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Matt Kenseth discusses early progress for Roush cars on Dale Jr. Download

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Matt Kenseth shares parenting tips for Dale Earnhardt Jr., discusses their early days racing together and talks about his return to the car for Roush Fenway Racing in this week’s Dale Jr. Download.

Kenseth returned to the Cup Series earlier this month, driving the No. 6 Ford for Roush Fenway Racing at Kansas. He finished 36th after he was eliminated by a crash. He won the pole for last weekend’s All-Star Race and finished 14th in the 21-car field.

Kenseth will be back in the car for Sunday’s Coca-Cola 600 and the next two races (Pocono and Michigan) before Trevor Bayne drives the No. 6 at Sonoma.

Kenseth and Bayne will split time in the car the rest of the season.

Kenseth, without a ride after Joe Gibbs Racing did not renew his contract last year, was brought to Roush Fenway Racing to help that organization improve its cars.

“It’s been really different for me because it’s a different role than I’ve ever felt like I’ve had through my racing career,’’ Kenseth said on the podcast.

After two races, Kenseth is learning what needs to be done to help the team. 

“I kind of now know where I feel like that they’re at and how much we need to do to get back to an extremely competitive environment,’’ Kenseth said, “so it’s just a lot different role and different feeling than I’ve ever had before, it’s more of a project.’’

In terms of that project, where do things stand after two races?

“Obviously, there’s a lot of room for improvement,’’ Kenseth said. “I think, the potential is there but certainly it’s going to take some work and probably a little more patience and a little more time than maybe I originally thought.’’

Listen to the show here and all that Kenseth had to say.

Ryan: Meet him in Miami? Kevin Harvick makes big push to title berth

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Maybe nobody wants to talk about this amidst rear-window violations, drivers “racing too hard” and installing betting windows adjacent to the garage stalls.

But can we discuss how much clearer the playoff picture seems a third of the way through the season for at least one contender?

The chances of Kevin Harvick winning the 2018 Cup championship have become exponentially greater over the last two months. The odds still are probably less than 50-50, but it is creeping up quickly toward one in four.

Wait, you say, that would mean the Stewart-Haas Racing driver is on the verge of being a lock for the four-driver championship finale Nov. 18 at Homestead-Miami Speedway?

If Harvick stays on this pace, or just close to approximating it, the answer is yes.

Absolutely.

Just look at last year’s series champion.

When he scored his second win of the season at Kansas Speedway on May 13, 2017, Martin Truex Jr. had 15 playoff points.

After winning Saturday night at Kansas for his fifth victory this year, Harvick has 24 playoff points (and would have 31 if his Las Vegas Motor Speedway stage win sweep weren’t nullified by a rear-window penalty).

It took Truex until the 18th race to amass that many playoff points (he went from 21 to 28 points with his July 8, 2017 sweep of Kentucky Speedway). He entered the playoffs with a 53-point bulge (the maximum possible in a race is 60) and added 16 to the total over the six races before the Round of 8. It made for a virtual walkover to Miami.

That cushion mattered because it allowed Furniture Row Racing to spend several weeks preparing the No. 78 Toyota that carried Truex to a victory (and the championship) in the Nov. 19 finale.

After opening the Round of 12 with a victory at Charlotte Motor Speedway on Oct. 8, 2017, Truex’s team could turn the bulk of its attention to the championship race. It would have taken an epic collapse to blow a 69-point lead through Martinsville Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Phoenix International Raceway.

At his current pace, there is a solid chance Harvick could have an even bigger playoff points total entering the Round of 8 this year.

Crew chief Rodney Childers is among the best in Cup (along with Cole Pearn for Truex) at using simulations to set up a car.

Give Childers that much time to build a supersonic No. 4 Ford for Harvick at Miami, where he won in 2014 and has finished second, third and fourth since. It’s abundantly obvious whom the heavy favorite would be in this year’s championship.

It might seem absurd to suggest that after 12 of 36 races, Harvick is a surefire bet for Miami in a playoff system with three elimination rounds and points resets.

But one of the nuances about the stage racing/playoff points structure (and an improvement because it rewards seasonlong performance) is that it neutralizes some of the randomness.

Harvick might be on the cusp of carving out some impressive immediate history by notching two three-race winning streaks in one season.

But in the long game, he is setting himself for an even greater slice of significance.

(Thanks for indulging us. We can now return to discussing myriad topics unconnected to the somehow undercovered story of this year’s championship battle.)


