Matt Kenseth plans to step away from Cup in 2018: ‘It’s probably time to go do something different’

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FORT WORTH, Texas – After 18 consecutive seasons in Cup, Matt Kenseth said he is taking a break from NASCAR’s premier series after 2017.

In his first expansive comments about the future since the announcement four months ago that he was losing his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth said Saturday during the taping of a NASCAR on NBC podcast episode (which will be posted Sunday) that he will put a two-decade career on hiatus, possibly for good.

“I’ve put a lot of thought into it and pretty much decided after Martinsville, which I kind of already knew anyway, but we decided to take some time off,” the 2003 series champion said. “I don’t know what that means. I don’t know if that’s forever. I don’t know if that’s a month or I don’t know if that’s five months. I don’t know if that’s two years. Most likely when you’re gone, you don’t get the opportunity again. I just don’t really feel it’s in the cards.

“Really most of my life, everything has been very obvious to me. Moving to Joe Gibbs, everybody was like, ‘Oh that must have been the hardest decision. Actually, it was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. Both ends, everything lined up. It lined up to not stay where I was for a whole bunch of different reasons, and it lined up to go over there for a whole bunch of different reasons. It was just like it was really easy. This one, I’ve been fighting it as long as I can, because I’m like, ‘Man, once you’re done doing this, not many of us get to do this, especially at the top level.’ I think I fought it for a long time.

“Sometimes you can’t make your own decisions, so people make them for you. That’s unfortunate, because I wanted to make my own decisions. I felt like in a way I’ve earned that to be able to go out the way other drivers who had similar careers to dictate when your time is up. Anyway, I just came to the realization it’s probably time to go do something different.”

Along with Kurt Busch, who said Friday that he remains in negotiations to return with Stewart-Haas Racing next season, Kenseth has been among the top free agents for next year, but his name wasn’t called despite some championship-caliber rides being open.

Stewart-Haas Racing is expected Wednesday to name Aric Almirola to replace Danica Patrick in the No. 10 Ford and seems to be nearing a new deal with Busch. Furniture Row Racing is shelving the No. 77 Toyota of Erik Jones (who is taking Kenseth’s ride at JGR).

Hendrick Motorsports named William Byron, 19, to replace Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 Chevrolet and selected Alex Bowman, 24, as Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s replacement in the No. 88 Chevy.

“Probably my biggest clue is when Rick put William in the 5 car, and I didn’t get that opportunity,” Kenseth, 45, said. “That was one I thought maybe I would get and hopefully go over there and get that car running better. I felt like I could really do that and maybe mentor some of the young drivers coming along, and that didn’t work out, either.

“Probably after that happened, that should have been the cold water in my face that, ‘All right, you need to accept it and do the best you can this year and figure out what you’re going to do next year and move on.’ ”

In the July announcement at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to name Bowman in the No. 88, Hendrick deflected when asked if he had considered putting Kenseth in the car.

Did Kenseth talk with Hendrick about joining his team?

“You know, I’ve talked to him a lot,” Kenseth said. “Probably talked to him 10 times a year, probably more than that. I’ve always got along with him pretty well.

“As far as any conversation with owners or anything, I probably would rather keep that to myself because the more I think about that, it’s not really fair to my peers or the owners, really, because all the cars have drivers in them, so it’s probably easier just to keep them to myself.”

With contemporaries such as Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr. leaving NASCAR with graceful retirement transitions, Kenseth said not getting the same opportunity to exit on his own terms “irritates me a little bit.

“But like I said, I feel like the way things have gone that for whatever reason — reasons I don’t understand that I think will become really, really clear in the future — that it’s just not meant for me to race next year,” he said. “I think it’s that simple. Everything lined up this way because I wasn’t going to make the decision myself, so someone made it for me. It’s just not supposed to happen.”

Kenseth, who has 38 career victories and two Daytona 500 wins, believes he still can win but said he was discriminating in his job search.

“I think I can drive next year if I really wanted to go drive,” the Cambridge, Wisconsin, native said. “But do I just want to drive, or do I want to try to win races and championships?

“I think if any of that stuff was really meant to be, and someone really wanted you to be part of the organization, they would have figured out how to make it happen by now, certainly.”

Unless a top-flight ride somehow were to materialize, Kenseth said he doesn’t anticipate being at the 2018 Daytona 500 or any other race next season.

