News & Media

Notebook: Kenseth taking the Chase 'one race at a time'

September 23, 2011, Dave Rodman,

Notebook: Fan events, hanging with loggers, time with Juan and other tidbits

Matt Kenseth took a beating in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings last weekend at Chicagoland Speedway after losing a fuel mileage derby and being penalized for receiving assistance on the last lap, which knocked him to 10th in the standings, 24 points behind leader Kevin Harvick.

Kenseth, who once scored seven consecutive top-10 Cup finishes at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, the site of this weekend's race, has struggled at the flat-mile oval since NASCAR went to the new car in 2007. Since then, his best finish is 17th.

"So many things can happen in 10 races."


By no means is he giving up on potentially winning his second Cup championship -- and he shouldn't.

"It depends what the other 11 guys do -- it really does," Kenseth said. "You don't know. We are all going to talk about it a lot right now because we have to -- but 10 [Chase] races is a lot of races, almost a third of a season."

Kenseth predicted "so many things can happen in 10 races," and obviously, he was badly stricken in the Chase opener. But again, he has plenty of hope moving forward.

"I don't think one race is always make or break," Kenseth said. "I think you will have to be pretty good at all of them, but you have to do good all season to be in the Chase and be toward the front. I don't know. You just take it one race at a time, I think."

Video: Kenseth's 2011 Chase highlights

Burton logs on

Richard Childress Racing driver Jeff Burton -- who earned a bit of New Hampshire Motor Speedway notoriety in 1997 when he led all 300 laps in the track's mid-summer Cup race -- is scheduled to meet with the Pelletier family, stars of the Discovery Channel's American Loggers this weekend at NHMS. The family will be at the track as guests of Burton's team sponsor, Caterpillar. American Loggers is a reality television show that tells the story of the Pelletier brothers as they carry on the family tradition of harvesting the timber resources of the vast forests of Northern Maine.

Stewart's time?

After failing to win a race in the regular season, former two-time Cup champion Tony Stewart scored a thrilling season-first victory last weekend at Chicagoland, which gave him a win in his 13th consecutive season.

If Stewart is able to win two-in-a-row in the Chase -- and don't forget, he was leading this upcoming event a year ago coming to the white flag when he ran out of fuel -- he might be difficult to overcome for the championship, no matter how good five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson has been in the Chase.

Perhaps there isn't a better facility for Stewart to try for the mark than at New Hampshire, where he's posted more top-five finishes -- 13 -- than at any other race track in the Chase. The flat corners and old pavement certainly suit his driving style.

Who will win it all?

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No bull, Childress sets fan event

The only thing that would be better is if there was a minor league baseball game happening on Sept. 28 at BB&T Ballpark in Winston-Salem, N.C., when Richard Childress Racing and The Professional Bull Riders team up for their Race or Ride Fan Day.

The Race or Ride fan event is open to the public. General admission for adults is $5, children 11-17 is $3 and children 10 and under enter free. Admission includes rides in the Kids Zone, games and on-field activities with RCR race crew members. RCR drivers and PBR riders are scheduled to sign autographs at the event.

Tickets can be purchased at for the group autograph signings, but are limited to 100 per session. Food and beverages will be available for purchase, including access to the hospitality tent for $15. Proceeds from Race or Ride will benefit the Childress Institute for Pediatric Trauma and the Rider Relief Fund.

Slugger Modifies his work ethic

As a New England native Richard Childress Racing crew chief Slugger Labbe certainly knew a lot about the NASCAR Modified division -- but growing up around the Busch North Series, where his dad worked on full-bodied stock cars, didn't give the younger Labbe much chance to work on the lightweight, high-horsepower open-wheel stock cars.

This weekend at New Hampshire, following Saturday's final Sprint Cup practice session, Labbe will doff his headset and don his work gloves to help GP Racing in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series as they look to return Cup veteran and Chase competitor Ryan Newman to Victory Lane behind the wheel of the No. 77NY Menards entry in the New Hampshire 100.

In 2010, Newman claimed two pole positions and won all three of the NWMT events that he entered, including a sweep of the two races held at NHMS. He returned to NHMS in July and claimed the victory, but was disqualified following post-race inspection. He also entered the NWMT event at Bristol Motor Speedway in August where he defended his title, starting fourth and finishing first.

As part of the penalty incurred in July, team co-owner Bono Manion was suspended from Modified Series action, so Labbe's pitching in to help co-owner Gary Putnam, who's Jamie McMurray's Sprint Cup car chief, beginning with Thursday's practice and qualifying sessions.

Never assume

People are always trying to zero-in on Chase favorites and who is in- and out-of-contention too early in the game. Newman put that in perspective after his owner and teammate, Stewart, conserved enough fuel to win last weekend at Chicagoland -- although it wasn't a fuel mileage gift. Stewart was plenty strong all day. But still, Newman wasn't giving his boss the farm.

