Kasey Kahne Racing announced Wednesday that the former Cup Series driver will miss “several” upcoming sprint car races due to an undisclosed injury suffered in a race at Williams Grove Speedway in Pennsylvania on March 29.
Kahne will be replaced by Australian driver James McFadden in his No. 9 sprint beginning at the World of Outlaws Patriot Nationals in Charlotte May 24-25.
While the Cup playoff field won’t be set for another four months, there is a shrinking window for those not already in the top 16 in points as the series heads this weekend to Dover International Speedway.
Since 2017 — when stage racing and stage points were added — 84.3 percent of the drivers who were in a playoff spot after 10 races made the playoffs that year.
Take out those who already had wins to be playoff eligible at this point in the season and 81.8 percent of the remaining drivers in a playoff spot after 10 races made it to NASCAR’s postseason the previous two years.
That’s good news for the drivers in the top 16 in points now. Last weekend’s race at Talladega Superspeedway was the 10th of the Cup season.
What’s also telling is that 13 of last year’s 16 playoff drivers are in the top 16 at this point in the season. That’s despite rule changes intended to make the racing tighter and possibly give more drivers chances for better finishes or wins.
With NASCAR’s system of win and you’re in the playoffs, anything can happen. A fuel-mileage race can create a surprise winner or a pit gamble can help someone score an unexpected victory. Maybe a rain-shortened race leads to a new winner.
But it doesn’t always work that way. Last season, no driver outside a playoff spot won any of the final 16 regular-season races.
In 2017, two drivers outside playoff spots won in the final 16 regular-season races to make the postseason. Dillon was 22nd in points entering the Coca-Cola 600 and won that race on a fuel-mileage gamble. Kasey Kahne was 22nd in points later that season entering the Brickyard 400. He won that race in the second overtime.
The question becomes how much will those not in a playoff spot now gamble to score a win and secure a spot instead of having to rely on points to make it? This will be worth watching in the coming weeks.
2. A year later
Talladega winner Chase Elliott has made the biggest jump in the standings compared to where he was after 10 races last year.
A year ago, Elliott was 18th. He is seventh this year, moving up 11 spots. Other big gainers among the top 30 from last year are: Daniel Suarez (up nine spots to 12th this year), Ty Dillon (up five spots to 22nd), Denny Hamlin (up four spots to third) and Austin Dillon (up three spots to 14th).
Those who have fallen the most this year from this point last season: Kyle Larson (dropped 11 spots to 21st), Clint Bowyer (down six spots to 10th this year), Bubba Wallace (down six spots to 28th this year), Erik Jones (down five spots to 18th this season) and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. (down five spots to 20th this season).
3. Familiar ground
It has been nearly two years since Jimmie Johnson last won a Cup race, but he’s back this weekend at Dover International Speedway, the site of his most recent victory.
Johnson won his 83rd career Cup race June 4, 2017, at Dover to tie him with Cale Yarborough for sixth on the career victory list. That win was Johnson’s 11th at Dover, most of any driver.
In the 69 races since, Johnson has four top-five finishes and 21 top-10 finishes. He’s led 149 laps during that time. His best finish since that last win is third. He placed third at the fall Dover race in 2017 and third at the spring Bristol race last year. His best finish this season is fifth at Texas. He has four top-10 finishes in the first 10 races of this year.
“The first couple of downforce races we were not where we needed to be,” Johnson said of this season. “I think we’ve kind of rallied back and put some speed in our cars and are going the right way. Based on performance, I would say we are at a ‘C’ but I know the distance we’ve made up here recently.
“If there’s an effort score, I want to score my team really high because we’re working really hard to get there. But at the end of the day, the results are results and we know we’ve got to get better. I feel like we’re headed into ‘B’ territory right now.”
Nazareth Speedway hosted what is now the Xfinity Series from 1988-2004 but has sat abandoned since. Martin Truex Jr. won the last NASCAR race there.
Police said that the boys, one age 14 and the other 15, showed up on Snapchat recorded by one of the boys at the scene as the fire burned. According to police, the story says that before the fire, one of the boys stole lighter fluid, a lighter and Jiffy Pop popcorn from a nearby supermarket. According to police, the boys attempted to heat the Jiffy Pop from the fire.
Elliott Sadler doesn’t look back on his decision to step away from full-time racing with regret.
