Matt Kenseth wins pole for Cup regular-season finale at Richmond

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Matt Kenseth won the pole for Saturday’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond Raceway, giving him a sweep of this season’s poles at the track.

Kenseth, who is looking to lock himself into the playoffs with a win in the regular-season finale, scored the pole with a speed of 122.421 mph.

“I didn’t think I was going to have enough speed, I didn’t think that was a fast enough lap time to get the pole,” Kenseth told NBCSN. “We’ve been running pretty good the last few months. We haven’t been able to break through and get a win like we’d like to have, we got crashed out at Michigan. But other than that we’ve been up there in the mix. We just haven’t been able to get it to line up and get the victory.”

It is Kenseth’s 20th Cup pole. Before this year he had never won a Cup pole at Richmond. Kenseth led 164 laps in the April race before finishing 23rd after a flat tire.

Completing the top five are Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson and Martin Truex Jr.

The winners of the last six Richmond races all started in the top five.

The top five drivers starting outside the top 12 are Clint Bowyer, Ryan Blaney, Brad Keselowski and Daniel Suarez.

“We just got too loose,” Suarez told NBCSN. “For whatever reason we just lost a lot of grip in the second round. I don’t why. We had the same thing in practice. The first round was very, very good and the second round on tires wasn’t as good. We’re missing something there.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. will start 21st in his last Cup start at Richmond Raceway.

Richard Childress Racing had a poor qualifying performance with all three cars failing to advance out of the first round.

Paul Menard will start 26th followed by Ryan Newman in 27th. Austin Dillon qualified 31st.

“We have a good long-run car,” Dillon told NBCSN. “We kind of travel in a group when we struggle. When we run good, we run good. Like at Darlington last week with a fourth and a seventh. It’s good to know we can turn the ship around by the end of the weekend.”

Click here for the starting lineup.

Champion crew chief Jeff Hammond returning to pit box

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Jeff Hammond, a two-time Cup champion crew chief, will be the crew chief for Clay Greenfield in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, Clay Greenfield Motorsports announced Tuesday night.

“It’s like coming full circle to be able to return to the top of the box for such a first-class team and a hungry driver like Clay Greenfield,” Hammond said in a statement from the team. “I believe this Rackley Roofing #68 is going to turn some heads and prove that we’re a team to respect!”

Said Greenfield in a statement: “We are thrilled to have a legendary crew chief like Jeff join our team and help take us to the next level. With the addition of Jeff combined with equipment upgrades Rackley Roofing has allowed us to make, we are poised to have the most successful season in CGM’s history.”

Hammond won 43 Cup races and Cup titles in 1982 and ’85 with Hall of Famer Darrell Waltrip. Hammond last served as a crew chief in NASCAR in 2000 with Chad Little before joining Fox Sports as an analyst.

Hammond said Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Late Shift” that “I’m not going to do as much television this year, and I got a chance to meet and get to know Clay a little bit last year. We’ve been kicking some things around. … Their desire is a lot like mine. When you go do something, do it right. They’ve shown me already their intention to be a first-class operation with making good decisions.”

Greenfield will compete in at least eight series races this season with Rackley Roofing as the primary sponsor.

Greenfield has 46 career Truck starts since 2010. He ran in four races last season. His best career finish in the series is eighth at Talladega in 2017.

 

Silly season scorecard: Daniel Suarez joins Gaunt Brothers Racing

Daniel Suarez
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The biggest remaining piece to the puzzle that was the 2019-20 NASCAR silly season has been put into place with the confirmation that Daniel Suarez will compete full-time in the Cup Series with Gaunt Brothers Racing.

Suarez moves from Stewart-Haas Racing over to GBR to drive its No. 96 Toyota. This will be the first full-time Cup campaign for the team.

Here’s a recap of all the major headlines from silly season.

ANNOUNCED CUP RIDES FOR 2020

No. 00: Quin Houff will race for Star Com Racing full-time. Announced Nov. 27.

No. 1: Chip Ganassi Racing announced on Nov. 1 a multi-year extension with Kurt Busch.