“I really don’t,” he said. “You never say never. If something came up that felt right, or Coach (Joe Gibbs) had an opportunity come up because of a driver or something —  a good car I felt I could contribute and go win with and was a top team — I probably would seriously entertain that, but other than that, I don’t foresee that.”

If this is the end of the line in Cup for Kenseth, a lot is waiting for him at home.

His wife, Katie, is expecting their fourth child next month. They have three daughters between the ages of 3 and 8, and Kenseth said he was looking forward to spending time “with my kids and be able to do some normal family things.

“I think it’ll be busier staying at home than going to the racetrack,” Kenseth said. “Right now it’s busy at home. It’s a fun busy, a great busy. I think it keeps you young. As much as I fought it and as much as I tried to deny it’s not time, it probably really is.

“Even though I feel I can still get it done on the racetrack, I just think it’s probably time, and I need to accept that and move on.”

Kenseth is in the midst of a 40-race winless streak dating to July 2016 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but he has two poles this season and made the 2017 playoffs for the 13th time in 14 seasons.

He was eliminated from championship eligibility when his No. 20 Toyota was parked after his team sent too many men over the wall to repair it in the Oct. 22 race at Kansas Speedway.

“The racing end, it’s been a very frustrating and disappointing season from every level,” he said. “Probably the most disappointing season I’ve ever had in my career, to be honest with you. We’ve ran worse before. But this year, for having equipment out of that shop that is capable of winning races and championships, it’s just been a disappointing season to say the least. The hits just keep on coming, even with only three weeks left.”

The latest happened Friday when he consistently ran among the top five speeds in practice but wasn’t able to qualify because his car failed technical inspection too many times.

“I’ve had some really good periods and some bad periods,” Kenseth said. “I’d say this is my worst. I got to take a lot of the blame because I’m the guy driving the race car, but it’s been so self-inflicted. We’ve made so many mistakes as a team.

“We’ve had good days and messed it up with mistakes and have had bad days where we’ve ran terrible and had great pit stops and strategy and don’t make mistakes on pit road or the racetrack. It’s just been something all the time. We haven’t really operated at a high level. It’s been very disappointing.

“In hindsight looking back there’s probably things I could have helped more with or maybe been more of the squeaky wheel and tried to get things rolling better in the right direction and didn’t. I feel like (crew chief) Jason (Ratcliff) has done a good job of leading the team and figuring out what we need and how to get things turned around. Again, not putting it on him; it’s all of us. We just haven’t been able to turn it around and get the whole group as one unit operating as a championship unit, or even a winning unit. We had a few races we had a good opportunity to win and for whatever reason couldn’t.”

Listen to the full conversation with Kenseth, which posted Sunday.

You can listen to the podcast by clicking on the embed below or download and subscribe to the podcast on Apple Podcasts by clicking here or visiting the www.ApplePodcasts.com/nascaronnbc landing page.

It also is available for subscription on Stitcher or by clicking here and also can be found on Google Play, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts.

The free subscriptions will provide automatic downloads of new episodes to your smartphone.

Stephen Nasse DQ’d, Travis Braden declared Snowball Derby winner

Photo courtesy 5FlagsSpeedway.com
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What was the greatest day of Stephen Nasse’s late model racing career turned into the biggest nightmare just over two hours later.

After roaring through the field from a next-to-last starting position (36th in the 37-driver field) to win the 52nd Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, Nasse and his car were disqualified due to an illegal equipment violation found in post-race inspection.

As a result, original race runner-up Travis Braden was ruled the winner, while 14-year-old Jake Garcia, making his first career Snowball Derby start, moved up from third-place to runner-up.

This marks the third time since 2013 that the Snowball Derby winner has been disqualified for violations: Chase Elliott was DQ’d in 2013, giving the win to Erik Jones; and then in 2015, Christopher Bell was DQ’d, giving the win to Elliott.

Nasse was DQ’d for a titanium violation in the brake system of his car, apparently the first time such equipment has been found in Derby cars. Here’s an interview with chief technical inspector Ricky Brooks, courtesy of AutoWeek.com’s Matt Weaver, explaining Nasse’s disqualification:

Braden, a West Virginia native, told Speed51.com about his victory, “It feels very special. But I know it’s going to feel more special with a little bit of time. It stinks we couldn’t have won the race outright, but I know these guys won the Snowball Derby. We brought a car here capable of winning this race outright.”

