Adrian Parker

With careers likely ending Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray are all smiles

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While Joey Logano celebrated his first Cup Series title Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, two friends posed for a picture on pit road.

Matt Kenseth and Jamie McMurray were all smiles.

Roush Fenway Racing’s Kenseth had just finished sixth in his 665th and likely last Cup start.

Chip Ganassi Racing’s McMurray placed 18th in possibly his last start as a full-time driver.

Kenseth, who returned to Roush this season for 15 starts in the No. 6 Ford after losing his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing, hasn’t announced any plans for 2019 season.

The 2003 Cup champion told NBC Sports in September he wasn’t looking for a ride, but that he was “looking forward to still being a part” of Roush, which he raced for in Cup from 1999 – 2012 before moving to JGR.

“I think it’s cool to end it there” Kenseth said. “You never know what’s going to pop up. Maybe something will pop up where you need to run a few races and there’s some opportunities.”

Should his career be over, Kenseth provided a nice bookend to it. As a 26-year-old in 1998, Kenseth made his Cup debut at Dover International Speedway, driving in place of Bill Elliott in his No. 94 McDonald’s Ford. Elliott missed that race to attend his father’s funeral.

Kenseth started that race 19th and placed sixth.

McMurray is still deciding on what’s in store for him next year.

The seven-time Cup winner has an offer from Chip Ganassi to compete in the Daytona 500 in a third car before transitioning into a management role for the team he competed for from 2002-05 and ’10-18.

The 2010 Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 winner said over the weekend there’s “a lot of other things that I’m going through trying to figure out that I can’t say, but I hope I can soon.”

But the 42-year-old said he is at peace with the likely end of his NASCAR career after talking with former drivers like Casey Mears and former teammates Greg Biffle and Kenseth.

“I’ve talked to a lot of drivers that have recently went through it, and everyone’s story is exactly the same,” McMurray said. “And so if I feel the way that they do, I’m looking forward to three to four races into next year.”

Should McMurray’s career end with the Daytona 500, he would exit the cockpit after 583 Cup starts.

 

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Long: Spurred by past defeats, Joey Logano emerges a champion

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Shortly before Joey Logano began his ride into NASCAR history, the driver who proclaimed a week ago that he was the favorite to win the championship, shared his exuberance Sunday afternoon with Daniel Lynch, his team’s interior mechanic.

“I’m getting in as a driver and getting out as a champion,” Logano told Lynch.

A late charge past Martin Truex Jr. — who was fueled to deny Logano the title after Logano bumped him out of the lead to win at Martinsville — guaranteed that Logano would win the race and capture his first Cup title.

The championship marked the end of a long, winding path for the 28-year-old Logano, who took over Tony Stewart’s ride in 2009 at age 18 after Stewart left Joe Gibbs Racing for what became Stewart-Haas Racing.

Logano, a driver heralded for his talent as a youth — and one whose 18th birthday couldn’t come fast enough so he could race in NASCAR’s top two series — suffered the cold realities of high expectations, middling results and being a child in an adult sport. The results bruised his psyche and sapped his confidence.

He eventually lost his ride at Joe Gibbs Racing and wondered if he would be out of the sport before he turned 23. When he joined car owner Roger Penske’s team, Logano began to excel.

But for all his success, which includes a 2015 Daytona 500, disappointment was never far, leaving Logano with more scars.

This was his third time in the championship race. In 2014, he hit the wall and also had the car fall off the jack on a late pit stop, ending his title hopes.

In 2016, he was third on a late restart when he went to dive under Carl Edwards but Edwards blocked and they made contact. Edwards wrecked and Logano’s car was damaged enough that he didn’t challenge for the win after that.

“They hurt a lot,” Logano said of those defeats. “And right when you think it’s over, you’ve got to go to the banquet and watch somebody else give the championship speech, and then it hurts again.”

Truthfully, Sunday should have been Logano’s fourth time in the championship race. In 2015, he had the strongest car and swept the second round but that included a duel with Matt Kenseth at Kansas that ended with Kenseth spinning. Kenseth retaliated by intentionally wrecking Logano as he led at Martinsville. Logano could not recover and didn’t make it to the championship field.

Last year, Logano didn’t even make the 16-team playoffs after a penalty took away his playoff berth for winning at Richmond.

“It’s been so hard and such a long road to get here and been so close and had that feeling of defeat and man, it stings,” Logano said. “It hurts a lot. The last thing you want is to have that feeling again.”