No. 6: Roush Fenway Racing announced Oct. 30 that Ryan Newman would return to the car as part of the news that Oscar Mayer would sponsor the No. 6 through 2021.

No. 8: Richard Childress Racing made it official Oct. 2 that Tyler Reddick will move to Cup in 2020 and drive the No. 8 car.

No. 10: Aric Almirola confirmed Oct. 11 he signed an extension to race for Stewart-Haas Racing.

No. 13: Ty Dillon posted a video Sept. 6 on Instagram refuting rumors that he would retire after this season. He has a contract with Germain Racing through 2020.

No. 14: Clint Bowyer was announced Oct. 17 as returning to Stewart-Haas Racing for a fourth season.

No. 15: Brennan Poole will make his Cup debut and will drive for Premium Motorsports full-time. Announced Dec 11.

No. 17: Chris Buescher will take over the Roush Fenway Racing No. 17 ride in 2020 after the team announced Sept. 25 that it would part ways with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. after the 2019 season.

No. 20: Joe Gibbs Racing announced Sept. 6 that it had signed Erik Jones to an extension. It is a one-year extension for the 2020 season.

No. 21: Matt DiBenedetto replaces Paul Menard at Wood Brothers Racing (announcement made Sept. 10). DiBenedetto’s deal is for 2020 only.

No. 32: Corey LaJoie will return for a second straight full season with Go Fas Racing and the No. 32 Ford. The team announced on Nov. 1 it would enter a technical alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing next year. Ryan Sparks will serve as his crew chief.

No. 37: Ryan Preece moves from the No. 47 to the No. 37. He will have a new crew chief, Trent Owens, who has been crew chief on the No. 37 for the past three seasons.

No. 38: John Hunter Nemechek replaces the now retired David Ragan for Front Row Motorsports. Announced Dec. 12.

No. 41: Stewart-Haas Racing announced Nov. 15 Cole Custer will replace Daniel Suarez.

No. 47: JTG Daugherty Racing announced Oct. 16 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. will join Ryan Preece at the two-car team, essentially swapping seats with Chris Buescher. On Dec. 2, the team announced Stenhouse will drive the No. 47, with Brian Pattie serving as his crew chief.

No. 77: Ross Chastain will drive the car as part of a partnership with Chip Ganassi Racing and Spire Motorsports in the Daytona 500 and Coca-Cola 600 (announcement made Jan. 9).

No. 95: Christopher Bell moves to Cup in 2020 and will drive for Leavine Family Racing (announcement made Sept. 24).

No. 96: Daniel Suarez joins Gaunt Brothers Racing for his fourth full-time Cup season and the team’s first (announcement made Jan. 28).

Rick Ware Racing: JJ Yeley and Joey Gase will drive two of the team’s three full-time rides. The third driver has not been named yet, although David Ragan will compete in the Daytona 500.

Kaulig Racing: The Xfinity Series team will attempt to make its Cup Series debut in the Daytona 500 with Justin Haley (announcement made Jan. 10).

ANNOUNCED PLANS IN OTHER NASCAR SERIES

Xfinity Series 

Kaulig Racing announced Oct. 15 Ross Chastain would compete full-time for the team in 2020 driving the No. 10 Chevrolet, joining Justin Haley, who returns for a second full-time season and will drive the No. 11 Chevy.

More: Kaulig Racing announces full-time crew chiefs for 2020

Joe Gibbs Racing — Announced Oct. 17 Harrison Burton will drive its No. 20 Toyota full-time in 2020. Announced Oct. 31 Brandon Jones would return for a third year in the No. 19. Revealed Nov. 5 it would field a third full-time entry with Riley Herbst in the No. 18.

JR MotorsportsJustin Allgaier will return to the team for a fifth year in the No. 7 Chevrolet. The No. 8 car will be driven by Daniel Hemric for 21 races, Jeb Burton 11 races and Dale Earnhardt Jr. for one race. Noah Gragson will also return for a second season in the No. 9 car, while Michael Annett returns for a fourth year with the team in the No. 1 car.

