02/28/12 02:42PM Daytona 500 Winner, Matt Kenseth, NASCAR, Sprint Cup

NASCAR News And Notes: Kenseth An Elite Performer – In Any Era


February 28, 2012

Matt Kenseth. Under the radar no longer.

His second Daytona 500 victory, a straight-up, I’m-faster-than-you performance in arguably the most unique of the race’s 54 editions, confirms the popular Wisconsin veteran’s status among the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series elite competitors in the current era – and arguably in any era.

We should have known it all along – although Kenseth, like many racers from his home state, has always raced hard but with humility.

His post-race reaction? Typical: “I wasn’t expecting to win when I woke up this morning,” said Kenseth.

That said, Kenseth has won a championship (2003), two Daytona 500s and 22 times overall. Those victories have come in 10 different seasons beginning in 2000 – his first full campaign with the Roush Fenway organization, his “home” for all but one of Kenseth’s 437 starts.

The two Daytona 500 victories alone move the Cambridge, Wis., driver into legendary territory. He becomes one of only nine drivers to win the race multiple times. Three of the other eight – Richard PettyCale Yarborough and Bobby Allison – are members of the NASCAR Hall of Fame, a possible destination for the 39-year-old Kenseth.

Kenseth is the first repeat Daytona 500 winner since Jeff Gordon in 2005.

Now on to Phoenix, where Kenseth won in 2002. He followed his 2009 Daytona 500 victory by winning his next start at Auto Club Speedway.

Jack Roush and Roush Fenway finally posted NASCAR national series victory No. 300. The number is unprecedented and extends the record for wins in NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Nationwide and NASCAR Camping World Truck series. “This is a special night,” said Roush, who won for the first time in 1989 with Mark Martin.

Roush has won championships in all three national series.

Old school, new school – it doesn’t matter to the No. 17 crew chief Jimmy Fennig. The victory was the 34th for the 58-year-old pit road master, who guided Allison to his second Daytona 500 victory in 1988. Fennig has won with four different drivers from 1987 through the present: Kenseth, Allison, Kurt Busch and Mark Martin. He was Busch’s championship crew chief in 2004.

You can say Doug Yates has NASCAR’s new Electronic Fuel Injection system figured out. His engines powered the winner, third-place Greg Biffle and eighth-place Carl Edwards. They won the Coors Light Pole and a Gatorade Duel qualifying event. Ford won the Daytona 500 for the third time in four years.


No Big Thing: Johnson, Gordon Have No Reason To Fret

For NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champions Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, holders of a combined nine titles, the good news coming out of the Daytona 500 is that in one important respect the schedule’s signature event pays the same points as this week’s Subway Fresh Fit 500 and the 24 races that follow leading up to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™.

To say it wasn’t their night – despite having won The Great American Race a combined four times – would be an understatement. Johnson was the second car out in 42nd. Engine failure relegated Gordon to a 40th-place finish. Until last night's D500, Johnson and Gordon had finished 40th or worse a combined 21 times, and never in the same race. 

Both will have to dig out of big holes in terms of the Chase picture, but last year suggests it is anything but an impossible task.

Four drivers who finished 27th or worse in the 2011 Daytona 500 – Johnson, Gordon, Kenseth and Kevin Harvick – qualified for the Chase.

In fact, NASCAR’s 10-race postseason field was comprised of just three drivers who finished among the top 10 in the season opener.


Stewart-Edwards Duel Combusts; Junior Erupts

Some experts predicted the Daytona 500 would come down to a continuation of last year’s dead-heat championship battle between Tony Stewart and Carl Edwards.

Especially when Stewart won his Gatorade Duel race and Edwards sat on the Coors Light Pole.

Things didn’t quite work out that way. Both contended early but neither was around to take a first Daytona 500 victory. Edwards, with significant body damage, rallied to finish eighth while Stewart – also the victim of several accidents – came home 16th.

For both, it’s a case of “wait ‘til next year.”

The same can be said for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s assault on his second Daytona 500 victory, but his second-place finish – his third in the event – gives Junior’s multitude of fans hope he’ll soon end a 130-race winless streak.

Five of last year’s Chase qualifiers – Kenseth, Earnhardt, Edwards, Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick – logged top-10 finishes at Daytona.


