Kenseth making most of second chance; Harvick makes a statement.
Ryan Newman is hoping for a calm race on Sunday—but he doesn’t expect it.
With one race left to determine the four drivers who will qualify to run for the championship on Nov. 16 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Newman won’t be surprised at all if Sunday’s Quicken Loans Race for Heroes 500 (on ESPN at 3 p.m. ET) turns into the sort of wild affair that has typified this season’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Newman needs to finish ninth or better to lock up one of the four spots at Homestead, and he acknowledges that Sunday’s race, the final event in the Chase’s Eliminator Round could become a powder keg.
“Absolutely,” Newman said. “I think there is huge potential. Especially with the extra racing room that we have back there in the dogleg on restarts, I think is going to be quite crazy.
“And I hope that everybody is respectful, and we don’t have a situation that jeopardizes somebody’s chances; and I will keep that in mind.”
Naturally, Newman would prefer not to have to deal with any of the craziness.
“I hope to have it in my mirror,” Newman said. “That’s the best place to be. We were in that position in Talladega and knew what guys had to do to get themselves in, and we were somewhat in that position even at Martinsville, and saw some of the craziness at Charlotte.
“Anything can happen, without a doubt. At some point, you just have to do your job and expect a little bit of racing luck and the racing gods to be on your side.”
Kenseth capitalizes on second chance
The Champions Tour, for golfers age 50 and over, has been called the biggest mulligan in professional sports, but Matt Kenseth thinks he’s found the NASCAR equivalent.
Though he’s still looking for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory this season, Kenseth has used the new Chase format to his advantage in staying alive in the quest for a second series title.
Interestingly, Kenseth’s 2003 championship season, accomplished with a single victory, is generally credited as the impetus for the Chase, a 10-race playoff where winning typically has been of paramount importance.
And though Kenseth has survived the first two rounds of the Chase without a victory, he understands that he may well have to win Sunday at Phoenix to advance past the Eliminator Round. Kenseth currently is tied with Carl Edwards for fifth in the Chase standings, 13 points out of first place and one point behind Jeff Gordon in fourth.
To Kenseth, this year’s Chase, under a new elimination format, has a substantially different feel from last year’s. In 2013 Kenseth won seven times in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing and fought eventual champion Jimmie Johnson for the title.
“It’s a night-and-day difference to be honest with you,” Kenseth said. “Last year, I felt like we were maybe not the favorite—I always felt Jimmie was kind of the favorite—but yet we had the most wins, the most laps led. We had a 10-week championship race where you kind of fret over every point and every position. It was a lot more stressful.
“This year, it has a really different feeling. I feel like we’ve been knocked down on the mat every round at some point or another. I think every round we’ve got in a wreck or had a terrible finish or something. We’ve been able to advance. This one (the Eliminator Round) is obviously tougher, but even running sixth (at Martinsville) and 25th last week (at Texas)—I don’t know how we managed that and still being close to the top four is surprising.
“It feels a lot different. It feels like we’ve had some mulligans.”
Without a victory on Sunday, however, Kenseth may find he’s exhausted his supply of second chances.
Harvick ready to rumble
Kevin Harvick may be last in the standings among the eight title aspirants entering Sunday’s race at Phoenix, but on Saturday morning, he was first in the morning NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice session, running a lap at 138.403 mph.
What’s more, Harvick was fastest in 10-lap average, running 10 consecutive laps (Nos. 2 through 11) at an average speed of 137.836 mph, more than a full mile per hour faster than the 136.571 mph posted by Brad Keselowski, who was second quickest.
Harvick, who can punch his ticket to the Chase finale at Homestead with a victory on Sunday, has ample reason for confidence. He dominated the spring race at Phoenix this year and has won three of the last four events at the one-mile track in the Sonoran Desert.
The driver of the No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet was second fastest in final practice at 137.065 mph, just .008 seconds slower than Jamie McMurray (137.106 mph).
NASCAR Wire Service, Reid Spencer