Richard Childress Racing — Will field the No. 21 full-time with three drivers, Myatt Snider, Anthony Alfredo and Kaz Grala. Andy Street will serve as crew chief. Snider will also compete in selected races for Ryan Sieg Racing.

Stewart-Haas RacingChase Briscoe will remain with the team for his second full-time season (announcement made Jan. 6).

JD MotorsportsJesse Little will compete full-time for the team, while Colby Howard will compete for the majority of the season.

SS Greenlight Racing – Former Richard Childress Racing driver Joe Graf Jr. will compete full-time in the No. 08 Chevrolet (announcement made Jan. 16)

Martins MotorsportsTommy Joe Martins‘ team returns to the track with Martins set to drive the No. 44 car (announcement made Dec. 24).

Truck Series

GMS RacingDriver lineup will include Brett Moffitt, Sam Mayer, Sheldon Creed, Tyler Ankrum and in six races, World of Outlaws driver David Gravel.

Kyle Busch MotorsportsRaphael Lessard will drive the No. 4 full-time while Christian Eckes will drive the No. 18 full-time.

Halmar Friesen Racing — Stewart Friesen will return for a third full-time season in the No. 52 Truck. The team will also switch from Chevrolet to Toyota in 2020.

Hattori Racing EnterprisesAustin Hill will return to the No. 16 Toyota for a second year.

Niece Motorsports – Ty Majeski will drive the No. 45 truck full-time, taking the place of Ross Chastain. Announced Dec. 10. Carson Hocevar and Natalie Decker will compete part-time for the team.

DGR-Crosley/Front Row Motorsports – An alliance between the two teams will field an entry for Todd Gilliland in the No. 38 truck (announced Jan. 13), but it will be in a Ford instead of a Toyota (Announced Dec. 11).

McAnally-Hilgemann Racing – 2019 NASCAR ARCA Menards Series West champion Derek Kraus will compete full-time for the new team in the No. 19 (announcement made Jan. 13).

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It’s official: Daniel Suarez to drive for Gaunt Brothers Racing in 2020

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Gaunt Brothers Racing made it official Tuesday that Daniel Suarez will drive the team’s No. 96 Toyota Camry in the Cup series this season.

The team, which has run a limited Cup schedule since 2017, will run the full season. Gaunt Brothers Racing will not have a charter.

“It’s great to be back with Toyota and back in the NASCAR Cup Series,” the 28-year-old Suárez said in a statement from the team. “My NASCAR career started off really well and Toyota was a very big part of that. To have them in my corner again gives me a lot of confidence. Gaunt Brothers Racing has something to prove and so do I. We’re committed to each other and we’re going to build each other up.”

This will be the fourth Cup season for Suarez. He won the 2016 Xfinity Series title before moving to Cup. He drove two seasons for Joe Gibbs Racing before moving to Stewart-Haas Racing for 2019. He was replaced by Cole Custer after last season. Suarez has yet to make the Cup playoffs.

Dave Winston will serve as Suárez’s crew chief. Winston was at Richard Childress Racing where he was vehicle performance group engineer and also the race engineer for Daniel Hemric. Winston has served as a crew chief before, spending 2014 at BK Racing with driver Alex Bowman and 2016 at Circle Sport-Leavine Family Racing with driver Michael McDowell.

Coca-Cola and CommScope will continue their partnerships with Suarez. The team did not announce how many races those companies will be on the car.

“We’ve been working toward this moment since Gaunt Brothers Racing joined the Cup Series in 2017,” said Marty Gaunt, president, Gaunt Brothers Racing, in a statement. “We’ve made steady improvement every year, but bringing Daniel on board allows us to take a giant leap forward. We’re investing in each other. He’s not content to just be here and neither are we. We’ve been very strategic in everything we’ve done, and between our partnership with Toyota and the resources now available to us, we can take that next step and deliver for Daniel and all of our partners.”

Suarez told reporters Tuesday in a conference call with reporters that “in the last couple of weeks, I have been going to bed thinking that my goal is to take Gaunt Brothers Racing … that some people know as a part-time team, to a winning team. That is going to happen. It’s going to take some time but it’s going to happen.”

