Results at 1.5-mile tracks will make or break your Chase

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Here’s something I haven’t been able to write much of this week in the wake of the controversies and drama surrounding the last NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Richmond: a racing story leading into this week’s race at Chicago.

The overwhelming majority of NASCAR’s 12 Chasers in 2013 said the biggest key to success in terms of winning the championship is being good at the 1.5-mile ovals, the somewhat derided “cookie-cutter” intermediate ovals in-between a short track and a superspeedway.

Matt Kenseth enters 2013 as a Chase favorite because of his success on the 1.5-milers. He has a series-high five wins this year, three of them coming on the 1.5-milers at Las Vegas, Kansas and Kentucky.

“Yeah you’re right, certainly that’s been our strongsuit, mile and a half and intermediate tracks,” Kenseth told me in a phone interview last month. “I think it’s constantly a moving target. Be good everywhere but have some excellent tracks. We have a legitimate shot at the championship because of that. Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and I hit it off right away earlier this year, we have a really good leadership style and race team.”

If Kenseth doesn’t pull off his second career title in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, his old team Roush Fenway Racing has two contenders in Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle. Edwards acknowledged Chicago will provide a good outlook at Chase contenders and pretenders.

“You get a good measure of how the field is going to stack up,” Edwards said Thursday at NASCAR’s Chase media advance. “It’s a track where you can do well on your own merit. You won’t be mired in the back if you have a bad stop.”

Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson said his No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet team has had the speed on the 1.5-milers this year but not the finishes, nor the momentum. Hendrick Motorsports teammate Kasey Kahne said you “need” to be good at these tracks to have any sort of shot.

Here’s a rundown of race winners on the 1.5-milers this year. Note all 2013 race winners thus far are in the Chase:

3. Las Vegas   Matt Kenseth
7. Texas       Kyle Busch
8. Kansas      Matt Kenseth
12. Charlotte  Kevin Harvick
17. Kentucky   Matt Kenseth
25. Atlanta    Kyle Busch

1.5-mile races in Chase, with 2012 winner 
27. Chicago    Brad Keselowski 
30. Kansas     Matt Kenseth
31. Charlotte  Clint Bowyer
34. Texas      Jimmie Johnson
36. Homestead  Jeff Gordon

MRTI: Juncos signs Carlos Cunha for Pro Mazda campaign

Photo: Juncos Racing
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Juncos Racing continued to bolster its entries in the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires by signing Carlos Cunha to pilot a third Juncos Pro Mazda entry for 2018. Cunha, who finished third in the 2017 Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda season on the back of seven podium finishes, joins Rinus VeeKay and Robert Megennis in Juncos’ Pro Mazda lineup for 2018.

Cunha previously tested with the team at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in October and joined Juncos for the Chris Griffis Memorial test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in November, testing cars for both the Pro Mazda and Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires teams.

“It’s great to become a part of Juncos Racing,” said the 18-year-old Cunha. “I am really excited to start the 2018 season with Juncos Racing. This fall we did some testing together and from there I was able to see how focused everyone on the team is and I even felt like I became a part of their family in no time. I am confident we will get great results together next year and I look forward to learning and growing more with the team. It will be a huge pleasure and also a great responsibility to carry the number one on my car, thanks to (2017 Pro Mazda champion Victor Franzoni) and I hope to deliver it back to the team at the end of the year!”

Team owner Ricardo Juncos added, “We are excited to add Carlos to our Pro Mazda lineup. From the moment we started testing with him in early October, we knew he would be a great fit for our team. Carlos has been very quick in testing and even had an impressive showing in the Indy Lights car at the Chris Griffis test back in October. He had a great run this past season in the Pro Mazda series and we are confident he will carry that momentum into the 2018 season.”

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