Top NASCAR stories of 2014: No. 12 – Newman, Kenseth winless but still successful

Leave a comment
source: Getty Images
Credit: Getty Images.

MotorSportsTalk will be counting down the top 20 stories of the 2014 NASCAR season over the month of December.

Here’s what we’ve done so far:

Today, we’re at No. 12 and how two of NASCAR’s top stars made waves in the Chase without winning a race…

No racer worth his or her salt likes a zero in the win column at the end of a season. Finishing first ahead of all the other guys and gals is always the goal, whether it’s under the bright lights of NASCAR or on some nondescript dirt oval in Anytown, USA.

Ryan Newman and Matt Kenseth each failed to win a race in 2014. But in the big picture, their seasons were still largely successful ones.

Newman made the Chase for the Sprint Cup but without a signature victory in the regular season, many observers considered him to be up for an early elimination.

But the former Daytona 500 winner defied the odds with a superb run of finishes. And a last-lap shove of Kyle Larson in the Eliminator Round finale at Phoenix thrust Newman into the Championship 4 at the season-finale in Homestead.

With the new Chase format having put more emphasis on winning than ever before, here was Newman riding consistency all the way to the final battle.

The prospect of him as the first winless Sprint Cup champion ever became a major storyline in the lead-up to the Ford Ecoboost 400. But in the end, it was Kevin Harvick outlasting Newman to win the race and the title following a three-lap dash to the checkered flag.

Newman’s runner-up at Homestead was his best finish of 2014. He earned just five Top-5 finishes and led just 41 laps all season. Yet he came within half a second of delivering perhaps the greatest title upset in NASCAR history.

As for Kenseth, he was unable to get off the schnide in his followup campaign to a 2013 season that had him take a series-high seven wins and fight Jimmie Johnson for the championship.

To be fair, a noticeable power deficit for the Toyota camp against the dominant Hendrick Motorsports, Stewart-Haas Racing, and Team Penske meant that Kenseth had to use the consistency card as well during the regular season.

Kenseth used it to perfection by staying within the Top 5 of the points standings from Fontana all the way to the Chase. He ended up earning his post-season berth on points alone with one race remaining in the regular season.

Strong efforts in the first two elimination races – a fifth in the Challenger Round finale at Dover and a second in the Contender Round finale at Talladega – helped Kenseth go into the Eliminator Round along with Newman.

Unfortunately for the 2003 Cup champ, a 25th-place finish at Texas put him in what proved to be too big a hole for him to advance to the Championship 4. Kenseth was knocked out the next week at Phoenix despite coming home in third place.

Obviously, Newman and Kenseth will be seeking to get wins under their belts and punch their tickets to the Chase early in 2015. But this past year, they proved that winning isn’t the only way to make an impact.

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

Leave a comment

While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter