The Profit On CNBC 500

Late cautions, lack of pace lead to ho-hum day for JGR

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Denny Hamlin’s solid Daytona Speedweeks – a win in the Sprint Unlimited, a win in the Budweiser Duels, and a runner-up in the Daytona 500 – had many observers believing the Joe Gibbs Racing driver could keep it up at Phoenix, a place that has been good to him in recent years.

But instead, Hamlin’s struggles on restarts plagued him late during Sunday’s The Profit on CNBC 500 and the Virginia native faded to a 19th-place result after running in the Top 10 with around 60 laps to go.

Altogether, it was a so-so day for JGR, who was led by Kyle Busch (pictured) in ninth and had Matt Kenseth finish 12th in his return to PIR following the fall 2013 race that effectively finished his championship hopes.

Bearing a colorful Skittles livery on his car, the “rainbow-powered” Busch was one of many that were unable to hang on speed-wise to the likes of winner Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the Team Penske tandem of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.

“[We] just didn’t have the speed that we were looking for, especially getting off the corner,” Busch said afterwards. “[Crew chief] Dave [Rogers] and the guys made the car better during the day, but we just didn’t have the handle to run with the leaders.

“We had a seventh to 10th-place car today and brought it home in ninth. Looking forward to Vegas next weekend.”

Rogers himself echoed his driver’s comments, saying that Harvick and the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing team “put on a clinic” in Sunday’s event.

“We just didn’t have the speed to run with them,” he said. “We just couldn’t get our car balanced as well as they could.”

Kenseth was looking good for a Top-10 finish after making a green-flag stop with 71 laps remaining, but a few laps later, the caution came out and he was put a lap down.

He would get the wave-around to return to the lead lap but was 14th on the restart with 61 laps to go. In the remaining laps, Kenseth could only do so much.

“We had everything going okay and looked like we were maybe going to sneak out a fifth or sixth or seventh – somewhere in there – then the caution fell right after we pitted and put us a lap down,” he said.

“We [got the free pass] and then we were in traffic the rest of the day. I just couldn’t negotiate traffic. My car would be so aero-tight, I couldn’t really do anything. Just couldn’t really go forward.”

The scene now shifts to Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where Kenseth is the defending champion. Kenseth claimed four of his seven wins last season on 1.5-mile tracks such as LVMS.

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.