Goody's Headache Relief Shot 500 Powered By Kroger - Practice

Bowyer, Keselowski come away with Top-5 days

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After being one of the quicker drivers in practice this weekend, Clint Bowyer (pictured) was hopeful he could capitalize on that speed and take the victory yesterday at Martinsville Speedway.

But while the Michael Waltrip Racing driver was able to pace 60 laps in the Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 powered by Kroger, he came up two spots shy of his goal, finishing third after new Chase co-leader Matt Kenseth edged him out for runner-up on the last lap.

“We were good, but we weren’t good enough,” said Bowyer, who was able to move up to sixth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, 55 points behind Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson.

“This has been one of our best tracks. As good as we were in practice, we tried not to mess with it too much and we ended up too tight. I was just too bound up in the center of the corner. No excuses. We ran a good race, we worked hard [and] got my car way better at the end. Just wasn’t good enough.”

Mindful of Kenseth’s bid for the championship, Bowyer made sure to play fair with his Toyota compatriot during their late duel for second behind race winner Jeff Gordon.

“I was pretty gingerly going in [the corner] because I had been loose in and I didn’t want to drive it in any harder than I did getting into three,” Bowyer said. “Because that one point didn’t mean nearly as much as it could have cost him. But a fellow Toyota driver – we owe it to each other to do that, and certainly it wasn’t for the win.

“If it was for the win, he would have probably got out of the way because I’m pretty hungry. But that wasn’t a big deal. [It was] certainly on my mind, yeah.”

Finishing behind Bowyer was Brad Keselowski, who logged a fourth-place result after starting 11th on the grid – his fourth consecutive Top-10 finish at Sprint Cup’s shortest track.

“It was a decent day,” Keselowski said. “It seems like every time we come to Martinsville, we run right in that fourth, fifth, sixth range and I was just trying to break out and get to victory lane, but came up a bit short today.

“It was a solid effort. We were quite a ways off at the start of the race and [crew chief] Paul Wolfe and everybody on the 2 crew dialed us in a little better and got some decent track position there at the end when it counts.”

Keselowski was able to largely avoid trouble on Sunday, which was not an easy feat to do as the yellow flag waved 17 times (still four shy of the Martinsville record).

“You’re not gonna win these races with your car all tore to hell and you’re probably not gonna win these races without putting a scratch on your car, so you’ve got to have a balance of both and mine is probably right where it needs to be,” he said. “We just need a little bit more speed.”

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Tony Kanaan

Tony Kanaan
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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver lineup in the Verizon IndyCar Series, after the 2015 season, with eighth-placed Tony Kanaan.

Tony Kanaan, No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 7th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 2nd, 6 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 12 Top-10, 407 Laps Led, 9.2 Avg. Start, 9.3 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 8th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 3 Podiums, 6 Top-5, 10 Top-10, 213 Laps Led, 7.6 Avg Start, 9.9 Avg. Finish

You have to give TK credit. Armed with one of the best cars on the grid, Kanaan has certainly raised his game the last two years, and probably hasn’t received enough credit or enough results for some of his drives he’s put in since joining Chip Ganassi Racing after the 2013 season.

The 2015 season was no exception. All 10 of his top-10 finishes were between second and seventh, so there were plenty of times he was in win and podium contention. The other area where he improved was his qualifying. Kanaan only had two starts outside the top-12 all season, one of which occurred at Detroit race two, where the grid was set by points following a rain cancellation. Detroit was pretty much the only weekend where Kanaan didn’t figure into qualifying or the race. Blame the Taylor Swift-inspired Big Machine Records livery for that one if you want.

Accidents at the Indianapolis 500 and Pocono were costly retirements as Kanaan definitely had a shot to win both those races. But realistically you couldn’t find many other faults. Losing a sure win at Iowa due to a mechanical issue was a gutting blow. He was also unlucky to come up just shy at Fontana, and may have prevailed in a last-lap shootout.

More often that not however, Kanaan was firmly on top of his game, and reliably on par with his championship-winning teammate Scott Dixon, which was all you could ask for. It’s fitting the two of them opened the year as part of the winning lineup in the Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Kanaan then helping out matters by finishing ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya at Sonoma, to ensure Dixon had enough points to win the title on countback.

IndyCar 2015 Driver Review: Josef Newgarden

Josef Newgarden
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MotorSportsTalk continues to run through the driver-by-driver breakdown in the Verizon IndyCar Series field for 2015. Next up on the heels of another breakout year, Josef Newgarden, who has recently re-signed with CFH Racing for 2016.

Josef Newgarden, No. 67 CFH Racing Chevrolet

  • 2014: 13th Place, Best Finish 2nd, Best Start 2nd, 1 Podium, 2 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 20 Laps Led, 10.7 Avg. Start, 13.7 Avg. Finish
  • 2015: 7th Place, 2 Wins, 1 Pole, 4 Podiums, 5 Top-5, 9 Top-10, 345 Laps Led, 8.4 Avg Start, 10.8 Avg. Finish

Josef Newgarden’s fourth year in the Verizon IndyCar Series was firmly, and without question, the year he arrived as the series’ biggest rising star. It followed on nicely after three prior years where he seemed to hit almost all the high points at various stages, but didn’t put together a fully complete season.

Perhaps some of that was due to having a teammate for the first time in his career, although it was not the same driver throughout the year – it was split between Luca Filippi and Ed Carpenter depending on the circuit. Still, there was always a second set of data to study and analyze. Even better, there was a Chevrolet in the back of his car for the first time, and that likely helped matters a bit. And retaining Jeremy Milless as his engineer continued to pay dividends; you can’t teach chemistry and it’s apparent these two have it.

It spoke volumes that in qualifying, Newgarden was the single fastest driver outside of the Penske and Ganassi camps all season. An average starting position of 8.4 was not only a career best, but best in the field behind six combined drivers from the two established “super teams.” Only at Detroit, where he had a nightmare weekend and at Texas, where Carpenter admitted the team missed the setup, did he start outside the top 12.

Yet it was in the races where again, he shone brightest. The Barber win was as dominant as it was overdue and deserved. The Toronto win – if a bit lucky due to when the cautions and pit stop cycle fell – was also well executed. Then the drives on the ovals at Milwaukee, Iowa and Pocono were excellent.

Far too often though, still, pit stops proved Newgarden’s undoing. Mid-Ohio was a sore spot again, and Sonoma in particular was the nadir. The other tough results races, notably at the Grand Prix of Indianapolis and at Fontana, came through mistakes not of his own doing. Really only Detroit was a weekend he’d like to have back.

But he led the most laps in the field, he finally broke through to win, and firmly lived up to the hype and potential that’s been building for years. If you’ve been paying attention more than just this year though, Newgarden’s 2015 season will have come as no surprise.