Kansas Cup takeaways: Kevin Harvick, No. 4 team hustle for runner-up

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Kevin Harvick, crew chief Rodney Childers and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team haven’t been immune to their organization’s across-the-board struggles this season.

But Sunday represented progress for SHR’s standard-bearers.

Harvick scored points in both stages and recovered from an uncontrolled tire penalty on pit road ( Lap 230) to finish a season-best second at Kansas Speedway.

As Childers tweeted afterwards, it was a step in the right direction from where the team was in March at Las Vegas, where Harvick struggled to finish 20th after starting on pole.

Childers could’ve also mentioned another 1.5-mile track. Two weeks after Las Vegas, Harvick finished 10th at Atlanta, but not before spending nearly half that race off the lead lap. At one point, Harvick called his car “the biggest pile of crap” he’d ever driven there.

The typically blistering pace has not been there for Harvick and the No. 4 team. Even so, they’ve still wrung out eight top-10 finishes in 11 races.

And if it hasn’t been an ideal start to a season, well, it’s nothing Harvick and his crewmates haven’t seen before.

“I think we all just want to win,” said Harvick. “You never know how the year is going to start. I think we’ve done a good job with everything that we have, except for a couple weeks where we had some bad luck with flat tires.

“But some years start out good and you go like gangbusters and some years they don’t start out good and you have to figure it out. So that’s just part of the game.

“I’ve been around this for a long time, and you just keep grinding away, and hopefully, eventually you pick it up, and if you don’t, you start over the next year.”

Harvick and his team certainly had to grind away to get this runner-up. Harvick was running fourth at the Lap 230 caution, but his ensuing pit road penalty knocked him to the tail end of the longest line for a restart on Lap 236.

Harvick jumped from 20th to 15th before the caution came out again at Lap 246. That and another yellow at Lap 254 saw Childers supply Harvick with four fresh tires on both occasions.

The new rubber was essential to Harvick’s rally during two final restarts within the last 10 laps.

“We were a little bit off at the beginning,” said Harvick. “The guys did a great job of adjusting our car and getting our car better throughout the day. Then we had a pit road penalty while we were running fourth there and had to go to the back.

“Luckily, we had a couple cautions and Rodney made a couple great calls and put tires on the car a couple times and really put us on offense there at the end and were able to get a couple good restarts and come out with a good finish.”

Living on the “fringe”

Brad Keselowski followed his Talladega win with a third-place showing Sunday.

From his perspective, it was a solid outing but he and his No. 2 Team Penske crew were missing the raw speed needed to truly contend for a win.

Sunday hasn’t been the only time he’s felt that way this season.

“I feel like we haven’t had many bad races speed-wise, but we’ve been kind of fringe top five a lot this year and haven’t really showcased race-winning speed outside of obviously being able to run well at Talladega,” he said.

“I think, maybe Richmond, we were close there. But Vegas – we were kind of that second- to fifth-place car. And I think (if) you look at Daytona, we ran pretty well, but kind of still in that second to fifth-place car range.

“Just haven’t had that breakthrough of dominant speed, and if we can put that with some execution on our good weeks, then we’ll be in good shape. But this week, I felt like we executed fairly well and just needed a little bit more speed to be able to bring it home.”

Keselowski claimed fourth-place finishes in both stages, and that was where he was when he made his final stop under the Lap 246 caution.

With six drivers opting to stay out, Keselowski put his fresh tires to good use and climbed to third before the Lap 254 caution.

But two more restarts within the final 10 laps checked his momentum.

“I was buried too much,” Keselowski said. “Each restart was just so chaotic. Kevin (Harvick) had the newest tires and the yellows came out and pretty much nullified the advantage that I had and handed it back to the guys behind us. Just kind of stuck there.”

Climb continues for DiBenedetto

Matt DiBenedetto couldn’t convert a top-five starting position into critical stage points, but worked his way into contention late and wound up finishing a season-best fourth.

With that, the driver of the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford continues a remarkable turnaround from a dreadful start to the season.