New Hampshire

Our experts pick the studs and duds for this week.

"I don't think it necessarily shows who is strong -- it shows who is strong at Chicago," Newman said. "Who would have thought after Jeff Gordon won at Atlanta, a mile-and-a-half race track, [that Gordon] goes to another one; he gets lapped and has a poor finish. It doesn't show you that it can happen each and every week or each and every mile-and-a-half race track.

"You can't just assume, that because there are all those cookie cutter-style race tracks, that it's going to be like that. The strategy can change. Just as we saw the strategy change to a non-fuel mileage race to a fuel mileage race on that last run [at Chicagoland], everybody peel off for gas and try to stretch it out.

"We usually see guys wait for that caution, come in, put tires on -- a couple guys try to stretch it on fuel as Brad Keselowski did the first Kansas race. It's different each and every week -- different based on tires, strategies, the number of cars on the lead lap and nobody can predetermine what that is going to be."

Birds of a feather ...

In their third season working together, Newman and Stewart-Haas Racing crew chief Tony Gibson are thriving, comfortably qualifying for their second Chase in three years and threatening to score a top-five finish at Chicagoland before fuel mileage reared its sometimes ugly head. Newman and Gibson are both ardent outdoorsmen and that's a good start for their relationship, the driver said this week on the eve of going to New Hampshire, where he won the 2005 Chase race.

"We have a lot of fun," Newman said. "We have a lot of things in common away from the race track, which gives us something to talk about when we're not talking about springs, shocks and sway bars. At the same time we have a good relationship on the race track."

Gibson has been in some high-pressure roles as a crew chief -- such as when he took over for Dale Earnhardt Jr. after serving as his car chief. But it's put Gibson, a second-generation racer and native of Daytona Beach, Fla., in position to excel now, Newman said.

"I think he's a great team leader," Newman said. "That's one of the things I looked for when I was looking to make this transition to Stewart-Haas Racing. He's a good team leader. What he does with the race engineer -- all the guys -- was really good. I saw that beforehand. He was fortunate enough to bring those guys over. That's been a big piece of our success.

"I also want to commend all our guys for being such good mechanics and having a race car that's there for me each and every lap, each and every race. It's something a lot of teams lack."

Juan time at Homestead?

Juan Montoya fans who plan to attend the season finale Ford 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway can take advantage of the Race Day with Juan ticket package. The package, which fans can purchase for $142, will include a ticket to the 36th event of the Cup season, located in Turn 1, rows 11-21; a private pre-race meet-and-greet with Montoya in the infield Driver's Meeting Room; pre-race access to the frontstretch area near the starting grid for photos, autographs and question and answer sessions; a No. 42 Target commemorative lanyard and credential holder; and a $42 donation to Juan and Connie Montoya's Formula Smiles Foundation.

For more information visit

Victory Junction has a winner

Earlier this month the Victory Junction Gang Camp held its inaugural Team Camp Challenge Ride sponsored by Aetna. Participants spent Sept. 10 cycling through the scenic hills of North Carolina, and in the end helped raise $80,000 for children with chronic medical conditions through participant fund-raising and event sponsors including Aetna, the Dale Jr. Foundation, Wal-Mart and Krispy Kreme. The camp said the funds raised that will allow Victory Junction to provide life-changing camping experiences to more than 30 children.

Approximately 75 cyclists from North Carolina, South Carolina and Virginia participated in the first-time event, which provided several long-time supporters of camp their first opportunity to personally experience Victory Junction.

Smoke, Junior from cellar to upper floors

Go figure. Two of NASCAR's most talked about and most thought about drivers, Stewart and DaleEarnhardt Jr. -- entered the Chase with little discussion, nearly afterthoughts after a somewhat under-performing regular season in which neither won a race.

And now, after the Chase opener at Chicagoland, both seem like legitimate championship threats as they sit second and fifth in the championship, respectively.

Stewart had never won the opening Chase race, but good starts are his norm. In four of the previous seven Chases, Stewart finished in the top 10, and in three, he finished in the top three -- including two runner-ups, one in 2005, his second championship season. Stewart owns a series-best pre-race Driver Rating of 114.0 at NHMS, has two wins and runner-up finishes in two of the last three NHMS races.

Before last weekend, Earnhardt Jr.'s last top-five finish came in early June and entering the Chase, seven of his previous nine finishes were outside the top 20; so his third-place finish at Chicagoland surprised many. It was his best finish in a Chase race since a runner-up at Martinsville in 2008. As far as Chase openers go, it was his best finish since 2004, when he also started with a third-place finish. He finished that season fifth in points.

It's too bad New Hampshire is one of his weakest tracks in the Chase.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer