Stewart-Haas Racing

New Hampshire winners and losers

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WINNERS

Kevin HarvickHe no longer has to answer the question of when is he going to win (same for Stewart-Haas Racing). Now the question is if this will lead to a string of wins for the No. 4 team, which has shown speed but not been able to capitalize on it.

Parity — Kevin Harvick marked the seventh different winner in the last seven Cup races, the longest streak of the season.

Ryan Newman First, he was in a backup car and had to start at the rear on a track where passing is difficult. Then, he had a broken coil wire that sapped his engine’s power with about 100 laps to go. His team recovered and he finished seventh for his fifth top 10 in the last six races. Also, he climbed into a playoff spot.

Matt DiBenedetto His fifth-place finish was his third top-10 result in the last five races. Good progress for Leavine Family Racing.

LOSERS

Jimmie JohnsonBack-to-back 30th-place finishes have dropped the seven-time champion out of a playoff spot. He’s never missed NASCAR’s postseason — and is the only driver who can say that he’s been in the Chase/playoffs every year since its inception in 2004. Will that streak continue? Or will it end this year?

Richard Childress Racing — RCR cars finished 37th (Daniel Hemric) and 32nd (Austin Dillon). Hemric’s day ended after contact from Daniel Suarez. Dillon blew a right front tire early and that damaged his car.

Hendrick Motorsports — Alex Bowman’s team went through two cars before Sunday’s race. William Byron had to go to a backup because of an incident in practice. Mechanical issues caused Jimmie Johnson to finish 30th and Chase Elliott to place 29th. Bowman placed 14th and Byron led the way with a 12th-place finish. The best thing about the weekend for Hendrick Motorsports is it is over.

Kyle Larson — Two crashes within the last 100 laps made for a bad day Sunday.

Bump and Run: Forecasting race for final playoff spots

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Erik Jones moved into the final playoff spot with his third-place finish at Kentucky. Seven races remain until the Cup playoffs begin. Will the 16 drivers in a playoff spot now be the same 16 when the regular season ends?

Nate Ryan: Unlikely, but there probably won’t be that much volatility. Jones probably will make it, but Ryan Newman seems a solid bet to bounce another driver.

Dustin Long: No. With drivers in positions 14th-18th separated by a total of 12 points, I expect some changes in the coming weeks.

Jerry Bonkowski: No. There is still way too much uncertainty remaining in the next seven races. We could still see a number of drivers earn their first wins of the season, which would greatly shake up the playoff standings. I’m convinced we won’t know the 16-driver field until after the final playoff-determining race at Indianapolis.

Daniel McFadin: No, I believe drivers like Ryan Newman and Daniel Suarez can get back into the top 16, especially Newman, who has settled into a very consistent groove over the last few races.

 

Which is more surprising: Jimmie Johnson is in danger of falling out of the playoffs or Stewart-Haas Racing has yet to win this year?

Nate Ryan: The latter, especially considering Stewart-Haas Racing enjoyed its greatest season in 2018 with four winners and probably the best across-the-board team in NASCAR. Some regression naturally was expected with a driver change, but to be winless past halfway is astounding. Despite his two-year winless streak, Johnson seems to be performing better than at this point last year, and missing the playoffs for the first time always seemed a possibility after the No. 48’s first crew chief change in 17 years.

Dustin Long: Didn’t see Stewart-Haas Racing’s inability to win a Cup race more than halfway through the year.

Jerry Bonkowski: I’d say Stewart-Haas Racing’s inability to reach victory lane is more surprising, particularly with Kevin Harvick not having won even one race after winning nearly one-quarter of last year’s races. He’s been close several times, but hasn’t been able to seal the deal, which is a mystery to many. As for Johnson, while he may be in danger of not making the playoffs, I still believe he makes it. Whether he advances past the first round, however, is a different story — unless he can win in each of the first three playoff rounds.

