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.

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
Align Media
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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”