Matt Kenseth tangles with Brad Keselowski in Charlotte post-race fight

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A tense sequence of events at the end of tonight’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway culminated with a post-race clash involving Matt Kenseth, Brad Keselowski, and their respective crews.

The matter began on the cooldown lap after Kevin Harvick had won the race. Keselowski attempted to spin Denny Hamlin in Turn 3 before running into Kenseth and Tony Stewart at the entrance to pit road.

Stewart took exception and backed his car into Keselowski’s, inflicting serious front-end damage to the No. 2 Ford.

When the group returned to the garage, Hamlin climbed out of his No. 11 Toyota and had to be restrained by his Joe Gibbs Racing team as he expressed his displeasure with Keselowski.

Keselowski then walked away from the scene and in between a pair of haulers when Kenseth came up from behind and forcefully grabbed him.

The scrum escalated between the haulers and included members of their teams for a short time before dissipating.

In post-race comments to ESPN, Kenseth said that as a former Sprint Cup champion, Keselowski should have known better.

“He was doing something with Denny there – I don’t know if he was mad with him,” Kenseth said. “I had my HANS [device] off, my seat belt off and everything, and he clobbers me at, like, 50 [miles per hour].

“The race is over – try and come back to pit road and if you want to talk about it like a man, go do that. But to try and wreck somebody on the race track – come down pit road with other cars and people standing around and my seatbelt’s off – driving in the side of me is inexcusable.”

Kenseth had also made contact with Keselowski on a restart with 63 laps to go that had enabled Hamlin to take over the lead.

In that exchange, Kenseth appeared to have a big run on Keselowski, who then seemed to move up as they went through the tri-oval. Kenseth then clipped the wall and fell out of the Top 15 as he tried to get back up to speed; when asked about it, Kenseth felt Keselowski “ran him out of room.”

Keselowski thought the restart incident with Kenseth was simply a racing deal, but said that when Kenseth took a wave-around to return to the lead lap under the final caution, he hit him.

“When we restart in fifth with no right-front [bumper] on it, we fell all the way back to 16th and it ruined our day,” he said. “It gave us a big Chase hurt, which is unfortunate. And then for some reason after the race, the 11 [Hamlin] stopped in front of me and tried to pick a fight.”

Then came the incident with Hamlin on the cool-down lap.

“I don’t know what that was all about and he swung and hit at my car,” Keselowski said. “So I figured if we were gonna play Car Wars under yellow and after the race, I’ll join too.

“Those guys can dish it out, but they can’t take it and I gave it back to them. And now they want to fight. I don’t know what’s up with that.”

As for the contact with Kenseth and Stewart, Keselowski appeared to say that it was Kenseth who ran into Stewart, not himself. In any case, Keselowski’s car certainly got the worst of it in the end.

“I rubbed into the 20 [Kenseth] and I think he gassed up and ran into Tony,” Keselowski said. “I don’t think Tony knew what was going on, so he’s probably upset and he has every right to be. His car got tore up.

“But there was a whole lot of other stuff going on, and I’m sure when he sees the whole situation, he’ll understand.”

Hamlin was starting ahead of Keselowski on the restart with two to go and he figured that the Penske pilot would be aggressive considering his situation in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

But after what he felt as being knocked up the track by Keselowski, Hamlin decided to brake-check him down the backstretch on the cool-down lap before Keselowski’s unsuccessful attempt to spin him.

“And then we got to pit lane, he just plowed into the 14 [Stewart] and the 20 [Kenseth],” he continued. “The 14, his belts were off and he ran into him. Then he ran into us again coming onto pit road, and then he went to the garage, did burnouts, and knocked somebody’s transmission clear into somebody else’s pit stall.

“He was just out of control.”

Hamlin then said that NASCAR had declared “no tolerance” for such behavior. When asked to clarify that, he then said “NASCAR hasn’t told me anything” before adding:

“They told me, ‘Don’t go after him. You’ve got too much to lose.’ If I would have wrecked, he would’ve been in big trouble. I’d be waiting for him. He cost us six spots, but what goes around comes around.”