“It is 100 percent the best decision I made,” he told NBC Sports this week.
But he’s also looking forward to his return to the Xfinity Series tonight for Kaulig Racing at Richmond Raceway. This is one of two races Sadler is scheduled to drive this season (the other is Sept. 14 at Las Vegas).
Sadler, 43, said it became clear last year that it was time for him to step back.
“A few things helped in my decision,” said Sadler, who has 13 Xfinity and three Cup victories. “I know what it takes to race at this level. I understand the homework you have to do, the videos you have to watch, the notes you have to take, the simulation you have to study, the working out that you have to do, the whole mental and physical part of it.
“I was at the point last year where I did not and just could not do all the things that I wanted to do. I lost that drive to do it 100 percent. I couldn’t make myself go to the gym, every day, every night. I couldn’t make myself watch videos … all the time. So I lost a little bit of that drive. I didn’t want to half-ass it. I’m not that kind of person.
“I knew that if I was not going to do everything that I knew I needed to do to compete at a 100 percent level like some of these other guys, like Kevin Harvick, Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch, some of these guys that I know work their butts off to stay in the shape they’re in and live on the edge, there was no need for me to do it.”
Sadler said another key factor was being more involved with his family and children, 9-year-old Wyatt and 7-year-old Austyn.
“I think that is why I lost some of my drive to do this every weekend,” Sadler said of racing. “It’s hard to race 33 weekends a year when you’ve got kids at home. I’m not singing the blues by no means. I was in a good point in my life where if I had to make a decision or wanted to make the decision to stay at home more and be a part of my kids’ life I could and that’s the decision I ended up making.”
Sadler is coaching his kids in sports and noted that earlier this week their team won a baseball tournament championship in extra innings in Richmond.
“I told my wife, after the game we were driving home, I said, I wouldn’t have missed this for the world,” Sadler told NBC Sports. “This is one of the happiest days of my life, watching all these kids fight through what they did to win the championship. That’s what it is all about.”
Sadler admits he is excited to get back into the car this weekend. Although he’s missed the first seven races, he isn’t worried. He looks to friend Dale Earnhardt Jr., who ran in Richmond’s Xfinity race in September in his only start of the year and finished fourth, leading 96 of 250 laps. Sadler seeks his first career Xfinity win at Richmond.
“I’m not putting a uniform on to go ride around and be fan,” Sadler said. “I could just buy a ticket if I wanted to be a fan. I want to be a part of the race and a part of the action.”
Such penalties are not new to Hamlin. His 23 pit road speeding penalties since 2016 rank third in the series. He’s recorded a pit road speeding penalty in 19.8% of the 116 Cup races run since 2016, according to Racing Insights.
The drivers with the most pit road speeding penalties (and how many they’ve had) since 2016 are:
NASCAR stated that this is not the new qualifying format moving forward. The change was made after all 24 cars did not go on to the track in the first five minutes of the second round last weekend at Bristol.
NASCAR has made it clear it doesn’t want to go back to single-car qualifying. Officials still have to figure out what to do about qualifying at bigger tracks where drafting plays a role.
But changing the rules time after time and spending so much time discussing qualifying — instead of the race — makes it seem as if the sport has fallen into a rabbit hole on this matter.
If the sport is against single-car qualifying and officials need to keep tweaking the format time after time, the question becomes is qualifying necessary?
Want to make setting the lineup simple? Fine. Make the starting lineup based on how drivers finished in the previous race.
Finishing order from the previous race also determines the pit stall picks. If the car didn’t race the week before, it starts behind all those that ran that race. If there are more cars than spots, then have single-car qualifying among the cars that did not compete the race before.
Problem solved. Now the sport can move on to something else.
4. Working together (finally)
It took a while but Michael McDowell got Drew Blickensderfer to be his crew chief. Blickensderfer was someone McDowell had targeted previously.
“When I was at (Leavine Family Racing), I tried really hard to get Drew, and the biggest reason is watching himfrom the garage and two, I became good friends with Carl (Edwards),” said McDowell, now with Front Row Motorsports. “And Carl and I would have fun conversations, and Carl is an intense guy, and I said, ‘Hey if you were going to go to battle, who would you go with?’ He’s like, ‘I’d take Drew with me.’
