NRA 500

By the numbers: The 2013 Chasers at Texas

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This weekend, the Chase for the Sprint Cup is going to the Circus – “Wild Asphalt Circus,” that is.

The intensity surrounding the championship is sure to build even further at Texas Motor Speedway, as Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson enter the AAA Texas 500 tied for the lead – although Kenseth does hold the tie-breaker, as his seven victories this season trumps Johnson’s five.

Four of Kenseth’s seven wins in 2013 have come on 1.5-mile ovals such as Texas but based on past performance at this track, both himself and Johnson appear evenly matched going in – which could make Kenseth’s runner-up effort this past weekend at Martinsville all the more critical in the end.

However, both Kenseth and Johnson’s greatest challenge this weekend may not be each other.

Kyle Busch’s title hopes are now in serious danger after late-race handling problems at Martinsville caused him to finish 15th. But in the Sprint Cup Series’ first visit this year to Texas back in April, Busch was able to take the lead coming out of the final pit stops and go on to win. Expect him to leave nothing on the table as he tries to erase a 36 point deficit over the final three races.

Ahead of Busch at third and fourth in the championship respectively are Jeff Gordon (-27 points), your winner at Martinsville, and Kevin Harvick (-28 points). They too must position themselves to capitalize on any misfortunes Kenseth and Johnson may have.

As provided weekly by NASCAR, here’s a glimpse at what the 13 Chase contenders have done in their Cup careers at TMS:

Matt Kenseth (Leader – 2,294 points; holds tie-breaker over Jimmie Johnson with 7 wins this year)
· Two wins, 12 Top-5s, 15 Top-10s
· Average Finish: 8.5 in 22 races
· Series-best Average Running Position of 9.3
*Series-best Driver Rating of 106.5
*Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 173.225 mph
*Series-high 4,497 Laps in the Top 15 (79.0%)

Jimmie Johnson (Second – 2,294 points; 5 wins this year)
· Two wins, nine Top-5s, 15 Top-10s
· Average Finish: 9.1 in 20 races
· Average Running Position: 10.9, third-best

Jeff Gordon (Third, -27 points)
· One win, eight Top-5s, 11 Top-10s
· Average Finish: 17.0 in 25 races
· Average Running Position: 13.3, 10th-best

Kevin Harvick (Fourth, -28 points)
· Three Top-5s, 10 Top-10s
· Average Finish: 12.5 in 21 races
· Average Running Position: 15.2, 15th-best
*Series-high 1,360 Green Flag Passes

Kyle Busch (Fifth, -36 points)
· One win, six Top-5s, seven Top-10s
· Average Finish: 14.1 in 16 races
· Average Running Position: 11.2, fourth-best

Clint Bowyer (Sixth, -55 points)
· Three Top-5s, eight Top-10s
· Average Finish: 12.9 in 15 races
· Average Running Position: 12.8, ninth-best

Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Seventh, -56 points)
· One win, three Top-5s, 12 Top-10s
· Average Finish: 14.3 in 22 races
· Average Running Position: 11.9, sixth-best
*Series-high 707 Quality Passes (passes within Top 15)

Greg Biffle (Eighth, -58 points)
· Two wins, eight Top-5s, 12 Top-10s
· Average Finish: 15.3 in 19 races
· Average Running Position: 12.3, seventh-best
*Series-high 458 Fastest Laps Run

Kurt Busch (Ninth, -75 points)
· One win, three Top-5s, 12 Top-10s
· Average Finish: 15.2 in 21 races
· Average Running Position: 14.7, 14th-best

Carl Edwards (10th, -76 points)
· Three wins, six Top-5s, eight Top-10s
· Average Finish: 14.4 in 17 races
· Average Running Position: 11.9, fifth-best

Joey Logano (11th, -85 points)
· Two Top-5s, two Top-10s
· Average Finish: 21.7 in 10 races
· Average Running Position: 22.2, 28th-best

Ryan Newman (12th, -106 points)
· One win, three Top-5s, four Top-10s
· Average Finish: 19.8 in 20 races
· Average Running Position: 20.8, 22nd-best

Kasey Kahne (13th, -124 points)
· One win, four Top-5s, five Top-10s
· Average Finish: 18.7 in 18 races
· Average Running Position: 15.4, 16th-best

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.