Kahne’s Able At Phoenix International Raceway

With virtually every eye in the packed house focused on the battle for second place between championship rivals Carl Edwards and Tony StewartKasey Kahne sort of got lost in the shuffle as the laps wound down in November’s Kobalt Tools 500 at the newly configured Phoenix International Raceway.

Kahne obviously didn’t care – especially with Edwards and Stewart, as they say, otherwise occupied.

He took the lead on the 299th lap, when Brad Keselowski pitted, then headed the remaining 13 times around the one-mile oval to nicely cap what amounted to a lame-duck season with Team Red Bull. He posted a solid Driver Rating of 112.3.

November’s finish was Kahne’s second top 10 of the year at Phoenix, a track that hadn’t been good to the Washington driver for a number of years. Before finishing sixth in the spring race, Kahne had gone eight starts with finishes ranging from 13th to 40th.

Kahne ended the 2011 campaign with three top 10s: a victory, third in Texas and seventh in the Homestead-Miami finale.

All of which makes Kahne, now driving Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 5 Chevrolet, one of the favorites heading into Sunday’s Subway Fresh Fit 500.


Happy Phoenix Memories For 4-Time

Two of Jeff Gordon’s 85 NASCAR Sprint Cup wins have come at Phoenix, and both were of the milestone variety.

With his first win at Phoenix in this race in 2007, Gordon tied Dale Earnhardt on the all-time wins list at 76. With his win in this race last year, Gordon snapped a 66-race winless streak and tied Cale Yarborough on the all-time win list with 83. 

He's got a shot at notching another milestone this Sunday with Hendrick Motorsports 200th career win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. A victory would extend Rick Hendrick's NSCS win record at Phoenix to 10.


Yeley, McDowell Ready For Some Hometown Racing

J.J. Yeley hopes some home cooking helps salve the disappointment of failing to qualify for the Daytona 500.

Michael McDowell returns home having made the Great American Race the hard way, through last week’s Gatorade Duel.

Both are from Phoenix. And each should have plenty of hometown fans in the grandstands.

Yeley finished 37th in last year’s spring race. His best finish at his home track is 14th in November 2007, when he started fourth.

McDowell has yet to finish inside the top 30 at Phoenix but looks for significantly improved results from what’s now the No. 98 team co-owned by Phil Parsons and recording executive Mike Curb.


NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, Etc.  

As part of an ongoing annual effort to recognize trailblazers in the sport, Wendell Scott, the first African American to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race, will be recognized this weekend, which coincides with his first start – March 4, 1961, in Spartanburg, S.C. NASCAR created an original decal, which will be placed as a B-post decal on NASCAR K&N Pro-Series West, NASCAR Nationwide cars and NASCAR Sprint Cup cars throughout the Phoenix race weekend. … Milestone Watch: Hendrick Motorsports continues to hunt NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win No. 200. Only Petty Enterprises has surpassed the 200-win barrier. … Ryan Nemwan’s next Coors Light Pole will be his 50th. He would be the ninth driver to reach the 50-pole mark. … Defending champion Greg Pursley will help the K&N Pro Series West kick off the season with the Talking Stick Resort 50 Saturday (5:30 p.m. MT). Also in the field are rising stars Dylan KwasniewskiCameron HayleyDaniel Suarez and Chase Elliott. This is the first NASCAR touring series event of 2012. … NASCAR Nationwide Series sponsor Bashas’ Supermarkets features a unique option for tailgaters this weekend. There will be a makeshift grocery store on site in a tent just outside the track in the midway area between Turn 1 and Turn 2. 


Young Series Talent Kick Off 2012 On The Right Note 

Record-setting lead changes (38), record-setting number of leaders (16), pack racing, tandem racing and a spectacle of a finish to top it off is just how the NASCAR Nationwide Series wanted to kick off the season – in high gear. 

Young and talented Sunoco Rookie of the Year contenders Cole Whitt, 20, and Austin Dillon, 21, who finished fourth and fifth respectively, did not waste time and took advantage of the opportunities the season-opening race at Daytona International Speedway would afford them. Whitt is second in the series standings, just two points behind series standings leader Elliott Sadler, while 2011 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion Dillon holds third in the standings just three points from the lead.  

Heading to Phoenix, Whitt has made one series start at the 1-mile raceway (2010), posting a 15th-place finish. Dillon also has one series start at Phoenix, where he finished 34th. 

