Joe Gibbs Racing extends Matt Kenseth’s contract, Dollar General sponsorship

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Even though Carl Edwards may still be heading to Joe Gibbs Racing, Matt Kenseth won’t be going anywhere for a long time.

JGR officials announced Saturday at Kentucky Speedway that they have extended Kenseth’s contract (no specifics were given, but it’s likely through at least 2016 or 2017).

In addition, Dollar General will increase the number of races it serves as the primary sponsor on Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota Camry in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series from 27 races in 2014 to 30 races in 2015, and the potential of additional races beyond.

That is significant given that Home Depot announced earlier this week that it will be ending its sponsorship of the No. 20 at season’s end after more than a decade.

Dollar General, whose corporate headquarters are just north of Nashville in Goodlettsville, Tennessee, first began sponsoring Kenseth with 17 races in 2013, and then increased that number to 27 for this season.

“I’m incredibly fortunate to drive for Dollar General,” Kenseth said in a JGR media release. “They have great enthusiasm for our sport, and as a driver, it’s great to have such a supportive sponsor behind you.

“When you meet the people behind the organization, it is easy to see why they have had so much success in recent years. I’m looking forward to continuing our partnership together for many years to come.”

Kenseth is ranked fourth in the Sprint Cup standings heading into Saturday night’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.

After joining JGR for the 2013 season following more than a decade with Roush Fenway Racing, Kenseth went on to win a series- and career-high seven races.

This season, however, Kenseth has yet to reach victory lane. But he’s shown significant consistency nonetheless with five top-5 and 10 top-10 finishes in the first 16 races of the 36-race Sprint Cup schedule.

“Extending my deal with JGR is exciting and I’m still hoping we can match our win total from last year, but it’s really been a special year-and-a-half together,” Kenseth said. “Joe and J.D. (Gibbs) have been fantastic and show a commitment to providing all of us with the resources needed for a winning organization and I’ve been blessed with a great team led by Jason (crew chief Jason Ratcliff).

“The support we get from TRD has been tremendous and I’m excited for the future here with the No. 20 Dollar General team.”

Added team owner Joe Gibbs, “This is a big day for everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing. Matt has obviously had a big impact across our entire organization and our partnership with Dollar General has been fantastic. It’s exciting to be able to announce both extensions that will keep this team together for years to come.”

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Indy Lights: Chad Boat to make Indy Lights debut with Belardi

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Belardi Auto Racing, which currently fields entries for Aaron Telitz, Santi Urrutia, and Shelby Blackstock in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires, announced on Tuesday that USAC standout Chad Boat, son of former Verizon IndyCar Series race winner Billy Boat, will make his Indy Lights debut with the Brian Belardi led-outfit. Boat will contest the July 9 race at Iowa Speedway, a track he has previously raced on in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, and will return for the August 26 event at Gateway Motorsports Park.

“We’re extremely pleased to announce the addition of Chad Boat to our stable of drivers for the Iowa and Gateway Indy Lights oval races this summer,” team owner Brian Belardi detailed. “It’s exciting to have a second-generation driver running with us, and we’re certainly looking forward to getting Chad on track in Iowa.”

The younger Boat has become a star in his own right in USAC, winning Rookie of the Year honors in both the USAC National Midget and Sprint car divisions. The 25-year-old will pilot the No. 84 entry, with sponsorship from Pristine Auction.

“I grew up watching my dad race Indy cars, so having the opportunity to run Indy Lights this year is absolutely surreal,” said Boat. “I have to thank Belardi Auto Racing for giving me a shot behind the wheel of the No. 84 Dallara, as well as Pristine Auction for their continued support in my racing career. I can’t wait to get to Iowa Speedway.”

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Mercedes, Ferrari go conservative on Austrian GP tire picks

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Pirelli has confirmed all 20 Formula 1 drivers’ tire picks for next weekend’s Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, with most opting to stack up on ultra-softs.

As it does for every grand prix, Pirelli will bring three compounds to Austria next week, electing for the softest possible combination of ultra-soft, super-soft and soft tires.

In the regular pre-race release of each driver’s tire picks, Pirelli revealed that Force India, McLaren and Red Bull have gone down the most aggressive routes, stacking up on the ultra-soft tire.

Title contenders Mercedes and Ferrari have gone down a more conservative route, favoring additional sets of the super-soft compound.

Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen will take seven sets of ultra-softs to Spielberg, while Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas will have eight sets at their disposal through the weekend.

Graham Rahal survives Road America to finish eighth

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Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing faced a roller coaster of a race during the Kohler Grand Prix at Road America on Sunday.

He was a rocket off the initial start, jumping from sixth on the grid up to fourth exiting turn 1, but was almost immediately ordered to surrender a position for blocking. He quickly slipped back to sixth, and then began plummeting down the order as he battled an oversteer condition that saw his car chew through its rear tires more quickly than others.

Forced to abandon the planned three-stop strategy, he and the No. 15 Gehl Honda team switched to a four-stop plan that saw him drop well outside the top ten at times.

However, they kept plugging away and rebounded nicely in the second half of the race to eventually finish in eighth. While he would have liked to finish higher up the order, Rahal knows that he and the team got everything they could out of it.

“The car was a handful today. I knew about five laps in that I didn’t have the pace for a three-stop strategy,” Rahal revealed post-race. “We tried as best we could to work with what we had during the race and overcome it. I would have obviously liked to have finished better, but eighth is about as good as we could do today. We struggled with a very loose race car all weekend and just couldn’t put a dent in the problem. We worked awfully hard but just missed it this weekend.”

The eighth-place finish keeps Rahal in the championship hunt. Rahal now sits seventh in the standings, 11 points behind fifth-place Josef Newgarden and 72 behind championship leader Scott Dixon.

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Ed Jones continues steady run with seventh at Road America

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Dale Coyne Racing’s Ed Jones has made waves in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season with a string of solid performances that belie his rookie status.

And Sunday’s Kohler Grand Prix at Road America was no different.

The 22-year-old battled an oversteering car most of the weekend at Road America, and had to navigate a little carnage late in the race as Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay both fell through the field with front wing problems.

However, Jones weathered all storms to finish an impressive seventh, his fifth finish inside the top 10 this year, and his best finish since his third place at the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade MotorOil.

“It was a really tough race,” Jones said of the effort. “We had a loose car yesterday. It was loose, but fast, for qualifying, and today again the car was really loose. I was hanging on the whole race, but the team had some good pit stops and we were able to move up.

“Obviously, the strategy was pretty similar to everyone else. Everyone was aggressive out there. It was hard racing but we came out with a seventh place and we moved up a little bit in the points.”

The seventh-place run sees Jones maintain his position in the top ten in the championship. He currently sits tenth in the standings, three points ahead of Chip Ganassi Racing’s Max Chilton.

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