“So that was always ingrained a little bit in my mind, and then just seeing Drew, and I see him from afar, and I felt he’s always overachieved and always had that leadership and that intensity. Yeah, it’s just like one of those things where you just know when you know, and so I fought hard for years to try to get him, and it just never really worked out, and opportunity became available kind of late in the game and late in the (off)season and really thankful to get him over there.”
McDowell saw firsthand how Blickensderfer battled when he stepped in after McDowell went to the ground in his confrontation with Daniel Suarez at ISM Raceway in March. Blickensderfer pinned Suarez against the hood of McDowell’s car on pit road.
“The battle part wasn’t a reference to Suarez, but you know, you can tell if you look at Drew and look at his ears, they’re closed up for a reason,” McDowell said. “He’s been on the mat and on the floor a lot. And him and I kind of joked about that because he obviously stepped in there, and you could just see it was instincts. He’s got that fire about him. I didn’t want him because he can take care of all the drivers for me … but that intensity is what you’re looking for.”
McDowell enters this weekend 28th in points. He finished fifth in the Daytona 500 but has had one top 20 since, placing 15th at Texas.
5. Bounty award for fans
NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman noted on Thursday’s NASCAR America that he’d like to see a bounty paid to any driver that can beat Kyle Busch, who has won three of the first eight races this season. Kligerman noted it’s an old short-track promotion done when someone dominates.
It’s a good idea, but why not include the fans? If someone beats Kyle Busch – or better yet, if any team can win other than Joe Gibbs Racing or Team Penske – then maybe that track takes the number of the winning car and deducts that much from the ticket (with a ceiling as to how much those tickets can be reduced). Make the fans a part of something like that.
And tracks could still win by offering some sort of special ticket price if Busch wins or a JGR car or Team Penske car does.
No, this isn’t going to suddenly pack every track’s grandstands. That’s not the intent. It would be a way to have a little fun and maybe help fans with the cost of tickets and encourage a few others to purchase them.
Friday 5: What Cup teams with new drivers are better off?
Some moves were made by teams. Others were made by drivers looking for better opportunities. Whatever the reason, there were a number of driver changes after last year.
Four races into this season, one can get a glimpse of how those changes are working out. In some cases, the comparisons may look unkindly on who was in the car last year — think about Chevrolet teams and the struggles many had early with the Camaro last year or how a team has switched manufacturers since last year — but here is a look at how some of the moves have gone.
Five of the eight full-time teams that had driver changes for this season are showing an uptick in performance in the first four races of this season compared to the same time last year.
No surprise that former champion Martin Truex Jr. and crew chief Cole Pearn have raised the level of the No. 19 team at Joe Gibbs Racing. Truex has two runner-up finishes this season and has scored 140 points — 73 points more than Daniel Suarez had with that ride in the first four races last year.
The No. 1 team at Chip Ganassi Racing also has seen a 73-point gain in the first four races this season with Kurt Busch compared to the same time with Jamie McMurray last year. Busch has three finishes of seventh or better in his Chevrolet Camaro to score 126 points.
Also making gains this year are the No. 6 team at Roush Fenway Racing with Ryan Newman. He has three finishes of 14th or better this season and has scored 25 more points than Trevor Bayne had in that car at this time last year.
Corey LaJoie and Matt DiBenedetto also have helped their teams to more points than last year at this time. DiBenedetto took over Leavine Family Racing’s No. 95 — which also changed to Toyota and aligned with Joe Gibbs Racing after last year — and has scored five more points than Kasey Kahne had in the first four races last year when that team was with Chevrolet.
LaJoie replaced DiBenedetto in the No. 32 at Go Fas Racing and has a top finish of 18th. LaJoie has scored five more points than DiBenedetto had in the first four races last year with that team.
The teams that have not seen an increase of points so far compared to last year include two teams with rookies. Rookie Daniel Hemric replaced Newman at Richard Childress Racing and has scored 48 fewer points in the first four races than Newman did for that group last year. Rookie Ryan Preece has scored 12 fewer points in the No. 47 car for JTG Daugherty Racing than AJ Allmendinger had at this time last year.
The other driver move was Suarez taking over the No. 41 car for Stewart-Haas Racing and replacing Busch. Suarez has one top 10 so far but Busch had two top 10s at this time last year. Suarez has scored 40 fewer points than Busch did at this time last year.
— Busch has 199 NASCAR wins in 996 starts (a 20 percent winning percentage)
— Busch has 494 top-five finishes in those 996 starts, scoring a top five in 49.6 percent of his starts.
