Matt Kenseth earns second consecutive win, pads Chase lead

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Matt Kenseth’s magical season continued today at New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s “Magic Mile,” as the Joe Gibbs Racing pilot earned his second consecutive victory in his 500th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start – joining seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty as the only drivers to win on that particular occasion.

JGR teammate Kyle Busch steadily whittled away at Kenseth’s edge over the final 40 laps at NHMS, but ultimately finished half a second behind for his second consecutive runner-up finish. As a result, Kenseth has extended his lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup over Busch by 14 points after two post-season events.

Out of his seven wins this year, Kenseth’s triumph in today’s Sylvania 300 may have been the most surprising of the lot as he has never had a solid record at New Hampshire. Prior to today, he had never won on the flat mile oval and his best finish there had been a runner-up from all the way back in 2004.

Perhaps for those reasons, Kenseth appeared happily shocked at being in Victory Lane even with his eyes wrapped in sunglasses.

“I don’t really know what to say except, ‘Praise the Lord’ – this has just been an unbelievable opportunity,” Kenseth said afterwards to ESPN. “For me to win at Loudon, first of all, is more than a dream because this has probably been one of my worst places. That just shows you how good this team is.

“Honestly, we just need to take it one day at a time. It’s been a great start for JGR – Kyle ran second in both [Chase] races, had real strong cars. All three teams are working really closely together…Man, I just feel like the luckiest guy in the world to be standing here honestly. I’m gonna enjoy it and I look forward to getting to Dover.”

Busch briefly battled with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for second position shortly after the restart with 43 laps remaining, then closed the gap to Kenseth as they hit lapped traffic in the final circuits. But once more, he had to settle for P2 in the end – a great result for him championship-wise, but not the result he desperately wanted.

“The 20 had a lot more than us this week, and we’re not sure why,” Busch said. “Sometimes, you get those magical cars, but hopefully, there’s a couple for us left this year.

“…We needed traffic. He didn’t do traffic very well, but it was hard for me to get through traffic as well. He was faster than we were if there was no traffic; he could drive back away from me but I ran him down and got to him. It was going to be interesting if we’d got there, but I didn’t get there.”

Greg Biffle came on strong late to secure a third-place finish, enabling him to leap six spots in the championship to fifth place. Jimmie Johnson also had a solid afternoon with a fourth-place effort, and Jamie McMurray rounded out the Top 5 ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brian Vickers, Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards, and Martin Truex Jr.

Truex, who faces an uncertain future with the pending departure of his main sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts, was strong in the early going but faded back late after leading 98 of 300 laps.

“We had a good car in the first half of the race, and then we started getting tight,” Truex said. “It was cooling off, clouding up and we just never could get it turning again. The last set of tires were just terrible for us and we couldn’t do anything with it.”

IndyCar: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports expands mentoring program for tech school students

Photos: Schmidt Peterson Motorsports
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IndyCar team Schmidt Peterson Motorsports announced today that it is extending and widening a unique sponsorship and mentoring program that began last season with students from Lincoln Technical Institute.

The program began last year, with students from several Lincoln Tech branches attending select IndyCar events for an entire weekend.

The students, primarily from auto and diesel training programs, got an insiders experience with the team, taking part in team meetings, watching team workers prepare and service the No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda of driver James Hinchcliffe, sat on pit boxes during practices, qualifying and, of course races.

The overall experience was to get students more interested and involved in potential careers in the IndyCar field.

“We said at the beginning of last season that we knew our students would benefit and learn from the professionalism and drive of the Schmidt Peterson Motorsports team,” Lincoln Tech President and CEO Scott Shaw said. “But the experience they received working with the entire pit crew team and in particular crew member Cole Jagger – a Lincoln Tech graduate himself – went beyond even our own expectations.

“We were grateful for the time they spent mentoring our students, and we are thrilled to once again be part of the racing legacy of team owners Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson.”

Lincoln Tech will once again serve as an associate sponsor on Hinchcliffe’s car for the entire 2018 IndyCar season. In addition, it is expanding its Mentor Program to select students to attend a minimum of nine IndyCar races from six last season.

Students are selected based upon their grade point average, attendance, conduct and overall commitment to becoming outstanding automotive technicians. An interest in IndyCar and a desire to work in the industry is also considered.

One student that took part last season, Tyler Crist of Lincoln Tech’s Denver campus, joined the team at the IndyCar race in Long Beach last April, watching as Hinchcliffe won the event.

“It was the best weekend of my life,” Crist said after the event. “It reminded me of why I joined this field in the first place and to never give up on my dreams.”

Jagger will oversee the expanded mentoring program this season. For Jagger, being involved especially hits home, as he is a graduate of Lincoln Tech’s Indianapolis campus.

“I totally enjoyed working with the Lincoln Tech students that participated in the Mentor Program last year and look forward to meeting this year’s group,” Jagger said. “Being a Lincoln Tech grad, I hope the students realize that if you have a passion for cars, a career in racing is something that’s not out of reach. If I can be an example for them to follow, that makes it even more rewarding.”

In addition to the at-track activities of the mentoring program, several Lincoln Tech branches across the country will utilize CNC computerized machining and manufacturing tools to assist in creating car parts for SPM.

“Through this unique partnership, we’re able to hopefully find the next class of talent that could one day be part of our organization,” SPM president Jon Flack said. “We’re looking forward to another year of the mentorship program and having their students be ‘boots on the ground’ gaining real-life experience with our team.”

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