DiBenedetto was 34th in points following the first three races. He now holds the 16th and final playoff position, at 12 points to the good.

“I know anything can happen and I’m a positive kind of guy, DiBenedetto said. “I look at everything that way, but if I’m being honest, I don’t know if I would have believed you – that we’d make up that many spots in points in such a short time.”

“I knew we had the strength of the team after such a rough start to the season and just circumstances out of our control. It’s amazing to come back like this, so it just shows that momentum can go one way or another and when it clicks and you get on a roll it can go well.

“I’m just really proud of the team. Nobody ever got down during those times when it was a rough start and we’re really rebounding and just super proud of the entire team.”

Like everybody else, DiBenedetto’s day came down to the multiple late-race restarts.

He and his No. 21 team gambled in this stretch, taking two tires instead of four on his last stop under the Lap 246 caution.

The call held up as DiBenedetto stayed inside the top 10 before jumping from seventh to fourth during the final two laps.

“The restarts at the end were insane, which is pretty normal for Kansas,” he said. “It’s kind of like superspeedway racing on the restarts and it gets messy at the end. I’m glad we survived them.

“I’m glad we were on the bottom lane, which I don’t say much but at the end it worked out because they got all jumbled up and about crashed up top there, so it worked out. We were in the right spots and tried to be smart all day.

“These are the races that you’re super proud of, because we didn’t have a fourth-place car. We were really having to fight, defend to be around that top 10 area at all, to execute and get the car better throughout the day.”

Elsewhere on the bubble

Kansas Cup takeaways
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. finds himself out of the top 16 in the playoff standings after two late-race crashes Sunday at Kansas Speedway. (Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Sunday’s late restarts were disastrous for Ricky Stenhouse Jr., whose tenuous grip on a playoff spot finally broke.

With 15 laps to go, Stenhouse was racing Austin Cindric off Turn 2 for 15th place when he got loose underneath him. Cindric was pushed into the wall, while Stenhouse spun off him to bring out the yellow.

Things got worse on the subsequent restart with 10 laps to go, when Christopher Bell spun high off Turn 4 and then down into Stenhouse. That impact sent Bell back up into Stenhouse’s teammate at JTG Daugherty Racing, Ryan Preece.

Both Preece and Stenhouse were eliminated from the race, and Stenhouse fell out of the top 16 in the playoff standings. He began Sunday in 15th at 12 points above the cutline, but ended Sunday in 19th at 18 points below.

Stenhouse’s tumble helped others on the playoff bubble to gain ground.

Chris Buescher moved from 16th to 15th, 20 points above the cutline, following an eighth-place finish.

Buescher stayed out during a green flag pit cycle after Lap 200, which saw an uncontrolled tire go into the infield grass. But instead of getting a caution that would’ve given him great track position, NASCAR waited to throw the yellow until after he finally stopped at Lap 226 to complete the cycle.

From there, Buescher returned to the lead lap via wave-around and restarted 19th. With the help of the late cautions, Buescher had a final opportunity to secure a top-10 finish and did so, going from 11th to eighth in the last two laps.

Kurt Busch is now up to “first driver out” at 17th in the playoff standings, yet only gained one point to the cutline (-13 to -12) after a 15th-place finish. He cited trouble throughout the day on restarts.

“We just have to figure out what trends are happening and with the way things are shaking up with the tires, I couldn’t be aggressive on restarts,” Busch said.

“The car wanted to swap ends. That’s not my normal deal – normally, I’m able to plug the holes and go and grab us spots. The pit crew were the ones gaining us spots today. We’ll just keep plugging away.”

In regards to positions, Tyler Reddick was the biggest gainer among the bubble drivers. Reddick moved up four spots to 18th in the playoff standings.

He also gained 20 points on the cutline, thanks in part to finishes of third in Stage 1 and eighth in Stage 2. It was the first time all season Reddick scored in both stages.

Add it all up, and he’s now 18 points out of the final playoff spot.

