Chad Johnston

Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

NASCAR suspends one crew chief, fines five others for Darlington violations

Leave a comment

Chris Gayle, crew chief for Erik Jones, will be suspended for the next Cup race because Jones’ car was found to have two lug nuts not safe and secure after Sunday’s race at Darlington Raceway.

The next scheduled Cup race is Wednesday night at Darlington. Gayle also has been fined $20,000.

Seth Chavka will serve as the crew chief for Gayle. Chavka is an engineer with the team.

NASCAR also announced that it fined five Cup crew chiefs $10,000 each for their cars having one lug nut not safe and secure after the race. Those crew chiefs are Rodney Childers (for driver Kevin Harvick), Chris Gabehart (Denny Hamlin), Paul Wolfe (Joey Logano), Chad Johnston (Matt Kenseth) and Jason Ratcliff (Christopher Bell).

Click here for Cup penalty report


Matt Kenseth scores top-10 finish in NASCAR return

Leave a comment

After placing third in Sunday’s Cup Series race at Darlington, Kurt Busch exited his No. 1 Chevy and looked at the infield scoring pylon.

The pylon showed the top-10 finishers of NASCAR’s first race in 71 days. Seven spots below Busch’s number was the No. 42, representing Busch’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate.

On March 8, the date of the last Cup Series race, that number belonged to Kyle Larson. But 10 weeks later, it has a new owner.

“There’s old Matt Kenseth, No. 42, finishing 10th,” Busch said in a post-race Zoom press conference.

Sunday saw the beginning of the Matt Kenseth era at CGR as the 48-year-old driver made his first start with the team and his first NASCAR start since the 2018 Cup season finale.

Kenseth was hired by CGR to replace Larson, who was fired by the team on April 14 for his use of a racial slur in an iRacing event.

Kenseth called the first few laps of the race “kind of nerve-racking.”

“Then it was sort of back to racing and thinking about what we needed to be better,” Kenseth said. “Everyone on the team has worked extremely hard the last couple weeks to prepare for today, and I’m proud of what we accomplished today. I learned a lot throughout the race about the way the car handles and reacts to different situations, and it was nice to really get acclimated to the Camaro and the team in a real racing environment. It’s always a good feeling to get a top- at a place like Darlington, but to have done it under these circumstances feels that much better. I still have some room to improve, but today shows all of us we have a lot to look forward to as the season continues.”

Prior to the start of Sunday’s race, Kenseth expressed his gratitude to the team given the trying circumstances they’ve faced.

After the first caution for a Ricky Stenhouse Jr. crash, Kenseth had a lot of info for his crew chief, Chad Johnston. The two traded humorous barbs over it.

Kenseth displayed more of his trademark wit during the first stage break.

Throughout the race, Johnston helped Kenseth out by relaying him info on how much drivers were on and off the gas in the turns.

In the end, Kenseth was able to crack the top 10 by Lap 210. He raced as high as ninth before settling into 10th.

Kenseth’s top 10 at the track “Too Tough To Tame” came despite him not getting any on-track preparation before the drop of the green flag Sunday, which put him in a similar position to the rest of the field.

“That’s what he will do everyday, all race tracks,” Busch said. “That’s Matt. That’s what he does. So for him to balance out with (crew chief) Chad Johnston, Ganassi and everybody first day out to get a top 10, that’s huge. That’s sets a big tone. I’ve yet to be able to call (team co-owners) Chip Ganassi or Rob Kauffman, but I’ll be calling Matt Kenseth on my way home. It’s really a neat day for us to be able to bounce back like that.”

The performance by Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion, reaffirmed the belief of race winner Kevin Harvick that Kenseth shouldn’t have been out of NASCAR racing to begin with.

“Matt Kenseth was winning races when he (stepped away from full-time race in 2017),” Harvick said. “As you look at that whole situation when he got kind of moved out at (Joe) Gibbs (Racing), Matt Kenseth is going to be a huge part of that race team and making Chip Ganassi Racing better. He’s going to be great for the sponsors. … Experience and skill go a long way in our sport. If you have those two things, like Matt does, you’re going to be successful. You don’t just forget how to do that. Matt’s a pro and a very good one at that.”

Matt Kenseth not expecting ‘any kind of special treatment’ at Darlington

Leave a comment

Of the 40 drivers who are entered into Sunday’s Cup Series race at Darlington (3:30 p.m. ET on Fox), no one is more familiar with the “Lady in Black” than Matt Kenseth.

Despite not having any starts since 2018, Kenseth remains the active Cup driver in laps turned around the 1.366-mile track with 8,455. Next on the list is his teammate, Kurt Busch (7,970 laps).

Since his first Cup start there in 1999, Kenseth has 25 Darlington starts, one win (2013) and three top fives. His only DNF in those starts was in 1999.

As for Sunday’s race, there’s plenty Kenseth is a stranger to.

He’s never competed in the high downforce, low horsepower package the Cup Series will utilize.

It will be his first race with Chip Ganassi Racing, his first race in a Chevrolet Camaro and his first race with crew chief Chad Johnston and spotter Tony Raines.

And like the rest of the field, the 48-year-old veteran doesn’t get any practice or qualifying laps.

“Kind of a few more unknowns and not sure you know how exactly everything’s gonna feel,” Kenseth said in Thursday teleconference. “So certainly there’s a little bit of anxiety for those first few corners until you kind of get rolling and get used to things.”

But eventually, Kenseth knows there’s going to come a time when “everybody’s gonna be ready to pounce,” and it’ll likely be a restart.

