Brad Keselowski matches best finish of year, ‘not where we need to be’ vs ‘Big 3’

0 Comments

Brad Keselowski was close to earning his first Cup win of the season on Sunday.

Well, sort of.

“It’s hard to really show any aggression when the guy that won the race was three-and-a-half seconds ahead of you,” Keselowski said after placing second in the Consumers Energy 400 to Kevin Harvick.

Keselowski earned his sixth top five of the season, matching his season-best result from February’s race at Atlanta, where he was also runner-up to Harvick as he won his first of a series-best seven races.

The Team Penske driver only assumed second place when Austin Dillon pulled out of Keselowski’s way with two laps to go due to a vibration. Dillon finished fourth.

Keselowski, a Michigan native, started the day in 18th but managed to put his No. 2 Ford in the top 10 at the end of the first two stages, placing ninth each time.

That Stage 2 finish and his eventual second-place result came after he had to pit for a loose wheel on Lap 76 under caution and restart 21st.

Keselowski’s impressive come back followed a stretch where he finished 17th or worse in four of the previous five races, including two DNFs for wrecks at Daytona and Pocono.

“The last few weeks we’ve had some pretty big struggles, finishing out races with breakdowns and letdowns and all of the above,” Keselowski said. “It’s nice to just be able to have a clean race, or mostly clean … To be able to kind of get the finish we deserve, that’s important.  It’s important to get what you have out of your car, and although we might not have race‑winning speed, you still need to execute.

“So with that in mind, that’s good for everybody’s morale at Team Penske and on the 2 team, as well, but of course we want to break through and win, as well, and kind of like you indicated, we’re not where we need to be to just win on pure speed against those guys week in and week out.”

Harvick’s win was the 17th for the “Big 3” this season, which also includes Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. It was also the 10th win for Ford this season, but Team Penske owns only one of those. That came via Joey Logano in April at Talladega.

Keselowski’s own last win came last October at Talladega. He is seventh in the standings, inbetween Logano and fellow teammate Ryan Blaney

Keselowski was asked if he can only finish three seconds behind Harvick all the way to Miami, how will he know if has a shot to compete with Harvick come the season finale.

“I don’t know if there’s a great answer to that,” Keselowski said. “I could throw you something out there, but it would just be a lob, right? With the way the points format obviously is … you have to get to Homestead.  You have to make it through those playoff rounds.  To that end, I don’t think you can guarantee on being able to point your way through.  You can really only point your way through to the third round.  You really can’t count on pointing your way through to the fourth round, unless you have all the bonus points, which we don’t.”

Keselowski has only four playoff points from his four stage wins.

“With that in mind, we’re going to have to deliver and make results and win races, and I think that’s what the sport is about at the end of the day,” Keselowski said.

As for having the speed to compete each weekend with the “Big 3,” Keselowski said “I don’t know if I’ve really put a lot of thought into that.”

He treats “each weekend as a reset point,” going into as “though this could be the weekend where we have the speed to win that way or could execute that way.

“Then when you start to get through the weekend, you have to get the most out of what you have.  We’ve had some races where I feel like we’ve been equal to or better than those guys where we haven’t put it all together, mostly the plate tracks I would say.  So that’s kind of on us to get a result.

“But on these types of tracks, the mile‑and‑a‑half, intermediate, whatever you want to call them, 2‑mile tracks, we haven’t had that yet, but we’ve been closer some places than others.”

The series heads to Bristol next, where Keselowski has two wins but has failed to finished better than 18th in the last five races.

Then comes Darlington, where Keselowski has two top fives in nine starts. He placed 15th last year and ninth in 2016.

The regular season final arrives the next week, with it being held at Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the first time.

Keselowski led 23 laps there last year before placing second, his only top five in Indy in eighth starts.

 

NASCAR fines Ty Gibbs $75,000 for pit road incident at Texas

0 Comments

NASCAR fined Ty Gibbs $75,000 and docked him 25 points for door-slamming Ty Dillon on pit road during last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Crew members from other teams were nearby when Gibbs hit Dillon’s car, causing it to swerve. No crew members or officials were hit.