Up-and-coming driver Tayler Malsam, 23, posted his career-best finish (sixth) at Daytona and heads to Phoenix fourth in the standings, four points off the lead. Malsam has made two NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts at Phoenix, posting a best finish of 17th. Malsam will be attempting to make his series track debut at PIR this weekend. 

Rounding out the top five in the standings is 2011 Daytona 500 champion Trevor Bayne, who finished 11th in the NASCAR Nationwide Series season opener and is eight points behind Sadler. Bayne has made five series starts at Phoenix, posting an average finish of 19.4. His pre-race Driver Rating is 82.1

Timmy Hill, who turned 19 on race day, finished a career-best seventh at Daytona this past weekend. Hill won the NASCAR Nationwide Series Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors in 2011 and recently announced he’ll move full-time to NASCAR Sprint Cup this season, where he’ll also compete for the award. Hill made his series debut in this race last year.

Another rookie contender, Pensacola, Fla., native Johanna Long, 19, was solid in her series debut, finishing 21st at Daytona. 


Danica Down But Not Out: Just Ask Sadler

The spotlight was bright in Daytona for Danica Patrick. She started strong but didn’t end up with the hoped-for results. Although she is down, she isn’t out. One driver who can attest to that is Elliott Sadler, who faced nearly the same circumstance last season following the season opener at Daytona. 

Patrick, a Phoenix resident, became just the second woman in national series history to win a Coors Light Pole when she did so in Daytona. But a potential strong run was cut short when her JR Motorsports teammate, Whitt, tapped her from behind, causing extensive damage to her No. 7 Chevrolet. She was able to return, but finished 38th. She comes home 26th in points.

In the 2011 opener at Daytona, Sadler – the media favorite to unify the NASCAR Nationwide Series driver and owner championships – finished 38th due to an accident. At the time, Sadler was 27th in the series standings, 35 points behind the leader. Ten weeks later, following the 11th race of the season at Dover International Speedway, Sadler had reached the summit, taking the standings lead for the first time in 2011.

Patrick has the opportunity to do the same. She has made three starts at Phoenix International Raceway, posting a best finish of 17th in this event last season. She almost mimicked her spring performance in the fall on the newly resurfaced Phoenix International Raceway, finishing 21st, six positions ahead of now-standings leader Sadler, who finished 27th.

Incidentally, Patrick is 35 points behind Sadler – the same deficit Sadler faced last season. Watch for Patrick to start to make her rebound over the next few weeks. Following Phoenix is Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the track where Patrick posted her series career-best finish (fourth).


Sadler Is Back With A Vengeance

Fighting back from a 35-point deficit in the standings after last season’s opener at Daytona to then go throughout the season without a win and ultimately finish the season second in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings to Ricky Stenhouse Jr. has fueled Sadler to return this season with a vengeance. 

Out of the gate, Sadler is focused. He posted his best series finish at Daytona (third) this past weekend and now is atop the standings two points ahead of second-place Whitt and 17 points ahead of 10th-place Sam Hornish Jr. 

Sadler has made six series starts at Phoenix, posting a best finish of second (2005); he finished 12th in the spring race at Phoenix last season. His pre-race Driver Rating is 83.8 and his Average Running Position is 15.2. 

2011 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Stenhouse was relegated to a 19th-place finish at Daytona due to a last-lap accident and comes to Phoenix ninth in the standings, 17 points behind Sadler.


NASCAR Nationwide Series, Etc.

Kyle Busch, the 2009 NNS champion and series’ all-time wins leader (51), won this race last year for Joe Gibbs Racing. Saturday, he’ll try to defend his victory in his own Kyle Busch Motorsports equipment. The last time Hornish ran at Phoenix resulted in his first NASCAR victory. The three-time IndyCar champion/two-time Indianapolis 500 winner captured his landmark win in last November’s NASCAR Nationwide Series race. He’s in his first full-time NNS season in 2012. … Daytona’s NASCAR Nationwide Series season-opening winner James Buescher, who checked the driver championship box in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, is one of three Turner Motorsports entries at Phoenix. Milestones Watch: 2011 series champ Stenhouse will make his 75th series start this weekend; four drivers will try and reach significant top-10 milestones – Kyle Busch (150), Joe Nemechek (125), Denny Hamlin (75) and Justin Allgaier (50). Brad Keselowski will be going for his 75th top-five finish in just 170 starts. Keselowski finishes in the top five 44 percent of the time he competes in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.