Nasse took to Twitter to express his feelings about being disqualified:

Nasse’s car was the only one to fail post-race inspection.

Had Garcia won, he would have been the youngest winner in Derby history (Chase Elliott holds that record at 16 years, 6 days old, in 2011).

Rounding out the top five were Canadian native Cole Butcher in third, Jesse Dutilly in fourth and Preston Peltier in fifth. The race was originally scheduled to be run Sunday, but persistent rain pushed the event to Monday afternoon/evening.

Braden adds his name to a long list of Derby winners including Kyle Busch (2009, 2017), Erik Jones (2012, 2013), John Hunter Nemecheck (2014), Chase Elliott (2011, 2015), Christian Eckes (2016) and Noah Gragson (2018).

Several other notables and their finishing positions included veteran Cup driver David Gilliland (27th), JR Motorsports driver Josh Berry (29th), and NASCAR Cup driver Corey LaJoie, who suffered early problems and finished 31st. Former Roush Fenway Racing Xfinity Series driver Ty Majeski finished 13th, and ARCA Menards Pro Series West (formerly K&N Pro Series West) driver Derek Kraus finished 18th.

Majeski appeared headed to the win with less than two laps to go when he was involved in a multi-car wreck on Lap 317, bringing out a red flag race stoppage.

That opened the door for Nasse, Braden and Garcia — before Nasse was disqualified.

As a result, instead of earning what would have been the 100th late model win of his career, the 25-year-old Majeski, a native of Seymour, Wisconsin, was left with a wrecked race car and finished 13th.

“I’m just extremely frustrated,” Majeski told Speed51.com. “We had a real good car, a car plenty capable of winning. This is a tough one. Man, it sucks.”

Here are the updated results:

52nd Annual Snowball Derby Official Results

Pos. # Driver
1 26b Travis Braden
2 35 Jake Garcia
3 53b Cole Butcher
4 30 Jesse Dutilly
5 48 Preston Peltier
6 51s Chandler Smith
7 22 Casey Roderick
8 18 Hunter Robbins
9 36 Dan Fredrickson
10 53j Boris Jurkovic
11 119 Dalton Zehr
12 12G Derek Griffith
13 91 Ty Majeski
14 9C Jeff Choquette
15 43 Derek Thorn
16 81 Giovanni Bromante
17 7d John DeAngelis
18 2 Derek Kraus
19 54c Matt Craig
20 9m Brad May
21 51a Michael Altwell
22 20m Cole Moore
23 75 Jeremy Doss
24 16 Lucas Jones
25 26p Bubba Pollard
26 10 Kaden Honeycutt
27 54g David Gilliland
28 112 Augie Grill
29 57 Josh Berry
30 14c Connor Okrzesik
31 7 Corey LaJoie
32 21p Jeremy Pate
33 11 David Rogers
34 15 Rodrigo Rejon
35 4 Kyle Plott
36 78 Corey Heim
37 51n Stephen Nasse DQ

 

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Oh baby: Austin Dillon and wife Whitney expecting their first child

Photo courtesy Austin and Whitney Dillon
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The NASCAR baby boom continues.

Austin Dillon and wife Whitney announced Monday on Instagram that they are expecting their first child. Baby Dillon is due in June 2020, the couple revealed.

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DILLON PARTY OF 3 ❤️ Coming June 2020

A post shared by Whitney Dillon (@whitneydillon) on

 

 

As part of a photo shoot at Charlotte Motor Speedway, site of Austin’s first career Cup win, Austin and Whitney Dillon made the baby news reveal on the same day as their second wedding anniversary.

They were married Dec. 9, 2017, at Childress Vineyards in Lexington, North Carolina.

Baby Dillon will be the second great-grandchild for team owner Richard Childress and wife Judy. Austin’s brother, Ty, and wife Haley welcomed daughter Oakley Ray Dillon on Nov. 22, 2017.

News of Austin and Whitney’s forthcoming bundle of joy comes on the heels of Corey LaJoie and wife Kelly are expecting their first child around Easter 2020, as well as the last week’s birth of the second child, daughter Autumn, to driver Brad Keselowski and wife Paige.