William Byron said he was “thankful to be walking” after the fiery wreck at Kansas Speedway, which had us thinking.

Does it seem as if there have been an inordinate amount of heavy wrecks at this 1.5-mile speedway?

–Dale Jarrett sustained the worst concussion of his career there (with effects that lasted several years afterward) in the Sept. 30, 2001 debut race.

Sterling Marlin broke his neck and missed the last seven races of the season after a vicious crash on Sept. 29, 2002.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. suffered a concussion in a wicked Turn 1 wreck during an August 2012 test session.

–The cars of Kyle Busch and Joey Logano got crumpled in an April 21, 2013 crash (damage that was similar to what Byron sustained last Saturday night).

–Last year, Aric Almirola missed seven races after suffering a compression fracture in a violent impact that left Danica Patrick shaken.

Most of this is likely just happenstance and not a byproduct of track design (though Kansas is among the last of the “real” triovals, lacking the dogleg of many 1.5-mile layouts).

But it is curious that Kansas has established a reputation as perhaps the most treacherous and unforgiving 1.5-mile track for wrecks (particularly when Texas and Charlotte often are mentioned most often when this category arises).


Based on his in-race radio chatter and brief comments afterward, Matt Kenseth surely had steeled himself for the possibility that his debut weekend would be as challenging as it was. His cautious outlook about his return to Roush Fenway Racing underscored that Kenseth understood the scale of the undertaking.

But the 2003 series champion already made his presence felt in his first competition meetings with the team last week, and he’s been given the full support of team owner Jack Roush to effect changes he feels are needed to return the No. 6 Ford to top-caliber results.

Kenseth probably won’t stomach running outside the top 25 on a consistent basis for more than a couple of races, but it’s reasonable to expect his patience for witnessing demonstrable improvements will last through at least the Coca-Cola 600.


Of the five rear-window penalties this season, the manufacturer breakdown is two Fords, two Chevrolets and one ToyotaDaniel Suarez at Dover.

The top three Toyotas in the standings haven’t been penalized, while two of the top three Fords (Harvick and Clint Bowyer) and the top Chevrolet (Larson) have been dinged.

This might provide context to why Denny Hamlin (seventh in the standings behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate and points leader Kyle Busch and just ahead of fellow Camry driver Truex in eighth) grew animated on his team radio during the Kansas race, noting that “Larson’s roof is pushed in 2 feet! Two feet, his roof is pushed in!”

While the next rear-window penalty might draw harsher punishment from NASCAR … it also might draw a round of louder sniping from peers.


The loss of Larson’s playoff point from his second stage victory at Kansas raises the question of whether NASCAR should award playoff points to the next eligible contender after penalties.

In this instance, that would be Harvick. He also finished second in the first stage to Ryan Blaney, so his rivals are fortunate that Harvick doesn’t enter Charlotte Motor Speedway with an even bigger playoff points bulge.

Between the penalties to Harvick and Larson, that’s eight playoff points that have “disappeared” into the ether this season in Cup.


Remember the shove that Blaney delivered to Harvick last fall after the Martinsville Speedway race?

Maybe those embers still were smoldering when Blaney made this comment about falling from third to fifth on a restart with 25 laps remaining Saturday: “I got about spun out in (turns) 1 and 2 on the restart, getting sucked around.”

Without naming him, that was an obvious reference to Harvick using the outside to side-draft off Blaney and into the lead over Larson.

Six laps later, Blaney would crash with Larson and finish 37th after leading 54 laps and winning the first stage.

It wasn’t the first time the Team Penske driver has failed to close out a win with a strong car. He led a race-high 118 laps at the Daytona 500, 100 laps at Bristol Motor Speedway and 145 at Martinsville, and he also crashed at Talladega Superspeedway after contending for the victory. He’s led the most laps (418) among winless drivers in 2018.

Some of those were on the driver, some were just circumstantial. But even though he took full blame for the Kansas incident with Larson, it’s natural to wonder if Blaney holds Harvick partly responsible for putting him in that position.

Kevin Harvick: ‘Chase Elliott winning is better for our sport’

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The question was to make a pitch but Kevin Harvick admitted it likely doesn’t matter how much he does because there’s only one driver who will win the NMPA Most Popular Driver Award now that Dale Earnhardt Jr. is no longer racing.