Those gut punches could be devastating for most.

They proved motivating to Logano.

“I try to find the positives in everything in life,” Logano said. “There’s too much negative in our world sometimes. When you’re able to just look at situations, there’s always a silver lining in there, you’ve just got to look for it. Sometimes it’s hard to find it because it’s easy for us to dwell on the bad stuff. Once you get past that and you look at what can make you stronger, I guess that’s what it is, and it makes you not want to feel that again.”

Logano used that motivation when he was third on a restart with 15 laps left.

Logano swept past Kyle Busch to take second with 14 laps to go. Logano charged toward Truex and the lead.

Earlier in the race when they dueled, Logano and Truex made contact. That made what Truex told NBC Sports earlier this week that “I won’t just wreck a guy (for the win) … unless it’s the 22” seem more of a possibility.

Logano knew what he faced as he battled Truex.

“As a competitor, you have to keep that stuff in your mind,” Logano said of Truex’s comments and anger with him for the Martinsville finish. “Everyone says put it out of your mind, but you have to think about it. You have to make the right decisions and be smart about how we were going to race each other. He raced me hard. He raced me the same way that I would have raced him.”

There was no contact. Logano roared past Truex in Turn 2 with 12 laps to go and pulled away.

“Need more time,” Truex radioed his crew in the waning laps.

He didn’t have it. Logano’s car had been set for short runs. It would surge in the first 15 laps on new tires and then start to lose time to competitors.

“We could go 15 laps I think better than anybody,” crew chief Todd Gordon said. “We had talked about this, this race typically has a late caution. It’s just how it kind of unfolds, but there’s typically one somewhere late in the race. And when it came up, there it was, our opportunity, and Joey’s, and you give him that opportunity of here it is, it’s right in front of you, he steps up to another level.”

As he led in those final laps, the realization of a childhood dream  emerged. Logano admitted he had been “pretty jacked up” since the morning for this chance. His foot began to shake. Just as it had done early in his Cup career when he won.

When it was over, a year that started with the birth of Logano’s first child, Hudson, in early January, saw Logano place his son inside the cup on the series trophy.

A child emerged the son of a champion.

Results, stats for the Cup race at Miami

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Joey Logano won the Ford 400 and 2018 championship by a margin of 1.725 seconds over Martin Truex Jr.

Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch finished third and fourth respectively, giving the Championship 4 a sweep of the top spots.

Logano’s Team Penske teammate Brad Keselowski rounded out the top five.

Matt Kenseth finished sixth to earn his second consecutive top 10 after finishing seventh last week at Phoenix (his first top 10 of the season).

The next four spots were taken by former playoff contenders. Chase Elliott finished seventh, Clint Bowyer finished eighth, Aric Almirola finished ninth and Kurt Busch.

Click here for complete results

 

Joey Logano wins Cup finale in Miami, championship

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Joey Logano clinched his first Cup Series title Sunday with a win in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Logano led the final 12 laps after he passed Martin Truex Jr. in Turn 1 on the outside. Truex, who finished second, never challenged Logano again.

Kevin Harvick placed third and Kyle Busch finished fourth.

MORE: Harvick and Busch come up short in career years

“We did it! We won the championship. I can’t believe it,” Logano told NBC. “I don’t even know what to say. This team, Roger Penske, (crew chief) Todd Gordon, the pit crew, oh my God. Those guys are amazing. They gave me the car I needed at the end to do my job. Put me in position to do my job. Couldn’t be more proud of them.”

Logano’s championship comes in his 10th full-time season in Cup, his sixth with Team Penske and a year after he missed the playoffs.

“I’ve worked my whole life to get here,” Logano said. “I’ve spent 10 seasons fighting for this. Wasn’t sure we were going to get it, but man, Todd made a great adjustment there at the end. He has a no quit attitude and I was going to pass (Truex) no matter what.”

Truex, the defending champion, finished second after he led 20 laps. It was the final race for Furniture Row Racing, which will close with the end of the season.

“I’m going to miss these guys, wish we could have won it,” Truex told NBC. “We had it. We couldn’t go over 15 laps. I knew that last restart was going be tough … I was just slow for 15 laps.”

The championship is the second for Team Penske, which won its first in 2012 with Brad Keselowski.

The title is the first for Ford in Cup since Kurt Busch won it in 2004.