NASCAR has made it a priority that drivers are not to cause contact that could injured crew members or officials on pit road. NASCAR also penalized Gibbs 25 Cup driver points and docked 23XI Racing 25 car owner points for the No. 23 Cup car that Gibbs drives.

NASCAR penalizes William Byron for spinning Denny Hamlin

1 Comment

NASCAR has docked William Byron 25 points and fined him $50,000 for spinning Denny Hamlin under caution in last weekend’s Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Byron drops from third in the playoff standings to below the cutline heading into Sunday’s Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway (2 p.m. ET on NBC)

Chase Briscoe moves up to hold the final transfer spot with 3,041 points. Austin Cindric is the first driver outside a transfer spot with 3,034 points. Byron is next at 3,033 points.

Hendrick Motorsports was docked 25 owner points as well.

The caution waved at Lap 269 for Martin Truex Jr.’s crash. As Hamlin slowed, Byron closed and hit him in the rear. 

Byron admitted after the race the contact was intentional, although he didn’t mean to wreck Hamlin. Byron was upset with how Hamlin raced him on Lap 262. Byron felt Hamlin forced him into the wall as they exited Turn 2 side-by-side. Byron expressed his displeasure during the caution.

“I felt like he ran me out of race track off of (Turn) 2 and had really hard contact with the wall,” Byron said. “Felt like the toe link was definitely bent, luckily not fully broken. We were able to continue.

“A lot of times that kind of damage is going to ruin your race, especially that hard. I totally understand running somebody close and making a little bit of contact, but that was pretty massive.”

On the retaliatory hit, Byron said: “I didn’t mean to spin him out. That definitely wasn’t what I intended to do. I meant to bump him a little bit and show my displeasure and unfortunately, it happened the way it did. Obviously, when he was spinning out, I was like ‘I didn’t mean to do this,’ but I was definitely frustrated.”

Hamlin and crew chief Chris Gabehart argued and questioned NASCAR for not putting Hamlin back in second place — where he was before Byron hit him — and also questioned Byron not being penalized.

“I guess we can just wreck each other under caution,” Hamlin said after the race.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, told reporters after the race that series officials did not penalize Byron because they did not see the incident. 

“When we were in the tower, we were paying more attention to the actual cause of the caution up there and dispatching our equipment,” Miller said. “The William Byron-Denny Hamlin thing, we had no eyes on. We saw Denny go through the grass.

“By the time we got a replay that showed the incident well enough to do anything to it, we had gone back to green.”

Kurt Busch ‘hopeful’ he can return from concussion this year

0 Comments

CONCORD, N.C. — Kurt Busch said Tuesday he remains “hopeful” he will recover from a concussion in time to race again before the end of the NASCAR Cup season.

The 2004 Cup champion has been sidelined since he crashed July 23 during qualifying at Pocono Raceway. He’s so far missed 10 races – both Ty Gibbs and Bubba Wallace have driven the No. 45 Toyota for 23XI Racing since Busch was injured – and withdrew his eligibility to participate in the playoffs.

“I’m doing good. Each week is better progress and I feel good and I don’t know when I will be back, but time has been the challenge. Father Time is the one in charge on this one,” Busch said.

There are six races remaining this season and 23XI co-owner Denny Hamlin said the team has contingency plans for Busch’s recovery and is not pressuring the 44-year-old to get back in the car. Busch is under contract at 23XI through next season with an option for 2024.

Hamlin said this past weekend at Texas that Busch has a doctor’s visit scheduled in early October that could reveal more about if Busch can return this season.

Busch has attended a variety of events to stimulate his recovery and enjoyed an evening at the rodeo over the weekend. But his visit to Charlotte Motor Speedway on Tuesday for its 10th annual honoring of Breast Cancer Awareness Month was Busch’s first official appearance as a NASCAR driver since his injury.

He attended for the second consecutive year as part of his “Window of Hope” program in which all the window nets on the Cup cars will be pink meshing in next week’s race on The Roval at Charlotte. Busch credited the Toyota Performance Center at TRD’s North Carolina headquarters for helping his recovery and getting him out to events again.

