It’s not where you start, but where you finish. But qualifying farther up certainly would’ve helped Hendrick Motorsports going into tomorrow night’s 5-Hour Energy 400 at Kansas Speedway.
The Hendrick camp will have a bit of work ahead of them, as all four of its drivers – Sprint Cup points leader Jeff Gordon (13th), defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson (14th), Kasey Kahne (17th), and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (22nd) – were unable to get themselves into the final round and contend for the pole.
Gordon and Johnson were surprised that they didn’t have the speed to advance from Round 2.
“I really thought in practice we had a car that would have easily qualified in the top 24 for that first round and made it into round 2 just to start working on how we could sit on the pole and be in the top five,” Gordon said. “I did not expect to be here in 13th or 14th.”
“We felt like we had a car that could get into the final round and came up short,” Johnson told MRN. “I ran my fastest lap of the weekend so far, but it wasn’t enough to get us there. So, we’ll have to do a little bit more work in qualifying trim to get it.”
Johnson was more optimistic about his car in race trim after successful practice sessions earlier today, but wasn’t ready to declare an idea of what to expect tomorrow, when the Sprint Cup Series holds its first-ever night race on the 1.5-mile Kansas oval.
“We kind of get trends that certain tires show us and certain surfaces, but until you get out there and live it and experience it for yourself, you’re just guessing until then,” he said.
Also having to come from the pack tomorrow will be several drivers from the Toyota camp. Only one of the manufacturer’s drivers, Brian Vickers (15th), was able to qualify within the Top 20.
Home-state hero Clint Bowyer will roll off 23rd for his 300th Sprint Cup start, and is joined in Row 12 by Kyle Busch. Busch’s JGR teammates, Matt Kenseth and Talladega winner Denny Hamlin, start 28th and 30th respectively.
Other Toyota runners starting deep include rookies Ryan Truex (31st) and Cole Whitt (36th), as well as veteran Joe Nemechek (43rd).
But now, that race will continue, with the goal of registering 200 organ and tissue donors in Bryan’s memory, announced tonight.
“This has been such a bittersweet moment for our family,” said Tim Clauson, father of Bryan Clauson.
“We miss our son terribly. However, what has kept us going is the outpouring of support from the community and Bryan’s decision to be an organ donor. We have always been proud of him for the generous person he was. Being a donor saves lives and gives us hope to see Bryan continue to live on in the lives he has helped.”
Countless BC Forever tributes took place this past weekend at both Bristol Motor Speedway in NASCAR and Pocono Raceway in IndyCar. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., one of Clauson’s closest friends, finished second in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday. His emotional interview is below.
“We thought we’d make it one more time and I’m pretty sure this will be the last race I ever run right here tonight, the last race period,” Kinser said. “I hadn’t been running many (races) this year and was planning on quitting anyway.
“I’m never going to say never but I’m pretty positive I’m going to watch Kraig (his son, also a racer), go to races and have some fun.”
The 62-year-old resident of Bloomington, Indiana is a 20-time World of Outlaws champion (won a record 577 races in the series), as well as more recently a stalwart on the All Star Circuit of Champions sprint car series owned by NASCAR champion Tony Stewart.
The 12-time Knoxville Nationals champ, whose last full-time season in the WoO was in 2014, has been racing a limited schedule both last season and in 2016.
While his career has been primarily in Sprint cars, Kinser also raced in other series including five times in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series, raced in the 1997 Indianapolis 500 (finished 14th) and in the IROC and USAC series.
Naturally, the social media world was all atwitter – no pun intended – about Kinser’s bombshell announcement:
BREAKING NEWS: Tonight at Lebanon Valley Speedway, Steve Kinser announced that tonight's @ASCoC race is likely the last of his career.
In Major League Baseball, the 4-5-6 batters are typically the meat of the batting order. It’s those three players that play one of the biggest parts in determining which team becomes the ultimate champion each season.
Now, 4-5-6 in the standings of the Verizon IndyCar Series is a bit of a different matter.
Sure, fourth-ranked Scott Dixon is a four-time IndyCar champ and Indianapolis 500 winner, fifth-ranked Helio Castroneves is a three-time Indy 500 winner, and sixth-ranked Tony Kanaan is both a series champion and Indy 500 winner.
That sounds like an IndyCar equivalent of baseball’s Murderer’s Row, right?
But following Monday’s weather-rescheduled ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway, the 4-5-6 drivers in the IndyCar Series rankings have three races left to hit nothing but home runs if they hope to throw a curveball into Simon Pagenaud’s and Will Power’s championship plans.
Six points separate the trio: Dixon has 386 points, 111 points short of Pagenaud (497 points, with Power a close second at 477 points). Castroneves has 384 (-113) and Kanaan has 380 (-117).
And let’s not forget about Josef Newgarden, sitting third at 397 points, exactly 100 markers behind Pagenaud and 80 points in arrears to Power. But Newgarden will almost certainly drop out of realistic contention with a last-place finish looming at Texas Motor Speedway after he crashed out in June, and won’t be able to restart.
The respective finishes of Dixon (sixth), Kanaan (ninth) and Castroneves (19th) at Pocono also didn’t help their championship chances, because Power won. Pagenaud failed to finish but still looms far ahead.