Daniel McFadin: Stewart-Haas Racing without a win. They won 12 times last year, so I would never have expected this kind of drought, which is now the latest in a season they’ve ever gone without a win. Johnson, on the other hand has been struggling for more than two years with his own winless streak. 

 

Tyler Ankrum won the Truck race at Kentucky and has received a waiver to be eligible for the playoffs. The waiver is for missing the season’s first three races because he was not 18 and could not race at Daytona, Atlanta and Las Vegas because of an age restriction. Are you OK with NASCAR granting him a waiver?

Nate Ryan: Absolutely. Both for the sake of Ankrum and NASCAR (which certainly needs a winning teenager in the playoffs of a developmental series), he should be eligible on the good faith of starting every race since turning 18. The rule requiring drivers to attempt every race is in place ostensibly to dissuade winners from taking races off; Ankrum’s situation certainly isn’t in violation of its spirit.

Dustin Long: I’m fine with it because he missed less than 20 percent of the regular season, but I don’t think a driver that misses more than a third of the regular season because of an age restriction should be granted a waiver. If so, where’s the limit? Will it be OK for a driver to miss half the regular season because they don’t turn 18 until then and still make the playoffs if they win?

Jerry Bonkowski: I have mixed feelings. While I’m glad to see Ankrum get a waiver to compete in the playoffs, I also think of how many other young drivers — regardless of the series — who have been prevented from getting waivers based upon their age over the years. I would hope that by giving Ankrum a waiver, NASCAR will make it a policy going forward to continue doing so for other young drivers faced with similar circumstances.

Daniel McFadin: It sure seems NASCAR loves giving out waivers. But if it didn’t give them out, especially in the Truck Series, the playoff field this year probably wouldn’t have very many race winners in it. Were Ankrum not given one and had NASCAR not approved Ross Chastain‘s mid-season points declaration for Trucks, there would be only three drivers – Johnny Sauter, Brett Moffitt and Austin Hill – in the playoffs off wins. We could also have a conversation about allowing Ankrum in the playoffs despite having multiple start and parks this year with NEMCO Motorsports. 

Long: Aretha sang about it, Kurt Busch says he has it with Chip Ganassi Racing

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SPARTA, Ky. — As Kurt Busch decided last year where he would drive this season, it didn’t take long.

A short meeting with car owner Chip Ganassi laid the foundation for a deal that was completed in about three hours, announced in December and bore fruit last weekend with Busch’s first victory of the season.

In the 30-minute conversation Busch had last year with Ganassi about driving for the car owner, Busch found what he sought.

“(Ganassi’s) level of commitment as a racer is something that I saw,” said Busch, who had run the previous five seasons with Stewart-Haas Racing. “Yes, Tony Stewart is a racer, but I was more on the Gene Haas side. When Chip said, ‘I want you to win for me, I want you to make these guys winners, and if you can bring that (Monster Energy) sponsorship with you, I’m going to pay you this,’ it was just like the most respect that I had felt in a long time when it came to a contract negotiation.”

Respect was a word the former Cup champion used in multiple interviews Saturday in discussing his move to Ganassi.

Busch said on NBCSN’s post-race show that when a contract extension with Stewart-Haas Racing didn’t work, he called Ganassi and quickly had a deal.

“That’s just the respect factor that I was looking for,” Busch told Krista Voda, Kyle Petty and Dale Jarrett.

Busch went on to say in the media center after the race about how quickly a deal was agreed upon: “It meant that I was wanted. And when you have that, that’s that extra desire to push and to make this group a winner.”

When the deal was announced in December, Ganassi said: “It’s not oftentimes that a NASCAR champion, a Daytona 500 winner becomes available. When you’ve got a guy that is a racer like Kurt … you’ve got to take a serious look at it. It didn’t take me long when he became available.”

As Busch, who turns 41 on Aug. 4, looks ahead to the playoffs, he also has to focus on what he’ll do next season. The deal with Ganassi is only for this year. So what’s next for Busch?

