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.

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.”