Kenseth: Not having crew chief at track is like “missing your head coach”

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With the advancement of technology over the years, not having your crew chief at the track is not as bad as it probably would’ve been in the past.

But Matt Kenseth acknowledged that teams in that situation are still going about their business without their leader.

Such is the case for his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin, who will not have crew chief Darian Grubb by his side over the next six Sprint Cup races.

“You’re still missing your head coach – the guy who leads the people and gets them together and talks strategy, and you’re still not looking in his eyes and talking face to face and doing all of that kind of stuff,” Kenseth said today at Pocono Raceway.

“So, I think it’s not as hard as it was at one time but I think certainly you’d still want him here.”

Grubb was suspended for a six-race period (and also fined $125,000) as part of a series of penalties that NASCAR hit Hamlin’s No. 11 squad with earlier this week.

Following Sunday’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, NASCAR found issues with the rear firewall plates inside Hamlin’s car in post-race inspection.

In addition to Grubb’s fine and suspension, car chief Wesley Sherrill was given his own six-race suspension. Hamlin and car owner J.D. Gibbs also lost 75 championship driver and owner’s points respectively.

After giving his reaction to the penalty on Wednesday’s edition of NASCAR AMERICA, Hamlin issued the following statement today:

“I’m obviously disappointed in the penalties, but I respect NASCAR and the appeal process. I’m confident that regardless of the outcome, our No. 11 team will continue to fight each week to try to win races, secure a spot in the Chase and compete for the championship.”

Kenseth himself had to deal with not having his regular crew chief around during last year’s Southern 500 at Darlington.

After Kenseth won last April at Kansas, his engine failed post-race inspection thanks to a connecting rod being a few grams underweight.

Ratcliff was initially suspended for six races but after an appeal of NASCAR’s original penalties against the No. 20 team, his suspension was reduced to just the Southern 500.

Despite the issue, Kenseth was able to win the race with Wally Brown serving as his interim crew chief – and Ratcliff keeping close tabs away from the track.

“We had a lot going on that week for sure,” Kenseth recalled. “Jason was still really involved. Wally has been really plugged in at JGR for a long time. I’ve known Wally for a long time. He worked at Roush when I was back there and I’ve known him forever.

“He’s got crew chief experience, so JGR has a lot of depth and it wasn’t hard to just plug him into that. But certainly Jason was real close to it the whole time as well.”

No doubt Hamlin hopes that he’ll be just as successful this weekend at Pocono with Mike Wheeler as his guide in place of Grubb.

Hartley to make F1 debut from back of grid after penalty

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Brendon Hartley’s hopes of a points finish on his Formula 1 debut took a hit on Friday after the FIA confirmed the Toro Rosso driver will start the United States Grand Prix from the back of the grid due to an engine penalty.

Porsche factory driver and 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Hartley was drafted in by Toro Rosso as a surprise replacement for Pierre Gasly in Austin, with the Frenchman tied up with Super Formula duties at Suzuka this weekend.

Hartley took to the track in an official grand prix session for the first time on Friday in Austin, marking his first run-out in an F1 car since a test with Mercedes in 20120.

However, FIA technical delegate Jo Bauer confirmed in his pre-race report that changes had been made to the power unit on Hartley’s Toro Rosso car since the last race in Japan, triggering a grid penalty.

Toro Rosso elected to take a new internal combustion engine, MGU-H, energy store and control electronics on Hartley’s Renault power unit, totaling a 25-place grid drop that will be applied after qualifying. Confirmation of the penalty is set to follow later today.

The penalty comes as a setback for Hartley, but was necessary as Toro Rosso found itself short on engine elements to get to the end of the season.

Hartley is not the only driver to have a penalty confirmed, with Renault’s Nico Hulkenberg and McLaren’s Stoffel Vandoorne also taking new engine elements, also confirmed in Bauer’s report.

A new ICE, turbocharger and MGU-H for Hulkenberg will see him drop 20 places on the grid, while an eighth ICE of the year for Vandoorne will trigger a five-place drop.