Gutsy gamble pays off for Matt Kenseth in Kentucky

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After taking the lead following a fuel-only stop with 25 laps to go, Matt Kenseth capitalized on track position – and a spin off the penultimate restart by the dominant Jimmie Johnson – to win the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.

A crash involving Brian Vickers brought out the yellow with 27 laps left and on the subsequent stops, crew chief Jason Ratcliff made the decision not to give Kenseth any fresh tires. He led the race off pit road over Johnson, who had chosen to take right-side tires on his last stop of the afternoon.

Kenseth and Johnson led the field to the green on Lap 246, but while Kenseth pulled away, Johnson fell back and then spun out in Turn 2. The field was able to avoid the five-time Sprint Cup champion, who immediately called for Kenseth to be penalized for what he saw as him slowing the restart.

The penalty never came however, and Kenseth held onto the lead through one last restart before going on to his fourth victory of the season and his third on 1.5-mile tracks. Johnson, who led 182 laps on the day, wound up finishing ninth after restarting 25th following the spin.

Kenseth jokingly said that at the time, he thought Ratcliff was “slightly crazy” for the fuel-only call, but was happy with the results.

“Jason did a great job – I didn’t think there was any way we were gonna hold on for that win,” Kenseth told TNT in Victory Lane. “He made the right call at the right time and the guys got it done.”

Ratcliff said that he thought Kenseth would be tough to beat if he could get to the front.

“I knew if we could get Matt position, he would make a good fight at it and he obviously did,” he explained. “Thankfully, we got a couple good restarts there…I knew [the pit stop] was going to be our only shot to get it done today and with the position we’re in right now with the 20 car – we’ve had some success at the start of the season – we can take some shots like this.”

Jamie McMurray was closing in on Kenseth in the closing laps, but ran out of time and finished seven-tenths of a second back. However, his strong runner-up performance marks his first Top-5 result since August of 2011 at Bristol Motor Speedway, when he finished fifth. Clint Bowyer finished in third, with Joey Logano and Kyle Busch rounding out the Top 5 at the checkered flag.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”