Kenseth earns top seed in Chase for the Sprint Cup

Leave a comment

By virtue of his five regular season victories, Joe Gibbs Racing’s Matt Kenseth will be atop the standings for the start of the Chase for the Sprint Cup next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

Kenseth, who finished sixth in last night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, holds a three-point lead (2015-2012) over Jimmie Johnson after the re-seeding of the 12 Chase contenders.

“I think we’re prepared,” Kenseth said when asked he and his team were ready to contend for a championship. “I mean, tonight was a little bit of a struggle, but yeah, it’s been an amazing 26 weeks, that’s for sure.

“[Crew chief] Jason Ratcliff and the whole team, [I] really can’t thank that group enough and everybody back at Joe Gibbs Racing. They give all three of us really good cars every week, and they’re a lot of fun to drive. Kind of a frustrating effort tonight. Happy about our finish and looking forward to going to Chicago and getting this thing started.”

Kenseth was exceptionally strong on the intermediate tracks this season, posting four of his five regular season wins on tracks between one and two miles in length.

All but two of the 10 Chase tracks fit that description, with only the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway and the half-mile paperclip at Martinsville Speedway as the anomalies.

Going further, five of the 10 Chase tracks are 1.5-miles long; in the regular season, Kenseth won three times at similar ovals in Las Vegas, Kansas (which will be visited a second time in the post-season), and Kentucky.

Kyle Busch has been seeded third, although he has the same amount of points as Johnson (each having had four regular season wins). Kevin Harvick and Carl Edwards are fourth and fifth respectively, each with 2006 points.

No. 6 seed Joey Logano and No. 7 seed Greg Biffle are next with 2003 points apiece, followed by the five remaining drivers that will start with 2000 points each – No. 8 seed Clint Bowyer, No. 9 seed Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 10 seed Kurt Busch, and the two Wild Cards, No. 11 seed Kasey Kahne and No. 12 seed Martin Truex Jr.

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
Leave a comment

For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

Follow@KyleMLavigne