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NASCAR shocker: Cole Pearn resigns as Martin Truex Jr.’s crew chief

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In what is one of the biggest surprises of the NASCAR offseason, Cole Pearn has resigned as crew chief of the No. 19 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, the team announced Monday afternoon.

Pearn has decided to leave the organization to pursue other opportunities, the team said in a media release.

“This was an incredibly difficult decision,” Pearn said in a statement. “At the end of the day, I really want to spend time with my family and actually see my kids grow up.

“Being on the road, you are away from home so much and miss a lot of time with your family. I don’t want to miss that time anymore. I want to be there for all the things that my kids are going to experience while they are still young.

“I love racing and there isn’t a better place to be than Joe Gibbs Racing, but I don’t want to look back in 20 years and think about everything I missed with my wife and kids while I was gone. They are what is most important to me.”

Added Truex in a statement, “I cannot say enough good things about Cole and what he has meant for my career. I appreciate his hard work and dedication to our race team over the past six years going back to when he was my engineer at Furniture Row. Our friendship is what matters most to me and I’m happy that he’s doing what’s best for him and his family.”

About an hour after the blockbuster news was made public by JGR, Pearn appeared on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s SiriusXM Speedway with Dave Moody and further expounded on his reasons for stepping down, saying:

“Everybody in the sport understands the grind of what the schedule is. To do it at the top level, you have to be all the way in. I was somehow making it work with my family until my kids got in school and once they’re in school and you have a day off on a Thursday, it really doesn’t matter. You pretty much go all week and you barely see ’em.

“I didn’t want to look back at my life and miss those moments. For me to get the opportunity to work in racing has been just a dream come true and then to have the success we’ve had just blows my mind. When you’ve achieved more than you’ve ever dreamt, you look at the other things in life you’ve been missing and I just felt like it was time.”

What’s next for Pearn?

“We’re working on that and going to let the dust settle a bit,” Pearn told Moody. “I’m must looking forward to being around the family. I’m going to keep myself busy. I’m definitely too young not to do anything so I’m definitely going to keep working, that’s for sure.”

Pearn conceded that both Truex and team owner Joe Gibbs were shocked when he revealed his plans to step away.

“Yeah, I definitely don’t think anybody saw that coming,” Pearn told Moody. “There’s no easy way to deliver that news, especially to people you respect and care about. I’ve been losing a lot of sleep trying to figure out the best way to do it, but at the end of the day, just being honest and speaking from the heart was the way to do it. They’re both amazing people and I think they took it about as best as anybody could.”

Truex joined Furniture Row Racing in 2014 and Pearn, who had already been with the team as an engineer, moved to the crew chief role for the 2015 season. In 179 races together, Pearn and Truex combined to reach the season- and championship-deciding Championship 4 race four different times, achieving one championship (2017), two runner-up titles (2018 and 2019), 24 wins, 70 top fives, 110 top 10s and 12 poles.

Of note, their 23 wins together from 2016 through 2019 are the most of any driver-crew chief combination currently active. During the most recent playoffs, the team claimed three wins, a pair of runner-up finishes and only finished outside the top seven once in 10 races.

The pair moved to JGR for the 2019 season from the now-defunct Furniture Row Racing. They compiled a NASCAR Cup series-best seven wins, 15 top-five finishes and 24 top-10s in 2019. During the playoffs alone, the Pearn-led No. 19 team claimed three wins, a pair of runner-up finishes and only finished outside the top seven once in 10 races.

JGR said in its statement that a replacement for Pearn as crew chief for the No. 19 will be announced at a later date.

Fellow crew chief Rodney Childers, of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team, along with others took to Twitter to express their feelings on Pearn’s departure:

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North Wilkesboro Speedway gets makeover for ‘date’ with iRacing

Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Twitter
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North Wilkesboro Speedway in North Carolina hasn’t hosted a NASCAR national series event since September 1996 and it’s not about to anytime soon.

But, thanks to the efforts of Dale Earnhardt Jr., the historic short track may soon have a second digital-based life on the iRacing simulator.

Earnhardt posted images on social media Monday showing the track’s aging surface cleared of debris that had grown up on it over the years.

With the images, Earnhardt said the track is “getting a trim for an important date with @iRacing.”

This comes a few months after Earnhardt discussed the subject of cleaning the racing surface and scanning it for use on iRacing with Speedway Motorsports CEO Marcus Smith on an episode of “The Dale Jr. Download.”