— Busch’s 199 career NASCAR wins have come on 28 different tracks. Among the tracks he’s won at that are no longer on the NASCAR circuit are Lucas Oil Raceway (three wins), Nashville Superspeedway (three) and Mexico City (one).
— The most victories Busch has had in one season in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks was 24 in 2010.
— Busch has won a NASCAR race in 21 different states and Mexico. The most victories Busch has had in any one state is Tennessee. He’s won 24 races there.
3. So far so good on inspection
This year marks the first time in the past three seasons that a Cup car was not penalized for an inspection violation after the race.
So far, no team has been given such a penalty in Cup, Xfinity or the Truck series.
That’s quite an accomplishment in Cup. Each of the past two years saw at least one team penalized for a violation discovered after the race in the first four events of the season.
In March 2018, NASCAR fined crew chief Rodney Childers $50,000, suspended car chief Robert Smith two Cup races, docked Kevin Harvick 20 points and the team 20 owner points for a violation with the rear window brace that was discovered after Harvick’s win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Harvick also lost all seven playoff points he earned — five for winning the race and two for each stage victory.
NASCAR also penalized Harvick’s team after that same race for an unapproved track bar slider assembly. NASCAR suspended Childers one race and fined him $25,000. Harvick was docked 10 points and the team lost 10 owner points.
4. One or the other
Since NASCAR created the West Coast swing in 2016, Kevin Harvick or Martin Truex Jr. have managed to win at least once in those three races.
They’ll need to win this weekend at Auto Club Speedway to keep that streak going. Joey Logano won at Las Vegas to begin this year’s swing. Kyle Busch won last weekend at ISM Raceway near Phoenix.
They’ll compete for Ford Performance and Multimatic Motorsports in Friday’s IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge at Sebring International Raceway. Crafton and Enfinger will be paired on the No. 22 team, while Snider and Rhodes will drive the No. 15 entry. Their race lasts two hours.
Last week’s Cup qualifying at Las Vegas Motor Speedway raised the question of is qualifying more about entertainment or sport?
It was fascinating to watch cars parked on pit road and drivers waiting for someone to go because nobody wanted to be the lead car. They all wanted to be in the draft.
While that took place, spotters counted down the time remaining in the session.
It became a game of who would blink first and take off.
When it was time to go, there was chaos. Cars darted around each other. In the final round, Joey Logano went four-wide on pit road. Ricky Stenhouse passed Logano on the inside and left pit road ahead of him.
“Is chaos a bad thing?” Logano asked NBC Sports’ Jerry Bonkowski this week. “I think that’s the question we have to ask ourselves. Is it chaos? Yes. Is it entertaining? Oh yeah, it’s entertaining, there’s a lot going on. So I don’t know if it’s wrong and we should be changing much.
“I think there’s a couple safety aspects we can add to pit road while we’re jockeying around for position and stuff like that. But as far as the entertainment value, will you get the lap in before the clock runs out, will you get a big enough draft, will they all go out for a second time and you get a big pack again, are they going to knock somebody out of the round? That’s good.
“I don’t know why we would change much of that, I think it’s OK. Yeah, it’s a little chaotic, it’s crazy and none of us has it figured out or scienced out the way we want to have it yet, but that’s competition, that’s just what it is.”
Logano is right. While there was a randomness to who won the pole at Las Vegas, qualifying was as entertaining as any session in recent years.
What happened last week was reminiscent of qualifying at Talladega in October 2014. NASCAR divided teams into two groups for the opening round and each had five minutes. The top 24 overall times advanced.
Most cars stayed on pit road until they hit their cutoff mark to complete two laps. Not everyone made it. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Justin Allgaier were among the cars that didn’t make it to the start/finish line before the session ended. Their fastest laps didn’t count. They both failed to qualify. It’s the only race Stenhouse has failed to make since his 2013 rookie Cup season.
These days, 36 chartered cars are guaranteed a starting spot. That prevents a situation Stenhouse experienced five years ago with a well-funded team.
But that doesn’t ease all the angst. Some competitors were frustrated at Las Vegas because the draft negates who has the fastest car. It’s all about being in the right place to draft and turn the quickest lap. Being in that position can be as much luck as skill.
