in post-race inspection, which is a L1 penalty. L1 penalties can include the loss of 10-40 points (in the past has been a 10 point penalty) and can include the suspension of crew chief and/or other team members and a fine between $10,000- $40,000.

Click here for the point standings.

 

John Hunter Nemechek earns first Xfinity Series win

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John Hunter Nemechek bounced back from two pit stop miscues in the last 50 laps to earn his first Xfinity Series win Saturday at Kansas Speedway.

Nemechek, 21, led the final 30 laps. That was after he went from fifth to first on the final restart with 32 laps to go.

The son of former Cup driver Joe Nemechek earned the win in his 15th start.

Nemechek had to pass Daniel Hemric, who finished second after leading 128 laps.

“It means a lot, especially at Kansas,” Nemechek told NBC. “(In) 2004, I forget how old I was. But dad swept the weekend in the Xfinity Series and the Cup Series. It’s pretty special.”

The top five was completed by Elliott Sadler, Shane Lee and Tyler Reddick.

Nemechek pitted with Hemric with 50 laps to go and slid through his pit box. He left pit road three seconds behind Hemric.

When the final caution waved with 36 laps to go, Nemechek had to pit twice to tighten lug nuts.

“When that caution came I knew we had a chance,” Nemechek told NBC. “Luckily Daniel and I raced each other hard and clean all day. We got the track position and this thing was unreal to the end.”

When Nemechek took the checkered flag, he led Hemric by roughly five seconds. Hemric said he had a vibration over the last 15 laps.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Daniel Hemric

STAGE 2 WINNER: John Hunter Nemechek

MORE: Results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Elliott Sadler earned his best finish since the July Daytona race (second) … Shane Lee placed fourth for his career-best finish … Tyler Reddick earned his first top five of the playoffs … Ryan Sieg placed ninth for his second top 10 of the season.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Playoff contenders Cole Custer, Justin Allgaier, Austin Cindric and Christopher Bell were all involved in a nine-car wreck on Lap 1. Only Custer finished the race (26th) … Brandon Jones was eliminated via a one-car incident on the ensuing restart … After being involved in the Lap 1 crash, Spencer Gallagher was eliminated in one-car incident on Lap 26 … After Bell and Jones, Ryan Preece completed the Joe Gibbs Racing trifecta. He was involved in an incident on the last lap of Stage 2 when he was turned from contact with Joey Gase. Preece finished 21st.

NOTABLE: John Hunter Nemechek is the third driver to earn his first Xfinity win of the season (Ross Chastain, Spencer Gallagher).

POST-RACE INSPECTION: Daniel Hemric’s No. 21 Chevy was found to too low, which is a L1 penalty. L1 penalties can include the loss of 10-40 points (in the past it has been 10-point penalty) and suspension of crew chief and/or other team members and a fine between $10,000 – $40,000.

WHAT’S NEXT: O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway at 3:30 p.m. ET on Nov. 3. on NBCSN.

Video: Xfinity playoff contenders out after Lap 1 crash at Kansas

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Three of the eight playoff contenders were eliminated in a crash on the first lap of Saturday’s Xfinity race at Kansas Speedway, which opens the Round of 8.

Justin Allgaier, Christopher Bell, Austin Cindric and Cole Custer were involved in a nine-car wreck as the field raced through Turn 2. Allgaier, Bell and Cindric were eliminated while Custer’s team was able to make repairs to his No. 00 Ford.

It began when Allgaier got loose and made contact with Bell.

“Just hate it for everybody that we took out on Lap 1. It’s uncalled for, ” Allgaier told NBC. “That one’s on me.”

Bell, who won this race last year, told NBC he “didn’t really see much of anything” as the wreck developed. “Just heartbroken. This is one of my favorite race tracks we go to. Especially after the run I had last year. This was the race I was really looking forward to when we started the year back in February.”

Allgaier earned his second DNF of the playoffs while Bell and Cindric earned their first.

“It was just a racing incident,” Cindric said. “You don’t really expect something that big to happen in front of you on the first lap. … It is unfortunate that it happened that early. Huge points implications on my end and the owners championship end. I have to put my head down the next couple weeks and figure it out.”

Non-playoff drivers Michael Annett, Ryan Truex, Spencer Gallagher and Chase Briscoe were also involved.

The race restarted on Lap 12. The field was immediately slowed by a one-car incident involving Brandon Jones on the backstretch.

Kurt Busch fastest in final Cup practice at Kansas

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Kurt Busch led the way in the final practice session for Sunday’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC).

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver posted a top speed of 186.226 mph.

The top five was completed by Erik Jones (186.104 mph), Aric Almirola (185.842), Kyle Busch (185.471) and Paul Menard (185.446).

MORE: Aric Almirola fastest in Saturday’s early practice

There were no incidents in the session.

Joey Logano, who was 12th fastest, recorded the most laps with 67.

Kyle Busch had the best 10-lap average at 183.094 mph.

Click here for the speed chart.