King’s Daytona Victory Latest Version Of NCWTS ‘Shock And Awe’


Don’t call John King’s Feb. 24 NextEra Energy Resources 250 win a surprise.

It was more like a seismic shock – on a Richter scale’s magnitude similar to Trevor Bayne’s 2011 Daytona 500 victory.

King, like Bayne, was making his first start at Daytona International Speedway. In seven previous NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts, the 23-year-old Kingsport, Tenn., driver had a best finish of 15th – that coming in his 2009 debut at Bristol Motor Speedway. “I’m a rookie. This is unreal,” said King.

Historically speaking, King’s longshot achievement has happened before and likely will again. A look back at some unexpected winners:

  • Terry Cook, now King’s spotter at Red Horse Racing, entered the 1998 race at the old Flemington (N.J.) Speedway with no finish higher than 12th and beat the best Dale Earnhardt Inc., Hendrick Motorsports and Roush Racing could throw at him.
  • Later that year, rookie Andy Houston claimed his first victory at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in a fender-on-fender dust-up with now NASCAR Sprint Cup star Greg Biffle.
  • For 100 races, Billy Ballew Motorsports was considered a mid-pack operation. In 2004, Shane Hmiel won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. BBM ultimately won 20 times.
  • Brandon Whitt, scored Red Horse Racing’s first victory at Memphis Motorsports Park in 2005 with a final-lap pass of Ron Hornaday Jr. by driving through a cloud of tire smoke that caused the four-time champion to slow.
  • The 2008 season saw a pair of unlikely rookie winners: ex-Formula 1 driver Scott Speed in his fifth start at Dover International Speedway and modified ace Donnie Lia at Mansfield (Ohio Motorsports Park). Rookie Lia shoved his way past two-time champion Todd Bodine and veteran David Starr on the final lap to claim the victory.

Peters, Red Horse Solidly Among Championship Favorites

With the preseason spotlight focused squarely on a potential championship struggle between Johnny Sauter and Ty Dillon, it might have been easy to overlook veteran Timothy Peters.

No longer.

Peters, who ran the final 14 races of the 2011 season ranked fifth or better, becomes an early title favorite with his second-place finish to Red Horse teammate King – who wheeled Peters’ 2010 Daytona-winning Tundra. Not to downplay King’s chances, however, a Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender has yet to win the overall championship – or has the Daytona winner for that matter. Kurt Busch’s runner-up finish to Biffle in 2000 remains the freshman gold standard.

Peters, 31, by far is the most decorated among the current top 10 expected to compete in all 22 races. He also is that group’s only winner at Martinsville Speedway where the 2012 season continues on March 31.

Red Horse had three finishers among the Daytona top six: King, Peters and Todd Bodine. The organization, jointly owned by Tom DeLoach and Jeff Hammond, has ranked among the top 10 in owners points in four of its eight seasons. The Toyota outfit was fifth a year ago.  


NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Rookies Have Lengthy Winning Heritage

Rookies aren’t rare in NASCAR Camping World Truck Victory Lanes; just never before on the series’ largest stage. Freshmen, in fact, have won multiple races in the same season led by Kurt Busch, a record four in 2000.

The late Kenny Irwin Jr. won twice in his 1997 rookie season – and became the first NCWTS winner at Texas Motor Speedway. Brendan Gaughan also won twice as a freshman, sweeping both 2002 races in Fort Worth. NASCAR Sprint Cup’s Carl Edwards won three races in 2003.

Last year’s series champion Austin Dillon is the most recent Sunoco rookie to win multiple races. He won at Iowa Speedway and in Las Vegas in 2010.


NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Etc.

King’s Daytona victory was the second for Red Horse crew chief Chad Kendrick. He teamed with Peters for the Providence, N.C., driver’s first NCWTS win at Martinsville in 2009. … Sauter and ThorSport Racing teammate Matt Crafton were collected in the same lap late-race accident that cost Sauter the lead and possible victory. They finished 24th and 23rd, respectively. … Third-place Justin Lofton matched his career-best finish (Dover, 2010). Chris Fontaine (seventh) and Clay Greenfield (10th) recorded their first top 10s, as did Ward Burton, who made his series debut in eighth. … Dillon finished as the second Sunoco rookie contender among the top 10 (ninth).