“We’re fortunate to have a great fan base, but we probably won’t win,’’ Harvick said Friday at Kansas Speedway. “I’d say the next guy that’s going to take that reign is going to be Chase Elliott. The bottom line is when you look at our sport, there is only a few guys that come through this sport that have the name, the history, the heritage of that NASCAR family and carry that through their career, and Chase is one of those guys.

“He’s done a great job of carrying himself and being competitive and doing all the things that he does … he has that family name and that history and the heritage of the hardcore NASCAR fan who are going to be the people who vote that. His dad won a few times in the Most Popular Driver and he’s the next Dale Jr.”

Bill Elliott was selected as the most popular driver a record 16 times. Earnhardt won the honor 15 consecutive years.

Harvick suggests that Chase Elliott could make a significant impact on the sport but the key is winning. Elliott, the 2014 Xfinity champion, remains winless in Cup. Saturday night’s race will be his 89th career series start. He has finished second eight times, including at Richmond last month.

“Is he going to win enough to be the megastar? At some point,” said Harvick, who is coming off his win last weekend at Dover. “He’s a star right now, but winning takes you to that next level of being a bigger star, and Chase Elliott winning is better for our sport and he’s going to be the guy that wins the Most Popular Driver, in my opinion, for the next several years. There’s nobody else that has that ties to our sport like Chase does. I can win 20 races a year and I’m never going have that tie to the sport like Chase does.”

But Harvick does have one special fan among those who cheer him. Earnhardt revealed this week on Twitter that his grandmother is a Harvick fan because Harvick took over Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s ride after his death in the 2001 Daytona 500.

“Seeing that comment from Dale Jr. and seeing the reaction from a lot of the fans is a lot of responsibility, obviously,’’ Harvick said. “It’s like I said on the (SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) show Tuesday night, when you look at the Earnhardt family in general, the legacy they have in our sport from start to finish – from Ralph to Dale Jr. on down to what happens next, it’s a major backbone of what has happened in this sport. When you look at that, I feel like I have a small part of where that changed … and where it’s going.

“So, for me, there’s a lot of pressure but also a lot of pride in that as well to try to do right, whether it’s for the family or for those old Senior fans. You want to do the right thing. I haven’t always done the right thing, but I feel as you go through the years you transition more into the right direction than what we did in the beginning, so that, to me, personally feels good.”

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NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s foray into fatherhood

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and features analysis on Kevin Harvick‘s incredible start to the season and Dale Earnhardt Jr.‘s foray into fatherhood.

Marty Snider and Dale Jarrett will be on hand from the studio in Stamford, while Nate Ryan hangs out in Burton’s Garage.

On today’s show:

  • Kevin Harvick has dominated the 2018 season through 11 races. Is he on the path to one of the most successful campaigns in recent memory? Our panel weighs in.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a week into fatherhood but already has plenty of stories to share. We’ll hear some on the latest installment of the Dale Jr. Download podcast.
  • We’ll also have highlights from the Xfinity Series Takeover in Philadelphia today. The drivers toured the city and made a pit stop for cheesesteaks.
  • Sirius XM’s Pete Pistone stops by with his take on the state of the Xfinity Series and how NASCAR’s “Old Guard” is fending off the sport’s youth movement.
If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

NASCAR America: Jimmie Johnson’s unique approach equals success

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It took more than a minute to highlight Jimmie Johnson’s record 11 wins at Dover International Speedway.

And when they were done showcasing his victories – the most recent of which came last spring – the conversation inevitably turned to whether Johnson needs a victory this week in order to regain his reputation.

“I think his fans would love and perhaps need a win, but Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus don’t need a win,” said NBC Sports NASCAR analyst Steve Letarte. “They don’t have to prove to each other they can win. They need to continue to improve.”

Johnson’s wins have come in a variety of ways, but they are all partly attributable to the way he visualizes Dover.

“The best story I can say is: We were in a debrief one day and we had some big names in there – Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson – and Jimmie takes about five or six minutes with this very eloquent lap. ‘When I get in the corner, I look around at the apex. It does this, it does that, it does this’ and he had some great stuff. And I remember, I look at Dale and I was like, ‘Is our car doing that?’ And Dale looked at me and says, ‘I’m not on that track.’ ”

And that is part of what has made Johnson so successful at Dover. His unique talent for this track is not related to shocks, springs and aerodynamics, but how he approaches the corners.

For more, watch the above video.