“I was able to run the wall really well during the early stages of the race, which really helped keep our track position and earn those stage points,” Reddick said. “Eventually, my car started to build tighter and tighter throughout the runs, and that made my entry on both sides of the track into a bit of a challenge.

“Being looser definitely worked best for our car, and my team did a good job working on the balance of the car to get it to where it needed to be later in the race. We did have a slight miscue on pit road late in stage 3, but luckily caught a caution quickly (Lap 230) and got our lap back, letting us stay in the mix for remainder of the race. It was a good day for us.”

Where are they now? Scott Riggs races with son, Layne

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Scott Riggs, who raced for 15 years in NASCAR’s top three national series, now is guiding the racing career of his 20-year-old son, Layne.

And things are going well.

Layne won this year’s NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series Late Model championship, scoring 16 wins in 43 starts and edging former series champion Peyton Sellers by four points for the title.

Riggs thus became the youngest champion in Weekly Series history.

“It all started when Layne was 10 years old, mostly just something to entertain him and to have some fun,” Scott told NBC Sports. “But it’s turned into a full-fledged job. My life and plate have been full.”

MORE: NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes

The Riggs family’s race shop is located in Bahama, North Carolina, Riggs’ home base during his NASCAR career. Scott describes himself as the “truck driver, spotter, crew chief and in-shop mechanic.”

“I am very tired,” he said.

The team, which depends on volunteers, didn’t plan to race in so many events this season, but when Layne started the year with a string of victories, it made sense to chase the national championship and give him a chance to be the youngest winner ever.

“To chase it that hard and be that close and then to win it, it was very exhausting,” Scott said. “It was a very big relief to finish the year.”

Success on short tracks resulted in Layne racing in three Camping World Truck Series events this year with Halmar Racing. He had a best finish of seventh at Lucas Oil Indianapolis Raceway Park in his series debut.

MORE: Snowball Derby attracts top NASCAR drivers

Scott Riggs ended his NASCAR driving career in 2014 in the Truck Series. He won five Truck races and four Xfinity races and ran 208 Cup races without a win. He made his Truck debut in 1999, moved to Xfinity in 2002 (winning Rookie of the Year) and then to Cup in 2004.

Riggs, now 51, raced in the Cup Series from 2004-13 with stops at MB2 Motorsports and with teams owned by Gene Haas, Tommy Baldwin and Ray Evernham, among others. He had four top-five finishes.

“I think I was very fortunate and the timing was right for me to move up through the ranks and get so many good opportunities,” Riggs said. “I raced late models for a long time, and then all of a sudden I got the opportunity to get in a truck. Won some races and poles and won races and poles in Xfinity.”

MORE: Jody Ridley’s upset for the ages

He ran out of chances in Cup as team models shifted, including some downsizing and mergers.

“I felt like I couldn’t get an opportunity that I had worked for and earned,” Riggs said. “It was hard for me. I was bitter for a year or so. But I look back, and a realization came over me that I was fortunate to have that time with my kids when they were at the right ages. I got to watch them do their things and just be the dad I wanted to be — not being gone four out of every seven days racing.

“I don’t think I’d have the relationship I have today with my kids if I had had a longer time in the sport.”

 

 

NASCAR Power Rankings: Memorable quotes through the years

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The best quotes from drivers and others involved in NASCAR competition often come in the heat of the moment — after a crash or a close finish or a controversial decision by officials.

NASCAR’s history is filled with memorable quotes from drivers who won races to drivers who watched wins slip away to officials caught in a moment of history.

Here’s a look at 10 that stand out:

NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings

1. “I didn’t mean to turn him around. I meant to rattle his cage, though.” — Dale Earnhardt, describing how he didn’t mean to wreck Terry Labonte after he wrecked Labonte on the last lap at Bristol Motor Speedway to win the Aug. 28, 1999 race.

2. “They have a golden horseshoe stuck up their ass. There’s no way to get around that.” — Kevin Harvick, Feb. 21, 2010, offering his opinion on why Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports team won so many races after Johnson outran him to win at Auto Club Speedway.