Gaunt said Tuesday night in a conference call with reporters that Toyota Racing Development will provide all the engines for the team. TRD provides engines for Joe Gibbs Racing and Leavine Family Racing.

Gaunt said that acquiring a charter remains a priority for the organization. A charter guarantees a team a starting position in each race.

“It’s top of mine,” Gaunt said of the goal of acquiring a charter. “We made some phone calls, unfortunately there is not a charter available at the present time but it is high on our priority list. If one comes available we’ll be the first person to be at that table to have those conversations.”

Suarez replaces NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman, who ran 14 of the team’s 15 races last season.

NASCAR shortens final stage for several Cup races

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CONCORD, N.C. — NASCAR has changed the length of stages for 16 Cup races this season, primarily shortening the final stage in those events.

The overall length of those races did not change, except for the Pocono doubleheader events. NASCAR also announced that with the stages changing, the end of Stage 2 will go beyond the halfway point of the race. NASCAR stated that a Cup race would be official at the halfway point should it have to end early, a change from last year.

NASCAR reveled the changes to reporters Tuesday at the NASCAR R&D Center.

Here are the changes:

At speedway races, the Daytona 500 stages will now be 65 laps/65/70. The final stage of last year’s Daytona 500 was 80 laps.

At Talladega, the stages will be 60/60/68 laps. The final stage for last year’s races there were 78 laps.

“With the 550 engine package, the fuel mileage was different and the fuel windows got really tight before this change,” said Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition. “All this does is make it so in the final stage there is more than a couple of lap option for the whole field to pit and it gives a little bit more leeway at the end on fuel should we go into overtime. That’s why the speedway races got changed.”

At intermediate tracks:

Atlanta’s Cup race will feature stages that are 105/105/115 laps. Last year’s final stage at Atlanta was 155 laps.

The Cup races at Texas will have stages of 105/105/124. Last year’s final stage was 164 laps.

Darlington’s Cup race will have stages of 115/115/137. The final stage of last year’s Southern 500 was 167 laps.

“The way those races laid out before, (they) had an extremely long third stage with two green-flag stops necessary,” Miller said. “So what we did was we shortened the final stage. It now only has to have one green-flag stop. The center stage is longer, but we kind of collectively thought, having that last stage not be so long … would keep the field tighter and make for more exciting racing.”

At tracks 1 mile or less in length, the changes are:

Phoenix Raceway, site of the championship race, will now have stages of 75/115/122. The final stage at Phoenix last year was 162 laps.

New Hampshire’s Cup race will have stages of 75/110/116 laps. The final stage of last year’s race there was 151 laps.

Dover’s Cup races will have stages of 75/162/163 laps. The final stage of last year’s race was 160 laps.

Richmond’s Cup races will have stages of 80/155/165 laps. The final stage of last year’s race was 200 laps.

“Phoenix, New Hampshire, Dover and Richmond, the goal there was to create some stages that potentially gave us some more strategy options for the crew chiefs,” Miller said. “Typically, those races laid out to where there was no stop necessary in Stage 1 and Stage 2 and a green-flag stop necessary in Stage 3. These shifts in stage length put us to where … there is a need for a green-flag stop in the second and the third stage. Some more strategy options available there.”

New this year is the Pocono doubleheader on June 27-28. The Saturday race is 130 laps and will feature stages of 25/52/53 laps. The Sunday race is 140 laps and will feature stages of 30/55/55.

Miller said that stage lengths had yet to be set this season for the races at Watkins Glen, Sonoma and the Charlotte Roval.

“At the road courses, there’s only one green flag stop that is necessary and that is in the third stage,” Miller said. “We’re talking about reducing the fuel cell capacity and creating some stage lengths that again create a green-flag stop in Stage 2 and Stage 3. Still some work to do there on particulars on the fuel cell and make sure that everything works with the industry. I think we will probably get there.”

Miller also said that NASCAR explored the notion of four stages for every event — only the Coca-Cola 600 has four stages — but that was dropped.