Friday 5: Matt Kenseth’s return is only the beginning for Roush Fenway Racing
Matt Kenseth’s return to Cup today at Kansas Speedway is a feel-good story his fans hope will continue throughout the season.
But let’s get one thing clear.
He won’t be any type of savior for Roush Fenway Racing. Kenseth can help make the team stronger but it will be up to every person in the organization to make that happen. This is not a one-person job.
“Probably as much as anything I’m as excited about Matt interacting with us about is what’s most important on the car because there’s 100 things that go on behind the steering wheel — from conditions of how the car is handling to how they react in traffic to all the stuff that goes on on pit road,’’ Tommy Wheeler, operations director at Roush Fenway Racing, said April 25 after the announcement of Kenseth’s return.
“We have enough resources to fix any number of things, but what is very difficult to discern with a young driver lineup like we have is what is most important. What is going to be the most impactful today to make the car faster?’’
Kenseth will be in the car for the next five weeks, including three events in a row at a 1.5-mile track (Kansas, All-Star Race at Charlotte and Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte). The team has stated it needs to be better at such tracks. Kenseth’s input will be valuable.
Wheeler knows what Kenseth can provide. Wheeler joined Roush in 2010 as an engineering manager and saw the impact Kenseth had then.
“His feedback of telling us what direction to go with the race cars of ‘Hey if you fix this, I will run faster,’ that direct link and having the credentials and the ability to back that up can’t be overstated,’’ Wheeler said.
Anything that Kenseth can state and the team can adjust could help Ricky Stenhouse Jr. make the playoffs for a second year in a row.
Stenhouse enters this weekend two points behind Chase Elliott for what would be the final playoff spot at this time. With 15 races left until the playoffs begin, there is time to move into a playoff spot but the competition won’t be easy.
Stenhouse trails a Hendrick Motorsports driver for that last playoff spot and is just ahead of a Joe Gibbs Racing driver (Daniel Suarez) and another Hendrick driver (William Byron) in the points.
2. NASCAR is watching you …
Since teams were informed before Bristol that NASCAR would call uncontrolled tire penalties more closely, such penalties have increased significantly.
NASCAR has called 18 uncontrolled tire penalties in the last four Cup races — more than double the number of those penalties called in the first seven races.
The change happened after NASCAR admitted it should have penalized Kevin Harvick’s team for an uncontrolled tire on a late pit stop at Texas. Instead, Harvick went on to finish second in that race.
Kyle Larson’s pit crew has been penalized for an uncontrolled tire twice in the last four races. So has Matt DiBenedetto’s team and AJ Allmendinger’s team.
NASCAR called six uncontrolled tire penalties at both Bristol and Richmond. There were five last weekend at Dover.
3. Youth tryout
NASCAR announced this week the formation of a youth esports racing series catered to “attract and identify young talent.’’
This column brought up the topic in February but focused more on what a manufacturer or team could do to gauge the ability of youngsters. Such a program would give those who begin racing at an early age a way to display their talent who wouldn’t be able to otherwise for whatever reason. William Byron didn’t race a car until he was 15 years old. Five years later, he’s with one of the sport’s top teams in Hendrick Motorsports.
Said Jack Irving, director of team and support services for Toyota Racing Development, on finding talented youngsters through sim racing: “That is something that is of interest and something we’ve spent some time on.’’
4. Working hard
On Thursday’s NASCAR America, Parker Kligerman noted that while testing Wednesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway for Gaunt Brothers Racing — the team he will drive for in the Coca-Cola 600 — he shared the track with manufacturers doing a wheel-force test.
Wheel-force testing can be mundane and time-consuming. But Kligerman noted that the Chevrolet wheel-force car was driven by Jimmie Johnson. Kligerman said that Johnson told him that no one was going to outwork him as he seeks to return to winning races for Hendrick Motorsports.
5. To the front
Stewart-Haas Racing has had at least one of its cars finish in the top three in seven of the first 11 races this season. SHR took the top two spots last weekend with Kevin Harvick winning at Dover and Clint Bowyer placing second.
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