MORE: An upset for the ages: Jody Ridley wins at Dover

3. “It’s a stump-puller.” — Sterling Marlin, emphasizing the strength of his engine after he won the Daytona 500 Feb. 19, 1995.

4. “It’s probably not his fault. His wife wears the firesuit in the family and tells him what to do.” — Joey Logano, talking about Kevin Harvick after they were involved in a late-race crash at Pocono Raceway June 6, 2010. Harvick’s wife, DeLana, often wore a firesuit similar to those worn by team members during races.

5. “Do you have a brother?” — Ward Burton, responding to a reporter who asked if it was tougher to finish second because the race winner was his brother, Jeff, March 7, 1999 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

MORE: Memorable images from 2022 NASCAR season

6. “I couldn’t hear him. He’s got that little yap-yap mouth. I couldn’t tell what he was saying.” — Ricky Rudd, commenting on what Kevin Harvick said to him after they wrecked at Richmond Raceway, Sept. 6, 2003.

7. “We can’t race with tears in our eyes.” — team owner Robert Yates, explaining why his team would not participate in the next week’s race after its driver, Davey Allison, was killed in a helicopter crash, July 1993.

8. “He’d have to toast everyone with milk.” — Dale Earnhardt, commenting on the celebratory drink choice Jeff Gordon might make if he ever won the Cup championship. After he won the 1995 Cup title, Gordon followed through, toasting his championship with a glass of milk at the awards banquet.

MORE: 2023 NASCAR, ARCA schedules

9. “You know they say there’s talkers and doers. I’ve done this twice.” — Tony Stewart, winning the pre-race trash-talk contest with Carl Edwards prior to the 2011 race for the championship. Stewart had won the title in 2002 and 2005 and notched another over Edwards in 2011.

10. “This is undoubtedly one of the toughest announcements that I’ve ever personally had to make, but after the accident in Turn 4 of the Daytona 500 we’ve lost Dale Earnhardt.” — NASCAR President Mike Helton, confirming Earnhardt’s death at Daytona International Speedway, Feb. 18, 2001.

Honorable mentions: David Pearson, after being told that Richard Petty had said Pearson was the best driver he ever raced against: “I agree with him.” … CBS broadcaster Ken Squier, calling the famous finish of the 1979 Daytona 500: “And there’s a fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison! The tempers, overflowing. They are angry. They know they have lost. And what a bitter defeat.” … NASCAR founder Bill France, providing a unique ending to a pre-race prayer after temporarily forgetting to use Amen: “Sincerely, Bill France.”

Snowball Derby entry list includes NASCAR Cup, Xfinity, Truck drivers

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Four Cup drivers are among those entered for Sunday’s 55th annual Snowball Derby at Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida.

The Cup drivers entered are former series champion Brad Keselowski, playoff competitor William Byron, two-time Southern 500 winner Erik Jones and incoming Cup rookie Noah Gragson, who advanced to the Xfinity title race this year.

Also entered: Josh Berry, who competed in the Xfinity championship race this year, and Ty Majeski, who competed in the Truck championship race this year.

Majeski won the 2020 Snowball Derby. Gragson won the race in 2018. Jones won the event in 2012 and ’13.

Others entered include:

Chandler Smith, who won the 2021 Snowball Derby and will drive for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series in 2023, is listed on the entry list but stated on social media he will not be competing.

The Snowball Derby is among the more prestigious Super Late Model races on the calendar and coming after the NASCAR season makes it easier for more Cup, Xfinity and Truck competitors to take part in the event.

Qualifying takes place Saturday. The Snowball Derby is scheduled for 2 p.m. ET Sunday. Racing America will stream Sunday’s race for $49.99. A three-day viewing pass can be purchased for $74.99.

 

 

An upset for the ages: Jody Ridley’s 1981 victory at Dover

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NASCAR’s history is sprinkled with upsets, from unlikely winners riding the Talladega draft to short tracks that yielded unexpected wins when favored leaders crashed on the final lap.

