STP 400 - Practice

Matt Kenseth hopes law of averages soon turn in his favor

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If there’s anything to the law of averages, Matt Kenseth is next in line to win his first Sprint Cup race of 2014.

Points leader Jeff Gordon won his first race of the season two weeks ago at Kansas.

Sunday night, Jimmie Johnson won his first of the season in the longest and most grueling race on the Cup schedule, the 400-lap Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

That leaves Kenseth as the only driver in the top 7 in the Cup standings that has yet to reach victory lane in 2014, an oddity for sure given that Kenseth led the entire series with a high of seven wins in 2013.

It’s not like Kenseth didn’t try Sunday night. He was in the lead and even tried to throw a block to keep Johnson from passing him in the closing laps.

Unfortunately for Kenseth, Johnson avoided his block and sailed on to victory lane, leaving Kenseth to fall to an eventual third-place finish, right behind runner-up Kevin Harvick.

“I mean, everything kind of fell into place with us with that (final) caution, people being under fuel strategy,” Kenseth said. “Our tire problem, all that, getting off sequence. Everything fell into our lap.

“We got a good restart, got out front. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough speed to hold off Jimmie and Kevin and hang on to win.”

The biggest difference between Harvick and Kenseth is Harvick called out his team for falling short due to a loose wheel.

Kenseth was more the gentleman in his synopsis of how his run went.

“Overall for the weekend, I thought it was a step in the right direction,” Kenseth said of getting closer to his first win of the season. “I thought we were more competitive tonight.

“I didn’t think we were quick enough to win unless everything fell exactly our way. Even then I couldn’t quite hang on.

“Overall … I thought we had a top-five car all night. Great pit stops, great adjustments. Just couldn’t hang on to it at the end.”

End result, another frustrating finish of sorts, particularly considering Kenseth now has four top 5 and five other top 10 finishes thus far this season (nine top 10s overall).

Whereas Harvick blamed his crew for his runner-up finish due to a loose wheel and pit stop errors, Kenseth took a more even-handed approach in his response.

“Me personally, whenever your team does everything, everything falls the right way, they put you out in the front at the end of the race, you don’t win the race, you’re always frustrated and disappointed,” Kenseth said. “You don’t get a lot of those opportunities.

“Although I felt like I did everything I could possibly do, we just weren’t quick enough to hold ’em off. So, yeah, I’m a little frustrated we didn’t get the win tonight.”

But at the same time, Kenseth feels he indeed could join Gordon, Johnson in the winner’s club next Sunday at Dover.

“I feel like we’re gaining on it,” Kenseth said. “Certainly, we’re not where we were at this time last year, all of us there leading a bunch of laps and being in contention to win.

“Panicking has never helped anything. Like I said, I feel like we’re gaining on it. We’ve just been off a little bit all year. … We’re digging hard trying to figure it out. We’re just not quite there yet.

“I think the pressure and urgency to win is there each and every week, at least it is for me. These are all huge races. Not many of us that get to do this every week.

“…It’s a big deal to win any of these races. Always has been. I’ve never been in the front in the end and not wanted to win. You race as hard as you can for these wins. You hate it when you can’t hold on and win it. There’s no more I can do about it. We were in position. I did everything I possibly could do and got beat. It’s just the way it goes sometimes.

“You can only do your best and take your result for that day.”

And hope the law of averages is in his favor the next time.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Longtime Knoxville Raceway promoter, Ralph Capitani, dies

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Photo via @KnoxvilleRaces Twitter
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Knoxville Raceway likely wouldn’t be what it is as one of the country’s most renowned short tracks without the work of Ralph Capitani.

Capitani has died following a battle of cancer (according to Speed Sport), news of which was announced Monday by the track. The longtime promoter at the track was born in 1932.

Capitani, better known as “Cappy,” oversaw a huge rise in the stature and popularity of the track’s premier event – the Knoxville Nationals – after taking the reins as the track’s new race director and promoter in 1978.

Some of the elements Capitani worked to implement were improved facilities, purses, safety standards, car counts and audience, the latter of which saw the Knoxville Nationals eventually make it to TV. He also established the Knoxville Raceway Hall of Fame.

In his 40th year at Knoxville in 2007, Capitani said the prestige of the Knoxville Nationals remained incredible.

“I think the Knoxville Nationals is the best sprint car race of the year, bar none,” he said in 2007, via InLappedTraffic. “It is the only time you see ALL of the best sprint car drivers competing on the same playing field. It is a United States and Internationally wide event.”

He retired from the track at the end of 2011.

Knoxville Raceway released a statement confirming Capitani’s passing, and thanking him for all he did to put the track and race on the map.

A portion of the statement reads: “A visionary in the sport, Cappy aimed to make sprint car racing at Knoxville Raceway grander, the purses bigger and the grandstands fuller. He achieved them all with a smile on his face and a hearty handshake for every team owner, driver, crew member and fan that ever crossed his path.”