“For me, it’s a matter of just having the dominos line up and everybody fall together and to make it happen,” he said. “I guess the easiest way to move things forward is request for proposals are going out Monday with sponsors, with manufacturers, with team owner. 

“Yes, a win, that might have happened last week at Daytona, is one of those moments. Tonight is one of those stamps on — this 1 team is a powerful team, and it would be stupid not to keep this group together, and that’s part of my leverage, but at the end of it, we just want to make it work for all parties.”

After a night like Saturday, Busch said: “It gives you that energy of, yeah, it’s fun, and let’s get our sponsors lined up and let’s do this (again).”

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Ryan Newman has a simple rule on blocking, a tactic that has become more prevalent with the race package this year.

“I don’t do that personally, that’s not the way I race, I race hard,” Newman said. “Because it’s not the way I want to be raced. It’s not right.

“You don’t change the way that you enter a corner to choke somebody off knowing that it’s going to slow you down. You as a racer are supposed to go out there and race as hard as you can to try to catch the guy in front of you, not let the guy behind you stay behind you.”

Newman also noted a conversation he had with Ryan Blaney earlier this season after he was blocked by Blaney multiple times.

“Ryan Blaney and I have had it out after the race, not in a mean way,” Newman said. “(I) just told him, I said, ‘Listen, the next time you do that, it’s not going to be good for you. That’s not the way I race. You want to block me, it’s not going to be good.’ I don’t mean it as a threat. I’m just telling him that’s the fact of it.

“I don’t race that way. If I block you, you’ve got the right to turn me around, but if you choke me down going into the corner just to try keep me behind you, expect to get loose.”

Blaney admitted he threw “a couple of big blocks” on Newman in the Charlotte races in May.

“You make those decisions in a split-second,” Blaney said. “You’re not trying to screw that guy over, you’re just like ‘I have to help myself.’ Between me and Ryan (Newman), I’ve always liked that you could talk to someone afterwards and have an understanding about it.

“Newman said that was a big block, that was a kind of a late one. I said, ‘Yeah, I knew it was close, sorry.’ You could tell how close it was by how hard he hit you on the bumper. It’s good to talk about it and not kind of let it brood over. Me and Ryan have always been good friends. He’s someone I’ve looked up to for a long time. He’s been a friend of my family’s for a long time. It was good to talk to him and understand it.”

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To NASCAR,  it was a simple call in penalizing William Byron for jumping the restart at Kentucky Speedway.

Scott Miller, NASCAR senior vice president of competition, explained the penalty on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio on Monday.

“(Byron) fired first in the restart zone, and he wasn’t controlling the restart,” Miller said. “It’s kind of as simple as that.”

In the rules video that was played in the drivers meeting at Kentucky, it stated: “It will be the control vehicle’s discretion to restart in the zone between the double marks and the single mark on the outer wall and on the racing surface.”

Clint Bowyer was the leader at the time.

The penalty took place on Lap 184 of the 267-lap race. Byron went from second place to a lap down after serving the penalty and never recovered. He finished 18th.

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Paul Menard confirmed this past weekend his contract status for next season, saying:

“I have a good job, for sure. I love the Wood Brothers. I love my race team. They are good people. I have a contract for next year. I guess it is getting to be that time of year when people start talking about things. I have a contract and I love my team. We just have to perform better, that is all.”

Menard finished 11th Saturday. He is 20th in the season standings, 54 points out of the final playoff spot.

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Sponsorship issues nearly cost eventual Truck champion Brett Moffitt his playoff eligibility last year and threaten the playoff eligibility for Tyler Ankrum this season.

Ankrum won last weekend’s Gander Outdoors Truck Series race at Kentucky but lack of sponsorship could be an issue for him.

Ankrum was set to run a full season for DGR-Crosley once he turned 18 in March. He announced in June that he would not be running a full season with the team because of lack of sponsorship.