Hamlin ended up ninth at the finish, while Keselowski and Kenseth were 16th and 19th respectively.

Cadillac, Acura battle for top speed as cars back on track for Rolex 24 at Daytona practice

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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – The new hybrid prototypes of Cadillac and Acura battled atop the speed chart as practice resumed Thursday for the Rolex 24 at Daytona.

Chip Ganassi Racing driver Richard Westbrook was fastest Thursday afternoon in the No. 02 Cadillac V-LMDh with a 1-minute, 35.185-second lap around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile road course at Daytona International Speedway.

That pace topped Ricky Taylor’s 1:35.366 lap that topped the Thursday morning session that marked the first time the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship was back on track since qualifying Sunday afternoon that concluded the four-day Roar Before The Rolex 24 test.

In a final session Thursday night, Matt Campbell was fastest (1:35.802) in the No. 7 Porsche Penske Motorsports Porsche 963 but still was off the times set by Westbrook and Taylor.

Punctuated by Tom Blomqvist’s pole position for defending race winner Meyer Shank Racing, the Acura ARX-06s had been fastest for much of the Roar and led four consecutive practice sessions.

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But the times have been extremely tight in the new Grand Touring Prototype (GTP) category that has brought hybrid engines to IMSA’s premier class. Only 0.9 seconds separated the nine LMDh cars in GTP in qualifying, and though the spread slightly widened to 1.378 seconds in Thursday’s practices with teams on varying strategies and preparation, Westbrook still pooh-poohed the importance of speeds.

“It’s always nice to be at the top, but I don’t think it means too much or read too much into it” Westbrook said. “Big fuel tanks in the GTP class this year, so you have no idea what fuel levels people are running. We had a good run, and the car is really enjoyable to drive now. I definitely wasn’t saying that a month ago.

“It really does feel good now. We are working on performance and definitely unlocking some potential, and it just gives us more confidence going into the race. It’s going to be super tight. Everyone’s got the same power, everyone has the same downforce, everyone has the same drag levels and let’s just go race.”

Because teams have put such a premium on reliability, handling mostly has suffered in the GTPs, but Westbrook said the tide had turned Thursday.

“These cars are so competitive, and you were just running it for the sake of running it in the beginning, and there’s so much going on, you don’t really have time to work on performance,” he said. “A lot of emphasis was on durability in the beginning, and rightly so, but now finally we can work on performance, and that’s the same for other manufacturers as well. But we’re worrying about ourselves and improving every run, and I think everybody’s pretty happy with their Cadillac right now.”

Mike Shank, co-owner of Blomqvist’s No. 60 on the pole, said his team still was facing reliability problems despite its speed.

“We address them literally every hour,” Shank said. “We’re addressing some little thing we’re doing better to try to make it last. And also we’re talking about how we race the race, which will be different from years past.

“Just think about every system in the car, I’m not going to say which ones we’re working on, but there are systems in the car that ORECA and HPD are continually trying to improve. By the way, sometimes we put them on the car and take them off before it even goes out on the track because something didn’t work with electronics. There’s so much programming. So many departments have to talk to each other. That bridge gets broken from a code not being totally correct, and the car won’t run. Or the power steering turns off.”

Former Rolex 24 winner Renger van der Zande of Ganassi said it still is a waiting game until the 24-hour race begins Saturday shortly after 1:30 p.m.

“I think the performance of the car is good,” van der Zande said. “No drama. We’re chipping away on setup step by step and the team is in control. It’s crazy out there what people do on the track at the moment. It’s about staying cool and peak at the right moment, and it’s not the right moment yet for that. We’ll keep digging.”


PRACTICE RESULTS:

Click here for Session I (by class)

Click here for Session II (by class)

Click here for Session III (by class)

Combined speeds