“I feel hopeful. I know I have more doctor visits and distance to go, and I keep pushing each week,” Busch said. “And TPC, Toyota Performance Center, has been a group of angels with the workouts and the vestibular workouts, different nutrition as well and different supplements and things to help everything rebalance with my vision, my hearing. Just my overall balance in general.”

He said his vision is nearly 20/20 in one eye, but his other eye has been lagging behind in recovery. Busch also said he wasn’t sure why he was injured in what appeared to be a routine backing of his car into the wall during a spin in qualifying.

NASCAR this year introduced its Next Gen car that was designed to cut costs and level the playing field, but the safety of the spec car has been under fire since Busch’s crash. Drivers have complained they feel the impact much more in crashes than they did in the old car, and a rash of blown tires and broken parts has plagued the first four races of the playoffs.

Busch said his concussion “is something I never knew would happen, as far as injury” and likened his health battle to that of the breast cancer survivors who aided him in painting the pit road walls at Charlotte pink for next week’s race.

“Each situation is different. It’s similar to a breast cancer survivor. Not every story is the same, not every injury is the same,” Busch said. “It’s not like a broken arm and then you get the cast taken off and can go bench press 300 pounds. It’s a process. I don’t know what journey I’m on, but I’m going to keep pushing.”

NASCAR Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin returns to first place

0 Comments

Four races into the NASCAR Cup Series playoffs and drivers who are eligible to win the championship remain 0-for-4 in pursuit of race wins.

Tyler Reddick became winner No. 4 on that list Sunday night at Texas Motor Speedway.

And now we go to Talladega Superspeedway, where there is potential for drivers from the far back end of the field to emerge victorious, given the impact of drafting and, more significantly, wrecking.

Sunday’s tire-exploding, wall-banging, car-wrestling craziness at Texas Motor Speedway jumbled the playoff standings again, and the same is true for the NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings, which see a new leader in Denny Hamlin.

MORE: Winners and losers at Texas

Hamlin could be a busy guy the rest of the season. His potential retaliation list grew Sunday with the addition of William Byron after they had a major disagreement.

Here’s how the rankings look in the middle of the Round of 12:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. Denny Hamlin (No. 3 last week) — Despite everything — the tires, the wrecks, the hassle, the weather and a brouhaha with William Byron, Hamlin finished 10th Sunday and is sixth in the playoff standings entering Talladega. He has the best average finish — 5.75 — in the playoff races. Unless his “list” gets in the way, Hamlin might be ready to seriously challenge for his first championship.

2. Kyle Larson (No. 4 last week) — Larson led 19 laps at Texas and probably should have led more with one of the race’s best cars. Now fourth in points, he figures to be a factor over the final two weeks of the round.

3. Chase Elliott (No. 2 last week) — Elliott was not a happy camper after smashing the wall because of a tire issue and riding a flaming car to a halt. He finished 32nd.

4. Joey Logano (No. 6 last week) — Logano was chasing down winner Tyler Reddick in the closing laps at Texas. He jumps to first in the playoff standings and gains two spots in NBC’s rankings.

5. William Byron (No. 5 last week) — Byron might be No. 1 on Denny Hamlin’s list; here he slides in at No. 5.

6. Christopher Bell (No. 1 last week) — Bell had a rotten Sunday in Texas, crashing not once but twice with tire issues and finishing 34th, causing a precipitous drop on the rankings list.

7. Ross Chastain (No. 7 last week) — Chastain’s team played the tires and the cautions right and probably deserved better than a 13th-place finish Sunday.

8. Ryan Blaney (No. 8 last week) — Mr. Winless (except in All-Star dress) rolls on. A fourth-place run (and 29 laps led) Sunday keeps him relevant.

9. Chase Briscoe (No. 9 last week) — Briscoe’s Texas run started poorly but ended nicely with a fifth-place run.

10. Tyler Reddick (unranked last week) — Reddick Sunday became the only driver not named Chase Elliott with more than two race wins this year. Now totaling three victories, he got his first oval win at Texas.

Dropped out: Alex Bowman (No. 10 last week).