He started races at Iowa and Gateway for NEMCO Motorsports and retired after less than 20 laps in both races, finishing 31st at Iowa and 30th at Gateway. By starting those races, he kept his playoff eligibility. Ankrum received a waiver from NASCAR for missing the season’s first three races because he was not 18 years old at the time and could not run at Daytona, Atlanta and Las Vegas. He’s run the remaining races.

DGR-Crosley is a Toyota team and it leads to the question of what responsibility Toyota has to ensure that one of its playoff teams remains eligible for a championship run.

David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing Development, said the company will help in ways its best suited to do so.

“Our focus is on providing technical support to our team partners, and David Gilliland and his family, they’re not maybe at the (Kyle Busch Motorsports) level but make no mistake, we do have a strong technical partnership with them,” Wilson told NBC Sports after Ankrum’s win.

Wilson said that Toyota had been with the team when they took what was the winning truck to a wind tunnel earlier.

“We obviously are engaged and hopeful that they can put enough (sponsorship) together to keep Tyler moving forward, and we’d love to have him in the playoffs,” Wilson said.

Wilson admits a focus for Toyota is on Kyle Busch Motorsports. Harrison Burton and Todd Gilliland are both outside a playoff spot with three races left in the regular season.

Toyota has two teams in the playoffs as of now with Ankrum and Austin Hill, who won at Daytona for the reigning Gander Outdoors Truck Series championship team, Hattori Racing Enterprises.

Whatever Toyota teams are in the playoffs will get Wilson’s attention.

“Obviously we’re going to focus our resources on whomever is fighting to win the championship,” Wilson said. “There’s not a question about it. If it happens to be non-KBM trucks, so be it.”

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Stewart-Haas Racing dominates Cup qualifying at Kentucky

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SPARTA, Ky. – Daniel Suarez won the provisional pole for Saturday night’s Cup race at Kentucky Speedway.

Suarez scored his first pole of the season with a lap of 184.590 mph on Friday night. Stewart-Haas Racing teammate Aric Almirola qualified second at 183.799. This will be Almirola’s sixth front row start of the season.

The starting lineup will be official Saturday afternoon after each car goes through inspection. If a car fails inspection Saturday, its qualifying time will be disallowed and the car will start at the rear. The garage opens at 1:30 p.m. ET Saturday and inspection will begin shortly after that.

Click here for qualifying results 

All four of Stewart-Haas Racing’s car qualified in the top 10. Joining Suarez and Almirola in the top 10 are Kevin Harvick (183.312 mph) in fifth and Clint Bowyer (182.834) in seventh. Stewart-Haas Racing has yet to win a Cup race this season.

Brad Keselowski qualified third at 183.443 mph. Kurt Busch qualified fourth at 183.355 mph.

Bump and run: How to view Justin Haley’s Daytona win

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How do you view Justin Haley’s victory at Daytona?

Dustin Long: Every team running at that point had the same opportunity so congrats to Haley and his team for pulling it off. It’s understandable how some might feel a little empty because of how Haley rode at the back to protect his car. That also leads to the issue of how the team, Spire Motorsports, competes. It’s a small operation with limited resources. Not every team can start as a multi-car operation. Again, they played by the rules that were there for everyone and won. And I don’t want to hear anything about how NASCAR should have put Kurt Busch back in the lead because they gave the signal of one to go and then lightning struck within the 8-mile radius shortly after he gave up the lead to pit. Want to give Busch the lead back? Go invent a time machine and change history. Until you do so, Justin Haley won fair and square.

Daniel McFadin: It’s a nice, inexplicable oddity. It has no impact on the season-long narrative outside of taking away a chance for a Cup regular to win and get in the playoffs. It also makes sure everybody will remember the last July race at Daytona.

Jerry Bonkowski: Another feel-good story for the season. NASCAR can never have too many of those. While I’m happy for Justin, though, I’m worried that he may be labeled going forward as only winning because the race was rain-shortened, much like Aric Almirola‘s and Chris Buescher‘s first career Cup wins. Still, it was great to see how a small team beat the big boys. 