Right now, a maximum of 211 points is up for grabs in the remaining three races. That breaks down to 50 points each to the winner at Texas and Watkins Glen, and double points (100) to the winner of the season finale at Sonoma.
There’s also one point for the pole winner in each of the final three races, although Carlos Munoz will get that point at Texas since he got the pole there back in June.
In addition, each of the three remaining races – as all others – awards one point if a driver leads at least one lap and two points to the driver who leads the most laps.
Dixon climbed one position, from fifth to fourth, with his Pocono finish. But he knows time is running to defend last year’s championship – particularly with this being the last year for him with Target sponsorship.
Here’s what Dixon had to say after Pocono:
“We started in the rear of the field and that didn’t help our cause with the Target team. We got held up in the second to last restart and some lapped cars didn’t go when they should have and that really cost us in terms of track position for sure. We clawed our way back into the mix but with so many good cars out there it was hard to get all the way to the front to contend.”
Kanaan slipped slightly in the standings from fifth to sixth after his Pocono finish.
Here’s what Kanaan had to say afterwards:
“We just couldn’t catch a break during the race. Every time we’d make a run toward the front, something would go wrong. We had a mechanical issue that was affecting the fuel system and that caused a lot of problems for us. Then we lost a piece of our rear bumper pod that caused that last yellow. It just wasn’t our day.”
Lastly, Castroneves had a performance Monday that he’d rather forget. While he started strong (fourth), he was involved in a scary pit road crash not of his doing when Alexander Rossi and Charlie Kimball made contact.
Rossi, this year’s Indianapolis 500 winner, bounced off Kimball’s car and ran over the top of Castroneves’ car as he was trying to leave his pit stall.
The tires on Rossi’s car made visible marks on the top of the cockpit of Castroneves’ car and then the car continued until it had climbed over and landed back on the pavement on all four wheels. Castroneves suffered a slight bruise to his right hand but was otherwise uninjured in the scary mishap.
But his hand isn’t the thing that really hurt. Castroneves’ resulting 19th place finish saw him drop from third to fifth in the standings. Given that he’s 117 points behind Pagenaud and 97 behind Power, his Team Penske teammate, Castroneves’ hopes for his elusive first career IndyCar championship are slim, indeed – unless perhaps he wins each of the next three races.
And that still may not be enough to win it all if Pagenaud and/or Power have strong finishes in at least two of those last three.
One thing’s for certain: neither Castroneves nor Dixon or Kanaan are giving up.
Here’s what Castroneves had to say about Monday’s race, the pit road incident, as well as moving on to Texas:
“Inside the car, I was actually more protected than what it looked like. Sometime people don’t realize the Verizon IndyCar Series are so much about safety and today is the proof of that.
“Very glad that nobody got hurt. It’s just a shame. The Hitachi Chevy was really having a good day and we just had another good pit stop when I was coming out of the pits.
“All of a sudden there was a car on top of me. It was a little strange to be honest. The Team Penske guys worked really hard to try and fix the car but there was a lot of damage.
“It’s certainly unfortunate because this will hurt us in the championship battle but our team will never give up. We’ll move on to Texas where, fortunately, we’ve had a lot of success.”
Just when he was hoping for a dramatic improvement, Ed Carpenter’s season of discontent behind the wheel continues.
The owner of Ed Carpenter Racing had high hopes for a strong finish in Monday’s weather-rescheduled ABC Supply 500 at Pocono Raceway.
Running his usual schedule of ovals only, Carpenter qualified a respectable 10th at Pocono and had a car that in practice looked like it could be a top-10 finisher in the actual race itself.
But for the third time in his four oval races this season (Phoenix, Indianapolis, Iowa and Pocono), Carpenter and his No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet came up short due to an unspecified mechanical issue that knocked him out of the race just 57 laps into the 200-lap event.
At Phoenix, Carpenter had his best qualifying effort of the season (fifth) and managed to complete 195 of 200 laps before crashing and finishing 21st.
In the Indianapolis 500, he started 20th and finished 31st in the 33-car field when an oxygen sensor went bad just two laps from the midpoint of the 200-lap race.
Carpenter had his best outing of the year at Iowa, finishing 18th. However, he finished just 284 of the race’s 300 laps with another mechanical issue occurring on a pit stop and a bunch of time lost. The gear cluster needed to be changed.
And then came Pocono on Monday, another outcome that left Carpenter disappointed.
“Ed Carpenter Racing has performed so awesome this year and the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka car can’t catch a break,” Carpenter said after Monday’s race. “I haven’t finished a full race this season.
“I made one mistake at Phoenix, but other than that we’ve just had things happen. Some of it shouldn’t have happened and could have been avoided, so there’s just a lot of frustration.”
Carpenter has one more oval race left on his schedule: this Saturday’s resumption of the rain-delayed race at Texas Motor Speedway.
“This is one of my last two races this year and I felt really good coming into (Monday),” Carpenter said of Pocono. “I’m not going to comment on what happened specifically, it won’t do any good to talk about it out in the open. It’s just frustrating.”