Logano entered the race as the only member of the Championship 4 without a title.

The race’s final 15-lap run was set up by a caution involving Daniel Suarez and Brad Keselowski. Busch led at the time, the only one of the Championship 4 who had not made a green flag pit stop.

Busch then beat the field off pit road, but Truex took the lead on the restart.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Kevin Harvick

STAGE 2 WINNER: Kyle Larson

MORE: Race results

MORE: Final point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: In likely his final Cup start, Matt Kenseth finished sixth for his best result in 15 starts this year … Brad Keselowski placed fifth for his third top five in the last four races.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Kyle Larson led 45 laps but finished 13th after he cut a tire and got into wall on Lap 193 … After his incident with Brad Keselowski, Daniel Suarez placed 30th in his last start with Joe Gibbs Racing … Regan Smith finished 39th, 27 laps off the lead after he went to the garage during the pre-race pace laps for an oil leak.

NOTABLE: Denny Hamlin (12 years) and Jimmie Johnson (16 years) each ended streaks of seasons with at least one win … Johnson placed 14th in his final race with crew chief Chad Knaus and with sponsor Lowe’s.

QUOTE OF THE RACE No. 1: “Just a lot of screaming. I think I pulled a muscle.” – Joey Logano to NBC on what he did as he took the checkered flag.

QUOTE OF THE RACE No. 2: “I don’t want him to change at all. In fact I think he did just what he did today. He beat all these guys fair and square.” – Roger Penske to NBCSN on Joey Logano.

WHAT’S NEXT: Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 17.

Denny Hamlin’s team passes over No. 1 pit stall to Kyle Busch’s team

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HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Denny Hamlin’s team did not choose the No. 1 pit stall for Sunday’s race, allowing Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch to have the best pit stall as Busch races for a Cup championship.

Mike Wheeler, Hamlin’s crew chief, had first choice of pit stalls Saturday after Hamlin won the pole Friday night. The pole winner typically picks the No. 1 pit stall, closest to pit exit, because it is the best stall at any track.  

But Hamlin is not competing for a championship, having been eliminated earlier in the playoffs. Busch qualified second, giving his team the second pick of pit stalls.

MORE: Denny Hamlin reacts to giving up No. 1 pit stall to Kyle Busch 

This move could help Busch win the race and his second championship, just as it could impact Hamlin’s chances of winning the race.

Mike Wheeler, crew chief for Denny Hamlin, makes his pit stall pick, as Adam Stevens, crew chief for Kyle Busch, looks on. (Photo: Dustin Long)

Car owner Joe Gibbs said he discussed the decision with the team personnel.

“We feel like for us the best thing … at this point would be to have Denny do everything he could to try to win the race,” Gibbs said. “Obviously, we’ve got Daniel (Suarez) and Erik (Jones), same for them. We’re going to do everything we can to win the race there, but we also, for us, have a championship on the line and what we would love to do is win that championship. That’s how the decision was made for us.

“I think if there is any criticism, it goes to me.”

Hamlin’s team took pit stall No. 4, which has an opening in front of it.

“Obviously it’s great to have the number one pit stall for the race and I appreciate the teamwork by the guys on the 11,” Kyle Busch said after Saturday’s final Cup practice. “(Gibbs) and everyone at JGR are focused on doing what they can to bring a championship for the company.”

The pit stalls at Homestead-Miami Speedway are 30-feet, 8-inches long. The No. 1 pit stall is about 40 feet from where the NASCAR camera is located that determines the position off pit road. That allows the car in the No. 1 pit stall to fire out of its box and surge ahead of those traveling down pit road.

That can make the difference between being the leader and having lane choice on a restart. That could be a key factor in who wins the race and the championship.

The decision by Hamlin’s team does not violate Section 7.5 of the Cup Rulebook – the so-called 100 percent rule. That rule states: “NASCAR requires its Competitor(s) to race at 100% of their ability with the goal of achieving their best possible finishing position in the Event.”

The key is “race.” The rule does not regulate selection of pit stalls.

This isn’t the first time Joe Gibbs Racing has done something with a view toward the championship.

Three of the four Gibbs cars ran at the back of the Talladega playoff race in 2016 — when that race was a cutoff race in the second round — instead of running toward the front and risk being involved in an accident that could have eliminated Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Busch from title contention. With that race no longer a cutoff event, that’s not an issue.