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

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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.

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
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Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.