Kenseth hangs on to Chase lead despite Sunday struggle

Leave a comment

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.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
Leave a comment

COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”