CREW CHIEF: Jason Ratcliff
TEAM: Joe Gibbs Racing
WINS: 1 (Phoenix II)
LAPS LED: 421 (fewest since leading 108 in 2010)
TOP 5s: 10
TOP 10s: 18 (fewest since 15 in 2005)
POLES: 2 (Richmond I and II)
WHAT WENT RIGHT: Kenseth raced his way into the playoffs despite not earning any wins in the first 26 races of the year. He was one of three playoff drivers without a win after the regular-season finale … Kenseth passed Chase Elliott with 10 laps to go in the Phoenix playoff race and survived to earn his 39th and likely final Cup Series win. It was his first win since the fall 2016 playoff race at New Hampshire.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Earned six DNFs, including three in the first five races for crashes … Led 164 laps in the spring Richmond race from the pole before a cut tire relegated him to a 23rd-place finish … Kenseth again looked in position to dominate at Richmond in September, leading 89 laps until he locked up the brakes entering Turn 3 mid-race. The smoke from Kenseth’s tires caused NASCAR to quickly throw a caution. Kenseth’s night ended in the garage after he ran into the back of Clint Bowyer as the field entered the pits during a Lap 237 caution. An ambulance parked near the pit entrance forced drivers to brake check, resulting in the accident … Kenseth was eliminated from playoff contention in the Kansas elimination race. He was ruled out of the race following a Lap 199 crash when his team was caught sending too many crew members over the wall to repair his car.
WHAT TO EXPECT IN 2018: The first Cup season without Matt Kenseth racing full-time since 1999. In July, Joe Gibbs Racing announced Kenseth would be replaced by Erik Jones next season. During the fall Texas race weekend, Kenseth announced he didn’t have a ride for 2018 and he’d be stepping away from Cup racing.
NASCAR has issued two fines to crew chiefs for loose lug nuts last weekend at Kentucky Speedway.
Brian Wilson, crew chief for Paul Menard in the Xfinity race, was fined $5,000 for a loose lug nut. Menard finished ninth.
Kevin Bellicourt, crew chief for Justin Haley in the Camping World Truck Series, was fined $2,500 for a loose lug nut. Haley finished 10th.
There were no other penalties.
The drivers labelled the “Big 3” keep reaching new milestones as they tear through the 2018 Cup season.
Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. are the only drivers to win on 1.5-mile tracks this season, sweeping all seven so far.
They’ve combined to win 14 of the first 19 races this season, with Truex claiming the latest on Saturday at Kentucky Speedway.
Truex’s win gives him four this season while Busch and Harvick have five each.
With Truex’s victory, the “Big 3” are the first trio of drivers to win four or more races each through 19 races since 1974.
That year, the “Big 3” were Cale Yarborough (eight wins), Richard Petty (six) and David Pearson (four).
On NASCAR America, Steve Letarte said despite their dominance so far, he doesn’t believe all three members of the “Big 3” will make the Championship 4 in November.
“I don’t think the three in any way shape or form are guaranteed to make Miami,” Letarte said. “Everybody’s ready to put the ‘Big 3’ in Miami in the final four, I’m not. There’s way too many challenges along the way. I’m confident that all three won’t be at Homestead.”
Watch the videos above and below for more.
The second half of Cup tests on Charlotte’s road course will take place from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. ET today. It is open to the public.
Testing today are: Kyle Busch, Erik Jones, Clint Bowyer, Aric Almirola, Ryan Blaney, Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Alex Bowman, William Byron, Austin Dillon, AJ Allmendinger, Trevor Bayne and Ty Dillon. Chris Buescher is in a Chevy wheelforce car.
Last week, several Cup drivers tested on the course for a day. Bubba Wallace crashed early and left the test because his team did not have a backup car.
Jimmie Johnson had the fastest lap in last week’s session, according to NASCAR timing and scoring. Johnson had a lap at 1 minute, 17.4 seconds. Chase Elliott and Denny Hamlin each had a lap at 1:17.5 last week.
On Monday’s NASCAR America, Steve Letarte and Jeff Burton discussed the winners and losers among drivers in Saturday’s Cup race at Kentucky Speedway.
Letarte singled out Ricky Stenhouse Jr. as one of the losers after he failed to overtake Alex Bowman in the playoff standings. Bowman entered the race as the last driver above the cutoff line for the 16 driver field in the playoffs.
Bowman earned his first DNF after he crashed from a flat tire and finished last.
Meanwhile, Stenhouse finished 26th, one lap down after he had to pit twice early in Stage 1, the first time for a cut tire. He is now nine points behind Bowman for the final playoff spot.
“To only gain 10 points on a driver who finished last in the field is a huge missed opportunity,” Letarte said. “When you look at drivers scoring 30, 40, 50 points each, Paul Menard picked up over 30. So the chance was there to gain (on) that bigger group and he just didn’t do it. So when I look at what Ricky Stenhouse did, he really missed probably 15 or 20 points. I know it was a flat tire, there’s always a reason. But in the end you have to make the playoffs, you have to go out there and take it from Alex Bowman, who has put him in that position.”
Burton picked Menard as a winner. The Wood Brothers Racing driver placed 11th Saturday after finishing fifth in Stage 1 and 10th in Stage 2.
He is now 18th in the standings, 23 points back from Bowman
“They performed well, got good stage finishes and did what they needed to do,” Burton said. “This team is starting to get a little bit better every single week. I find it very interesting that back there for that 16th spot it’s really a fight of mediocrity, to be honest with you, and who is going to not mess up.”
Watch the above video for more.