Kasey Kahne Has to Excel at Atlanta Motor Speedway

Kasey Kahne will not make the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup unless he either wins a race or has some of the best runs of his career at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Richmond International Raceway the next two weeks.

When Kasey Kahne moved to Hendrick Motor Sports it was full of promise after bouncing around from some teams that were in a transition and struggling. That was indeed the case as Kahne won two races each of the last two years. He also made the Chase both years finishing fourth in 2012 and twelfth in 2013. This year is a different story.

To date Kahne has only two top five finishes and nine top ten finishes. The two prior years he had seven and eight top five finishes at this point in the season. Looking at top ten finishes his statistics don’t look as bad. He currently has nine compared to eleven and thirteen at this point the two prior seasons. Unfortunately top ten finishes don’t win Championships in the Sprint Cup Series, it takes top five finishes and wins.

Kahne’s other teammates Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. are having one of the best seasons of their careers. Jimmie Johnson isn’t having a great season but not a bad one either.

What do they need to fix? Well that is not apparent at all. In some races they run great but either get caught up in something or have something break to ruin it. In other races Kahne looks like he is driving for a different team than Hendrick Motor Sports.

The current points leader and favorite to win the Sprint Cup, Jeff Gordon’s team and cars are prepared in the same shop as Kahne’s by the same people. This leads to further head scratching. What happened to the adage “A rising tide lifts all boats”?

Kasey Kahne, Kenny Francis his crew chief and his whole team must perform flawlessly the next two races or they will not make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Although a couple of top five finishes might get them in by points that will only happen if more than one of the drivers ahead in points has a disastrous race. He must win to get in the Chase.

We’re in a tough spot still because we need maximum points every week and we also need a win to secure our spot in the Chase, but we’ve had pretty fast cars and the team has been doing a much better job,” Kahne said. “I think all of us communicating and working together, it’s been better for the last month, month-and-a-half than what it was earlier in the season. We just have to do the same thing, but we need to max our points each weekend and go for wins. Hopefully between one of those we can work our way in.

Kahne’s driver’s rating of 86 at Atlanta Motor Speedway isn’t the best but he does have two wins there.

As Kasey Kahne said they are in a tough spot. In reality based on past performance they have not been able to put two great races together this year. No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet SS team has a big hill to climb but it isn’t out of the question.

The second to last race to the Chase will be at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday, August 31st. If you cannot get to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Oral-B USA 500 it will be broadcast on ESPN starting at 7:30 PM ET.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 289672 Sean Gardner/Getty Images

Chase Bubble Watch with Two Races to Go

There are two races left in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series before the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins.

Twelve drivers have locked themselves into the Chase field by winning a race. There will be two spots for the Chase that will go to the two drivers highest in points who have not won a race. There are two other spots left for a driver who wins one of the next two races that has not won a race yet. If no new driver wins a race then those two spots go to the next two drivers highest in points.

The race to the Chase and the scenarios on who can or will make the Chase can appear confusing or complicated. In an attempt to simplify it, here are some general ways to watch the next two races in order to be able to stay in the game without a calculator.

First off, Matt Kenseth leads all drivers in points by 41. That is just about one complete race. He will get one of those guaranteed spots that will make the Chase via points, unless there is complete disaster and major carnage plus a mediocre race.

The second group of drivers to watch, in order of points, is Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle. These drivers are quite simply racing each other for the second guaranteed spot in the Chase via points. They are also racing one another in case no new driver wins a race. They may have to race to win or race for points. This group of drivers is about 30 points from the third group of drivers. One mediocre race puts them down in their group.

The third group of drivers is, in order of points, Kyle Larson, Kasey Kahne, and Austin Dillon. These drivers cannot make the Chase unless they win a race or they race well and one of the second group of drivers falters, in which case they could get in by points.

The fourth and final group of drivers simply has only one chance to make the Chase. They absolutely must win a race. These drivers are 20th to 30th in points. See the chart below.

There you have it. You don’t need a score card; just follow the groups of drivers. If any of them win a race, they are in. The next two races will be nail biters.