“Track position is very important,” Kenseth said. “You always want to get what you can get, when you can get it, so I don’t expect people to be taking it really easy or maybe giving you a whole bunch of extra room or anything like that. You certainly don’t expect any kind of special treatment. … So you’re just gonna have to try to be smart. Especially for me, just try to be smart and get through those first few laps and kind of hopefully get in a rhythm, get a little bit of room to move around and breathe and get kind of acclimated and go from there.”

Kenseth spent part of Thursday at CGR’s shop going over the “final details” of his No. 42 Chevrolet to make sure “the fit is good.”

As many drivers have, Kenseth has spent time in a simulator preparing for the first NASCAR race in 10 weeks. But Kenseth admits he didn’t devote too much time to it, simply because it can’t replace the real thing.

“Really didn’t spend an extended period of time there because in my mind it’s still not like driving the race cars,” Kenseth said. “A lot of things are very similar, but there’s a lot of things that are different as well.”

Even with the hurdles he faces going into one of the stranger races NASCAR has ever had to hold, Kenseth is embracing a “steep” learning curve with enthusiasm.

“I’ve got to admit, I’m as excited as I’ve been to go racing in many, many years,” Kenseth said. “I’m really looking forward to getting to the track. And I really like this group of guys. Cars look nice, Camaros look like they’re really fast. … I’m really looking forward to the opportunity. I just know that it’s gonna be a big challenge. I’m gonna have to work hard and do my best to try to take advantage of that opportunity.”

Three crew chiefs fined for lug nut violations at Las Vegas

Getty Images
Leave a comment

NASCAR announced fines to three crew chiefs for not having every lug nut safe and secure after Cup, Xfinity and Truck races this past weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

In Cup, Chad Johnston, crew chief for Kyle Larson, was fined $10,000 for one lug nut not safe and secure.

In Xfinity, Benjamin Beshore, crew chief for Harrison Burton, was fined $5,000 for one lug nut not safe and secure.

In Trucks, Matt Noyce, crew chief for Ben Rhodes, was fined $2,500 for one lug nut not safe and secure.

Power rankings: NASCAR driver/crew chief combinations

Leave a comment

NASCAR Talk continues its offseason Power Rankings, as voted on by NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers.

Today, we present our picks for the top driver/crew chief combinations in the sport.

There are a few surprises, for sure. Most notably: 2019 Cup champion Kyle Busch and crew chief Adam Stevens did not take the No. 1 spot in the rankings.

We’re asking fans to give their take on our picks (choose from Cup, Xfinity or Trucks). Do you agree or disagree – and why? Take our poll at the bottom of these rankings.

The top driver/crew chief rankings:

1. Martin Truex Jr./Cole Pearn (29 points): Among the sport’s gold standard, if not the standard other driver/crew chief pairings are measured. A series-high 23 wins have come in the last four seasons, including one championship in 2017 and back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2018 and 2019.

2. Denny Hamlin/Chris Gabehart (25 points): In his first season as a Cup crew chief, Gabehart brought a second wind to Hamlin’s career after the latter went winless in 2018. Hamlin put together his best year in almost a decade in 2019 with six wins, 19 top five and 24 top-10 finishes.

3. Kyle Busch/Adam Stevens (24 points): This is the only current driver-crew chief combo with multiple Cup titles. Stevens and Busch have been to the Championship 4 all five years they’ve been together. Sure, it wasn’t easy in the playoffs this year but they still claimed the championship.

4. Kevin Harvick/Rodney Childers (23 points): Were fast when they first got together in 2014 and have not slowed since. They have collected 26 wins in their six years together, earning the championship in 2014 and only missing the Championship 4 round once since (2016). If it wasn’t for occasional inconsistency and slumps, the No. 4 team likely would be ranked higher.

5. Christopher Bell/Jason Ratcliff (13 points): Though they will move to the Cup Series in 2020 without any Xfinity championships, they tormented the competition in the Xfinity Series the past two years, winning 15 times. Placed in the top five in 38 of 66 races.

6. Brad Keselowski/Paul Wolfe (12 points): The longest-tenured active combo in Cup at nine years. The duo has 29 wins, one championship and won three or more races in seven of those nine seasons together. The No. 2 team would have placed higher in these rankings except it has reached Championship 4 round just once (2015) since NASCAR went to an elimination playoff format in 2014.

7. Joey Logano/Todd Gordon (11 points): Did not have a strong playoffs but remained in contention for a Championship 4 spot until the penultimate race at Phoenix by grabbing stage points. The duo has 21 wins, one championship and one runner-up in seven years together. Have earned at least one win in each season they’ve been together but haven’t had more than three wins in a single season since 2015.

8. Chase Elliott/Alan Gustafson (7 points): Gustafson is underrated in his ability to build a team. After a slow start together, they’ve managed to produce back-to-back three-win seasons. Granted, the third round (finishes of 36th, 32nd and 39th) sealed Elliott’s hope of making the Championship 4, but this is a team that has laid a strong foundation.

9. William Byron/Chad Knaus (6 points): Only one of our voters selected Byron/Knaus. While this first-year pairing didn’t lead to a win for Byron, there was a tremendous amount of growth this season with five top-five and 13 top-10 finishes. Knaus’ veteran ability and patience and mentoring has paid dividends, leading to even higher expectations for this pairing in 2020.

10. Cole Custer/Mike Shiplett (5 points): After Custer earned just one win in each of his first two full-time Xfinity seasons, Shiplett provided a supercharge to Custer’s career. They earned seven wins and finished second in the championship race to Tyler Reddick in 2019. There has been no announcement whether Shiplett will follow Custer to Cup in 2020.

Others receiving votes: Ryan Newman/Scott Graves (4 points), Kyle Larson/Chad Johnston (3 points), Tyler Reddick/Randall Burnett (2 points), Matt Crafton/Carl Joiner (1 point).