IndyCar’s last big pre-season test occurs this week at Sebring

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Conor Daly. Photo: IndyCar
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Pre-season testing for the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season will conclude this week with all eight full-season teams having two days at Sebring International Raceway’s short course on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Sebring marks the closest venue to simulate street course conditions; four of the first eight races are street races while only one street race, Toronto, occurs in the second half of the season.

Although this is private testing, this will be a de facto “spring training” on the 1.5-mile road course for teams to see what the others are running all at once. IndyCar’s official spring training, the Prix View test at Phoenix International Raceway’s 1-mile oval, occurred on February 10-11.

The bulk of the field runs tomorrow, with seven of the eight teams set to test – the only exception is Andretti Autosport. Andretti is listed to test on Wednesday.

All but one of the 21 full-season drivers expected for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener on March 12 will test this week. The one not listed is Sebastien Bourdais of Dale Coyne Racing; Bourdais and Ed Jones tested at Sebring in January prior to the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

They’ll be joined by the three drivers making their test debuts, all for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports: Robert Wickens, Luis Felipe “Pipo” Derani and Luis Michael Dorrbecker.

Wickens tests tomorrow as part of his planned ride swap with James Hinchcliffe, with Derani and Dorrbecker set to test on Wednesday.

Sebring is usually a hotbed for tests over the IndyCar offseason. This year saw A.J. Foyt Enterprises (in late January with Chevrolet) and Chip Ganassi Racing (in early January with Honda) premiere their new manufacturers and aero kits at Sebring, among other teams that have tested here.

Although the test season has seen an increase in interest this year, the regular season starts in St. Petersburg and returns to NBCSN with Long Beach on April 9.

F1 Paddock Pass: 2017 launch roundup (VIDEO)

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The NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass returns today with a recap of the remaining launches of the 2017 Formula 1 cars that occurred over the weekend.

Williams was first to reveal a rendering of its 2017 car, but it wasn’t a formal launch. Sauber’s online launch properly kicked off proceedings last Monday, before Renault, Force India and Mercedes did actual launches, and then Ferrari (online) and McLaren (in Woking) both launched on Friday.

Official launches then followed for Williams, Red Bull, Haas and Toro Rosso over the weekend. Haas had pictures of its car leak the day before its planned launch as it was a filming day on track.

In this edition of Paddock Pass, NBCSN pit reporter and insider Will Buxton and producer Jason Swales recap the remaining cars revealed over the weekend.

Previous Paddock Pass editions from this week are below:

Testing continues this week with days two through four of the first test at Barcelona.

Alonso’s McLaren struggles on first day of F1 tests

MONTMELO, SPAIN - FEBRUARY 27: Fernando Alonso of Spain driving the (14) McLaren Honda Formula 1 Team McLaren MCL32 on track  during day one of Formula One winter testing at Circuit de Catalunya on February 27, 2017 in Montmelo, Spain.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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MONTMELO, Spain (AP) Troubled Formula One team McLaren has gotten off to a wretched start in preseason testing.

Fernando Alonso spent most of the first day waiting to get back out of the garage after his car broke down following just one lap at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya on Monday.

What the team identified as an “oil system” malfunction to its Honda-made engine kept the two-time world champion out of action until after the lunch break. Back behind the wheel, his 29 total laps was the lowest amount of the 11 drivers who participated.

Alonso also posted the second-slowest time, more than three seconds off the leading pace set by Lewis Hamilton in his Mercedes. Only Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson was slower.

“It’s disappointing,” Alonso said. “You work for three months and at the track on the installation lap something breaks down and you lose the day.”

This misstep is the latest technical hiccup to plague McLaren since it paired up with Honda.

One of F1’s most successful teams with eight constructor titles and 12 driver titles, the British outfit has struggled since it switched from Mercedes to the Japanese automaker before the 2015 season.

After earning just a combined 27 points from Alonso and Jenson Button in the first year with Honda, the team showed some growth last season with 76 points and two fifth-place finishes. But that is still a far cry from the glory days of the Woking-based team whose last race win was in Brazil in 2012.

For his part, Alonso hasn’t won a race since he claimed his 32nd victory back in 2013 at the Spanish Grand Prix while with Ferrari.

“It is fair to say that after the difficulties we had the last three seasons, it’s a nice temptation for the media,” Alonso said.

“From the point of view of the team, we are disappointed and sad to arrive to the first day of testing and not run.

“We are focused on what we have to do to make up the lost time. We know that we have four days for each driver and now one day is gone to prepare for the world championship.”

Stoffel Vandoorne, who has replaced Button, will get his turn for McLaren on Tuesday.

McLaren team chief Eric Boullier acknowledged that the relationship with Honda is far from perfect.

“It is like any marriage, you can have some ups and downs,” Boullier said. “We went through a lot of stress through the last couple of years, but we have a positive and constructive relationship and I don’t expect this to change in the future.”

The opening test will run through Thursday.

The track near Barcelona will host a second round of testing from March 7-10 before the season starts at the Australian GP on March 26.