The second to last race to the Chase will be at Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday, August 31st. If you cannot get to Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Oral-B USA 500 it will be broadcast on ESPN starting at 7:30 PM ET.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 289764 Sean Gardner/Getty Images for NASCAR

Credit NASCAR Media
Credit NASCAR Media

Race to Win or Race for Points to Make the Chase?

There are three races to go and four spots in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup open and available. There has never been a “Go Time” like this at the end of the regular season in NASCAR.

Right now there are four drivers who will be in the Chase by points. They are, in order of points, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and Greg Biffle. Since there are three races left and four spots, at least one driver will make the Chase for the Sprint Cup by points.

If any driver who has not won yet wins a race, they will make the Chase. They would also take one of those four spots away from those trying to get in by points. If you are any of the four drivers above do you race for maximum points? Do you really have to win a race? Is this as nerve racking as it would appear?

In reality, anything can happen. The way the top seven drivers have been racing, we really could have three winners who have won previously such that racing by points would be acceptable to make the Chase. To add to that, the odds are good that one or more of those drivers on the points bubble is also the driver most likely to get a race win in the next three.

What are the statistics for those drivers not locked in for the next three races? How do they compare with one another? Who is most likely to either win or gain maximum points to make the Chase?

Driver Bristol Atlanta Richmond Weighted Rank Current Points
Matt Kenseth 102.7 96.5 85.7 29 709
Greg Biffle 93.7 91.3 81.5 26 660
Kasey Kahne 88.9 86 87.6 25 651
Kyle Larson * 104.5 90 66.1 24 636
Clint Bowyer 82 84.8 98.7 24 672
Ryan Newman 86 74.1 92 22 679
Jamie McMurray 76.3 73.7 74.8 14 596
Marcos Ambrose 80.7 68.1 70.1 13 616
Brian Vickers 69.4 81.1 65.9 11 598
Paul Menard 72.6 63.6 58.8 6 614
Austin Dillon 67.4 67.3 54.9 4 638

* Note Kyle Larson has no rating for Atlanta. His rating was estimated via his rating at Texas Motor Speedway

In the table each drivers rating for each of the next three tracks was entered and then weighted relative to one another. If they had the highest rating they received an 11; the lowest a 1. These ranking were then simply added together to get the weighted score.

Though the chart itself will not predict who makes the Chase—since any driver could pull off a single win—it does point to the drivers who have a better chance than others.

First off, Matt Kenseth is leading these drivers in points by 49—or one full race. He also is at the top of the Chart. Of all the drivers, he has the best chance of being able to point’s race and get into the Chase.

It is apparent by the rankings that Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Kyle Larson, Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman are racing themselves for whatever spot is available by points. The leader board for that race is currently Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson. Note there are only two points between Dillon and Larson due to Larson’s unfortunate crash and fire at Michigan.

The chart also shows that of those drivers the ones who have the best chance of pulling off a win are the same six drivers that are racing for points.

The next three races are going to be exciting. Some of those drivers in the Chart above will be points racing and others will be racing for the win. Since they are racing one another that strategy may even change throughout the race depending on what is happening. Either way, put seat belts on your chair because it’s going to be one wild ride to the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 289529 John Harrelson/Getty Images

Tony Stewart Has a Big Hill to Climb

It has been the talk of the media and social media since late last Saturday Night August 9th. Tony Stewart was in an accident that caused the death of fellow Sprint Car racer Kevin Ward Jr. Read about the incident here from Dustin Long at MRN: Driver Killed In Incident With Stewart. I have been reluctant to write about it because it is so tragic. My prayers go out to Kevin Ward Jr. and his family. They also go out to Tony Stewart. Watching this get reported and talked about in all media has been very painful for me.

First and foremost I am not a journalist; I am a NASCAR and racing fan who has gone on to write about it. What has gone on in the mainstream media scares me. It has been totally irresponsible. No matter what you think about Tony Stewart, in America you are innocent until proven guilty. As of this writing, there are no charges against Stewart and none pending. The local investigators stated it will take two weeks until they are done with their investigation.