Nate Ryan: It’s a feel-good story, but we probably won’t know how good we really will feel about it until a few years from now. Will it be remembered as the start of something big for Haley and Spire Motorsports, or just a miraculous confluence of circumstances that produced an unbelievable blip during a season with a roster of overly familiar winners that can best described as rote? In the short term, the win has no legs because neither Haley or the team is making the playoffs. What driver and team are able to accomplish over the long term — and in the team’s case, there are valid questions about viability — will factor into how Sunday’s win ultimately is viewed.

If a driver is ineligible for a playoff spot that would come with a victory — as happened with Justin Haley’s win at Daytona — should NASCAR award that playoff spot to the first eligible driver? Should that be considered for Cup only because of the rarity of the situation or all three national series, if at all?

Dustin Long: No. Doing so tarnishes the “win and you are in” mantra. Don’t make such silly changes.

Daniel McFadin: I don’t think so. The only time a second-place finisher should be given a playoff spot is if the winner is disqualified. 

Jerry Bonkowski: No, a playoff spot should not be awarded to the first eligible driver. In the whole big scheme of things, those still vying for a playoff spot on points have really not lost (or gained) much with Haley’s win, given that he is ineligible for the Cup playoffs. Those drivers vying for the playoffs still have to be there at the end after Indianapolis. I can’t see how Haley’s win will cost anyone a playoff spot. And no, it should not be considered for all three national series. The rule is the rule; it’s not broken, so don’t try to “fix” it.

Nate Ryan: Only a win should guarantee a berth. But it’s deflating to have an ineligible winner in a race such as this that’s billed as one of the best hopes for an underdog to make the playoffs.

Does it matter to you that Daytona is moving from its traditional weekend on or near July 4 to August next year to be the regular-season finale?

Dustin Long: No. Next question.

Daniel McFadin: I’m all for the change. If a track has two races, both of them can’t be sacred just because of where they fall on the schedule. Making it the regular-season finale raises the intensity of the summer Daytona race and gives it more significance than it ever had, which is saying a lot given how frenetic the racing was Sunday. Also, hopefully, the move provides more consistent weather for racing.

Jerry Bonkowski: Yes it does bother me. There is so much history and tradition of the Independence Day weekend that has been built around Daytona. It’s not going to have the same feeling in late August next year. Plus, even though restrictor plates are gone, I question having a race that decides the final 16-driver playoff field using tapered spacers — which to me is like a plate by another name — be an event that weighs so heavy on who will or won’t make the playoffs.

Nate Ryan: It was a long overdue change (underscored again by the events of last weekend) to end the practice of racing Daytona on a Saturday night in early July. Making a wild-card race the regular-season cutoff is also an extremely smart play. It’s sad to sever the track’s holiday tradition, but it’s outweighed by the benefits, and the lack of community uproar (the Volusia County tourism industry is happy about having adding a busy weekend; people will still visit the beach July 4) confirms it’s a good call.

Two months remain until the playoffs begin. What will be you be watching in the coming weeks?

Dustin Long: I’m looking for the team to emerge that can challenge the Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske cars. I want to see if Kevin Harvick and his team can put away the issues that have hindered them and go on a run of winning races. I also want to see how Hendrick Motorsports progresses and if Jimmie Johnson in particular can become a contender.

Daniel McFadin: I’m interested to see how much Joey Logano can flex his muscles. He’s the point leader yet he only has two wins. He’s putting together an effective defense of his Cup title.

Jerry Bonkowski: How Stewart-Haas Racing evolves, whether Joe Gibbs Racing and Team Penske have noticeable fall-offs, if drivers who are getting close (like William Byron, Ryan Blaney, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and Kyle Larson) will finally break through with wins that boost them into the playoffs, and whether there may be another Justin Haley- or Ross Chastain-like surprise winner in any more races in the three national event series.

Nate Ryan: How many positions will be determined by points and the margins around the bubble. This is shaping up as possibly the fiercest and tightest cutoff battle yet since the 16-driver championship field was introduced in 2014.