What happens in qualifying can impact the race. Teams pick pit stalls based on their starting spot. A poor qualifying effort can lead to issues in the race.
Logano is aware of that. He qualified 27th at Atlanta and his team had limited options on where to pick their pit stall. Crew chief Todd Gordon chose a stall behind Alex Bowman’s pit and in front of Martin Truex Jr.’s pit.
Rarely do strong teams pit next to each other because they don’t want to have to go around a car to enter their stall or be blocked in by the car in front. Logano faced that situation at Atlanta. He lost more than 10 spots on each of his first two pit stops because he couldn’t get around Bowman’s car to exit his stall.
That leads back to the question of should qualifying be about entertainment or sport?
The decision today will be easy. The fastest car will be rewarded because teams are not expected to draft.
This issue that will come up again in the coming weeks, though, when the series heads to Auto Club Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Kansas Speedway.
“Texas, I don’t know,” Logano said. “I think there’s going to be parts of the track that you want to draft and parts of the track when you’re going to want clean air. When you get to Turns 1 and 2, you’re going to want some air on the car to be able to get through the corner with as much wide open time as possible. That one’s a real question for me.
“I think Kansas is a no-brainer, you’re definitely going to be drafting. As for Fontana, it’ll be interesting. I think there’s going to be some drafting going on there, but I think it’ll be split up a little bit, kind of like the way Atlanta was, kinda 50-50.”
There’s no splitting this issue. It’s about entertainment. Let chaos reign in qualifying.
For all the wins Kyle Busch has amassed in his NASCAR career, there is a recurring theme.
The runner-up to Busch in more than a third of the 197 races he’s won across Cup, Xfinity and the Gander Outdoors Truck Series has been one of five drivers.
The driver who has finished runner-up to Busch the most in those races is Kevin Harvick. He’s done so 18 times — five times in Cup, 10 times in Xfinity and three times in Trucks. The total equates to 9.1 percent of the time Busch has won a NASCAR race, Harvick has been second.
Carl Edwards is next on the list with 15 runner-up finishes to Busch. He’s followed by Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano with 13-runner-up finishes. Next is Kyle Larson, who has placed second to Busch eight times.
Combined, Harvick, Edwards, Keselowski, Logano and Larson have finished second to Busch in 67 of his 197 wins (34 percent).
They are among the 60 drivers who have placed second to Busch in a race he won. The list includes three NASCAR Hall of Fame members (Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Ron Hornaday Jr.), two Indianapolis 500 winners (Sam Hornish Jr. and Juan Pablo Montoya) and drivers who have combined to win 48 NASCAR titles in either Cup, Xfinity or Trucks.
The list could grow this weekend. Busch is entered in both the Cup and Xfinity races at Phoenix.
Here is who has finished second to Busch in Cup, Xfinity and Trucks races and how often:
Tanner Thorson, who competed in 11 Gander Outdoors Truck Series races last season, is recovering after he was involved in a highway crash early Monday morning in Modesto, California.
The 2016 U.S. Auto Club national champion had surgery Monday night for a broken left arm, according to the USAC Racing. Thorson had surgery Wednesday on his broken right foot. He also suffered a cracked sternum, broken ribs and a punctured lung, according to USAC Racing. The organization said that Thorson’s family hopes the 22-year-old can return home soon.
According to a preliminary investigation by the California Highway Patrol, Thorson was driving a 2019 Ford pickup that was towing his sprint car when he approached slower moving traffic shortly before 4 a.m. PT. Thorson’s truck struck the rear of a vehicle. KCRA, an NBC affiliate in Sacramento, reported that vehicle was a milk truck.
The impact sent the milk truck into the next lane where it was hit by another vehicle and then came back across the road and was struck another car. The driver was uninjured. A passenger in the truck was transported from the scene with minor injuries, according to the California Highway Patrol. Thorson’s vehicle came to rest on the shoulder and caught fire.
4. First time in new garages at Phoenix
ISM Raceway at Phoenix debuted its new garages and layout when NASCAR raced there in November.
Kevin Harvick has finished in the top five in half of the 32 Cup races he’s run at Phoenix. He has nine wins there. Jimmie Johnson has 15 top-five finishes in 31 Cup races there. He has four wins there.
Despite the dominance of the two, they have combined for one win (by Harvick) in the last five races at Phoenix. The other winners in the last five races at Phoenix are Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman and Joey Logano.