Innocent until proven guilty! Here are some article titles: “Tony Stewart struck, killed driver in sprint car.” Fox Sports. “Tony Stewart Hits, Kills Out-Of-Car Racer” CBS. Though these titles are technically accurate, they lead the reader somewhere that may or not be true. They read like he purposely did this. There are many more even more salacious and wrong titles out there.

Here is an attempt to be more accurate: “NASCAR’s Tony Stewart allegedly hits, kills driver at dirt-track race in New York” CNN. Well he didn’t allegedly hit him, I saw it on TV. I liked Dustin Long’s title; it was the most accurate of them all.

I don’t want to be the one calling this out. I know some of these media people, but I live in the internet. That is what I do. These titles live on for eternity. One has to get the reader, via the search engines in 70 characters or less. Google Tony Stewart Murder, it’s awful even though he hasn’t been charged with a crime.

I know a truck driver who witnessed a kid who lost control of his bike and was run over by another truck. It is just as tragic as what happened at Canandaigua Motorsports Park. When that story was reported, the title wasn’t “Enter Name Here Struck, Killed Kid on Bike”; only for the title to live on the internet in perpetuity for the poor truck driver regardless of what the investigation proves or does not. Why is Tony Stewart different?

I have purposely refrained from reporting on and commentating on the accident between Tony Stewart and Kevin Ward Jr. I wasn’t there. I only saw a video on ESPN. Every time I tried to write about the subject it was impossible for me to not get sucked into the abyss of speculation and conjecture. Jerry Bonkowski laid it out better than I ever could in his article “Don’t be too quick to judge Tony Stewart, let the experts do their jobs.

Unfortunately even if the investigation comes out that it was simply an accident that may have been preventable, the damage to Tony Stewart and his career is done. Hopefully something good can come out of this but right now it doesn’t look that way. To me as a super race fan it is truly horrible. We just might lose one of the best drivers of all time over this.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 297144 Patrick Smith/NASCAR via Getty Images

 

Roush Fenway Racing Gets the Elephant Out of the Room

Last week, just before the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis—the second biggest race on the NASCAR schedule—Roush Fenway Racing announced its driver line up for 2015. Carl Edwards will not be a part of that driver line up, but Greg Biffle will be back. The other drivers will be Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne.

At the time and several days later the timing of the announcement was questioned. With a little over two hours before the race, it was a time when prerace appearances were starting and a time when prerace sponsors’ parties were starting. Not really an opportune time to announce a top driver leaving an organization, or was it?

Carl Edwards has won a race and will most likely be in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Greg Biffle has not won a race and he is not in the top 16 in points to make the Chase. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Roush Fenway’s third driver, is similarly out. They have been struggling as a three car team. If something doesn’t change, Edwards will not win the Championship and the others will have no way of making the Chase.

We can imagine that plans must be made so that the team not only succeeds this season, but next season as well. It can be imagined that at those parties in Indianapolis, people would be asking: what will happen next year?  When putting that context into it, it is surprising that Jack Roush didn’t make an announcement earlier.

Just this week another team made a similar early announcement in order to keep their program going in the right direction. It has been known for some time that Dale Earnhardt Jr. will be losing his crew chief Steve Letarte at the end of the season. What has not been known is who would replace him, in this case Greg Ives. Dale Earnhardt Jr. summed it up best. ”I just didn’t want to have to sit there in limbo.  I don’t like being in limbo about nothing and having any kind of stuff up in the air.”

Those same thoughts had to be running around the whole team at Roush Fenway Racing.

The only hope Roush Fenway has for this season and making next season stronger was to usher the elephant out of the room and move on. This elephant was only going to get exponentially bigger each week until the race at Richmond. This is a distraction that is not good for race teams working hard to get better and win a Championship.

Now that elephant is on Joe Gibbs Racing’s back. Jack Roush is a pretty smart guy.

Brian Berg Jr. is a NASCAR writer for BehindPitRow.com.

Feature Photo Credit: 300250 Elsa/Getty Images