Survey the list of surprise winners over the decades, and Jody Ridley’s name likely will stand out.

On May 17, 1981, two days shy of his 39th birthday, Ridley won a 500-mile race at Dover Motor Speedway in Delaware. It was the only victory of Ridley’s Cup career and the only win scored by Virginia team owner Junie Donlavey, who participated in the Cup Series for 45 years, with 863 starts.

Donlavey’s team was perpetually underfunded, and his drivers often raced with tired, overused engines and tires that had too many laps. He survived with a mostly volunteer crew and enough sponsorship to carry him from race to race. Rival drivers and team owners considered Donlavey one of the most popular residents of NASCAR garage areas across those many years, but he rarely had the chance to reach for victory lane.

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On that spring day at Dover, one of NASCAR’s toughest tracks, everything fell the right way. Many of the tour’s leading drivers parked with engine or overheating problems, and the day’s best car – the Wood Brothers entry driven by Neil Bonnett — was sidelined with an engine issue late in the race after leading 404 laps.

Ridley, running a steady race, benefited from an unusual day at Dover. The race had only two cautions, and the final 471 laps of 500 were run under green-flag conditions. A general lack of cautions prevented top teams from changing tires frequently, putting Ridley, who was used to running tires longer than normal, on better footing.

When Cale Yarborough left the race with engine trouble 20 laps from the finish, Ridley inherited the lead — he had been two laps down to Yarborough — and led the rest of the way. He won by 22 seconds over Bobby Allison, who was the only other driver on the lead lap. Dale Earnhardt finished third, a lap down. Illustrating the problems experienced by many in the field — not an unusual result in those days — was the fact that the fourth-place driver, D.K. Ulrich, was nine laps off the lead pace.

Ridley drove into Victory Lane for the first time, much to the delight of Donlavey’s crew.

“Junie took it all in stride,” Ridley, now 80, told NBC Sports. “He wasn’t as excited as the team guys were. Junie was the type of guy who didn’t want to cash in on other people’s bad luck. He kind of felt sorry for the guys who blew up. That’s just the way he was.

“For me, it was the highlight of my career. Once I got into Cup racing, I knew we probably wouldn’t do much winning because we didn’t have the equipment. It was icing on the cake to win that one.”

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Jody’s son Anthony, then 22 years old, was listening to the race via radio in Chatsworth, Georgia, where the family lived.

“I was upstairs at my girlfriend’s house, and I think I bounced all over the upstairs and then floated down to the first floor,” Anthony said. “It was all pretty cool. Dad called home. He’s the kind of guy who doesn’t get real excited about anything, but he was happy.”

The win paid $22,560. Ridley’s cut from the check (40 percent, generally standard in those days) was $9,024, a nice payday but not Ridley’s biggest in Cup. He would win more for finishing in the top 10 in the Daytona 500.

“We were having a good day,” Ridley said, “but I never thought about winning it. We just didn’t have the cars. But we stayed in the hunt, and the other teams couldn’t get too many new tires, and Junie had put a different gear in the car. Normally he would put in a taller gear and drop the RPMs down (to protect the engine), and you couldn’t keep up. For some reason that day, he didn’t. And it paid off.”

Before joining the Cup tour full time in 1980 at age 37, Ridley had established himself as one of the top short-track drivers in the country. Across the South, at top Eastern Seaboard tracks and into the Midwest, a visit by Ridley usually meant a tough night for the locals.

MORE: Five laps that impacted Cup season

Ridley’s older brother, Biddle, and Anthony kept the Ridley short-track cars running.

“We did all that together for 36 years,” said Anthony, who started changing tires during pit stops at the age of 14. “It was how we made a living, but trying to feed three families out of a race car is tough.”

Ridley still lives in Chatsworth, where his 1981 victory was a sports highlight for years.

“He can’t hear well, but he’s still tough as a pine knot,” Anthony said.