Subway Firecracker 250 - Qualifying

Kenseth hangs on to Chase lead despite Sunday struggle

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Chase for the Sprint Cup leader Matt Kenseth probably feels lucky that he’s still atop the standings after a bizarre Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

In addition to having to deal with a record 15 cautions, Kenseth also had to fight with an ill-handling No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota and overcome a speeding penalty on pit road in order to claim an 11th-place finish.

As a result, Kenseth holds a three-point lead over Jimmie Johnson in the Chase; Johnson was able to finish sixth.

“It was a struggle all day – even when we were in front, it was a struggle. I’ve been so incredibly spoiled this year – I haven’t had to drive a car like that in a long time,” said Kenseth, who charged from 28th position off a restart with 35 laps to go in order to salvage his afternoon.

“Everybody was on the same tires – you can’t really blame that – but it was just incredibly treacherous and I was just so loose I was ready to crash pretty much at all times of the race, so [crew chief] Jason [Ratcliff] did a nice job with some strategy calls and I still lost all our track position, but good adjustments at the end.

“We drove back to 11th, which definitely isn’t what we wanted or what we need to contend for this thing, but it was a good save for as bad as we were.”

Going into Sunday, Kenseth had been struggling to cope with the second version of Goodyear’s “zone tread” tires, which were used this weekend as right-side tires in Kansas. Afterwards, the former Cup champion said that they were “obviously not the answer.”

“That’s the worst conditions I’ve raced in I don’t know how long – probably since they paved Charlotte probably and had that hard tire,” Kenseth said. “I’m sure [race winner] Kevin’s [Harvick] happy, but other than that, I think everybody kind of struggled with [the zone tire].”

Still, it could’ve been much worse for Kenseth, something he himself noted. Also helping the Wisconsin native was Johnson’s power failure with two laps to go, which forced him to basically coast for the remainder before he wound up sixth at the checkered flag.

That sequence likely helped Kenseth retain the points lead heading into Charlotte Motor Speedway next weekend.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Sage Karam

Sage Karam
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series field, driver-by-driver. Ending in 20th was Sage Karam, who generated a lot of headlines despite missing a handful of races in his first full season in the big leagues.

Sage Karam, No. 8 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 9th place at Indianapolis 500; several starts in the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship
  • 2015: 20th place (12 starts), Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 3rd, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 2 Top-10, 12 Laps Led, 14.5 Avg. Start, 15.8 Avg. Finish

Few drivers generated as much ink as Karam did during what as an ultimately race-by-race rookie season that saw him active in 12 of 16 races. It was an overall rocky campaign that featured any combination of brilliance, controversy and heartache depending on the weekend.

Karam was on the back foot to begin with anyway with limited preseason testing, following a wrist injury sustained in a crash at Barber Motorsports Park. The fact he was out of a car for Long Beach and the Grand Prix of Indianapolis owed to financial reasons but also served as a wakeup call that he needed to improve off the back of several ragged races to open the season. The speed was there for the Indianapolis 500 but the result wasn’t, with a first-lap crash and the following debacle of a doubleheader weekend at Detroit a week later ultimately Karam’s nadir.

Luckily for the 20-year-old, he had Dario Franchitti as a tutor, mentor and coach, and a post-Detroit “come to Jesus” meeting might have been the biggest impetus for change. Karam then surged in the second half of the year – primarily on ovals – and worked his way into the headlines courtesy of his driving and take-no-prisoners aggressive approach, particularly with Ed Carpenter at Iowa. In a single sentence, he was worth the price of admission almost on his own while also putting himself in contention for series “black hat” status.

Karam was on track for what would have been a dream weekend at home in Pocono, leading with 20 laps to go, when he lost control and crashed out – the debris from the car ultimately striking Justin Wilson’s helmet. It was a tragic end to the race but it was no fault of Karam’s that what happened, happened.

For as much as the community is rallying around Wilson’s family, it needs to do the same for Karam. At 20, he’s a talented driver with a bright future ahead of him, who continued to mature over the course of the season. You just don’t want Pocono to be the race that affects him psychologically, and prevents him from fully realizing his undoubted potential.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Stefano Coletti

Stefano Coletti
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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series driver-by-driver lineup. In 19th place and the second-ranked rookie this season, was KV Racing Technology’s Stefano Coletti.

Stefano Coletti, No. 4 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet

  • 2014: GP2
  • 2015: 19th Place, Best Finish 8th, Best Start 8th, 0 Top-5, 1 Top-10, 0 Laps Led, 18.9 Avg. Start, 18.6 Avg. Finish

Coletti struggled in his rookie season, which was a bit surprising after an impressive preseason testing period that helped him secure the second KV Racing Technology car alongside KVSH Racing lead driver Sebastien Bourdais.

The GP2 graduate produced early season excitement where he was a passing star, but that only seemed to deceive for the rest of the year. The only time he started ahead of Bourdais was at Iowa, when Bourdais crashed in qualifying.

Similar to other drivers KV has had in previous years Coletti was often hard on equipment, with a frequent number of either full-on accidents or less damaging spins, although not all were his fault. A trouble-free weekend for him rarely occurred, and eighth at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis marked his only top-10 result of the year.

It was a year that paled in comparison to Sebastian Saavedra’s difficult 2014, which paled in comparison to Simona de Silvestro in 2013, which… well you get the point. The lack of consistency for the team’s second car probably doesn’t help, but Coletti offered few moments of brilliance in a deep field where he needed to stand out.

Given the resources at his disposal, ending 78 points behind rookie-of-the-year Gabby Chaves seemed a fairly substantial margin. If he returns for 2016, he has a big jump to make.