Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Fast Facts: 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Champion Martin Truex Jr.

2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champ
Martin Truex Jr.
credit: Getty Images/Jared C. Tilton
Martin Truex Jr., driver of the No. 78 Toyota Camry for Furniture Row Racing, is living the dream as the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champ. Learn more about this New Jersey native in this week’s championship edition of Fast Facts.
  • Martin Lee Truex Jr. was born June 29, 1980 in Trenton, NJ and grew up in Mayetta, NJ in the Stafford Township. His father was a former race winner in the Busch Grand National North Series (now the K&N Pro Series East) who also owned a seafood business in Mayetta. Truex Jr.’s younger brother Ryan is a two-time K&N Pro Series East champ who currently races in the Camping World Truck Series for Hattori Racing Enterprises.
  • Truex Jr. started racing go-karts at age 11, then progressed to Modifieds at age 18 at the famed Wall Stadium Speedway in New Jersey. In 2000, Truex Jr. moved up to the Busch North Series, winning five races in four seasons with his family-owned team. In 2003, he was approached by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who at the time operated Chance 2 Motorsports in cooperation with Dale Earnhardt Inc.; Truex Jr. competed in 10 Busch Series (now Xfinity Series) races that season – six for Chance 2/DEI, three for the family team and one for Stanton Barrett – before going full-time with Chance 2 in 2004. In 2004, Truex Jr. won six times and captured seven poles on his way to his first Busch Series title, then matched that in 2005 with another title, six more wins and three poles.
  • In 2006, Truex Jr. moved up to the Nextel Cup (now Monster Energy NASCAR Cup) Series full-time with DEI after having made nine starts in 2004 and 2005 for the team. He earned his first career win at Dover International Speedway and made the Chase for the Cup for the first time.
  • In 2010, Truex Jr. left Earnhardt Ganassi Racing (formerly DEI) to drive for Michael Waltrip Racing, where he raced until the end of the 2013 season. For the 2014 season, he joined Furniture Row Racing in the No. 78, and in 2015 snapped a 69-race winless streak with a popular victory at Pocono Raceway; he went on to finish fourth in points that year.
  • In 2016, Truex Jr. earned four wins, 17 top 10 finishes and five poles, once again qualifying for the Chase, but a blown engine early in the day at Talladega in October knocked him out of the hunt for the championship. He made up for it in 2017, winning eight times, collecting 26 top 10s and three poles, and winning the “regular season” championship along with the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup.
  • In 2007, Truex Jr. and his girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, created the Martin Truex Jr. Foundation, which works to support underfunded cancer initiatives specific to ovarian and childhood cancers, and assist the individuals and families affected by them. In 2014, Pollex was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and has since shared her story and others at www.sherrystrong.org.
  • Find out more about Truex Jr. at www.shopmartintruexjr.com, and learn more about his foundation at www.martintruexjrfoundation.org


Monday, November 20, 2017

Dear Matt Kenseth: An Open Letter to a Champion



Dear Matt,

Yesterday, I sat in the stands and watched you cross the start/finish line for what may very well be your last time in NASCAR's premier series. I cried. I wish I could have heard you thank the team, and everyone involved in your career over the scanner, but I know I wouldn't have been able to see through the tears.

The funny thing is, I still couldn't see through them. I cried a few times. I didn't need a scanner to convey to me what I knew you'd be saying to the team.

As I stood for the anthem and looked up and down pit row, I saw legions of people surrounding the No. 88 of Dale Earnhardt Jr., then looked to your pit stall. (You know you're easy to find on pit road, right? Just look for one of three spaces: the first stall on pit-in, the last one before the entrance to the garage, or if you have the pole, the last spot before pit-out.) The faithful stood by you, just as we always have. Kenseth Nation is still very much alive, and we plan on being there forever.

You got a raw deal.

There's no other way to say it. How is it that a championship-winning driver who's still very competitive gets pushed out of the sport he's dedicated his whole life to, while a young driver with not-nearly-enough experience gets to take over a high-profile ride? How is it that no car owner has room, and no marketing team can secure you sponsors?

Your talents are not limited to one type of track. You drive the car from the back to the front in record time because, as you've said in the past, you're just not great at qualifying. You accumulated so many points in 2003 that NASCAR had to reformat the way the Championship was won. You have two Daytona 500 wins under your belt, and 37 other wins to go along with them. You're kind, humble and a leader in the garage.

NASCAR will never be the same.

I know three drivers walked away tonight, but you deserved more accolades than you received. That's your nature though. You're never one to want the spotlight, never one to want the parades and showers of gifts. You came to race. You wanted to the focus to remain on racing until there was nothing left to race for but that one last win, which you claimed in Phoenix. Would you have wanted a tribute video? Probably not. Did you deserve a tribute video? Yes.

I came into NASCAR as a Jr. fan, but came upon a documentary called "Matt Kenseth: Beyond the Glory," on my local Fox Sports affiliate about 13 years ago. I was really into racing, so I watched it, and was fascinated by your drive to succeed, while remaining a shy, humble guy from Cambridge, Wisc. I listened to the story of how you and your father came to an agreement on the purchase of your first car, and how you worked on it all the time, and then late model after late model, just trying to make a name for yourself. A notice from Mark Martin and driving for Robbie Reiser made your jump to the next level possible, and DeWalt came along for the ride (but not before their VP of Marketing took a spill onto the floor of Robbie Reiser's office after his chair broke). Thank you, DeWalt for taking this journey.

Kids want to be race car drivers because they saw Matt Kenseth: a guy who never gives up, no matter how his day is going, and a guy who races everyone clean, and (usually) gets the same respect in return. "The incident" has been beaten to death, but you stood your ground, because you had been wronged. That day, you were the bat.

I can't tell you how awkward it will be not seeing you in a car next season. My heart hurts for you. But, as I wrote in an old blog right after you announced that you'd be leaving Roush Fenway Racing for Joe Gibbs Racing, I picture you taking Katie's hand, surrounded by your girls, and walking off into the sunset. Life awaits you, a new baby awaits you. Normalcy awaits you. 

But maybe you weren't ready to be normal.

I know I wasn't ready.

Thank you for making me a passionate fan. Thank you for giving me hope, inspiration and the knowledge that anything is possible, if it's what you want.

NASCAR may not know what they'll be missing without your leadership and guidance on the track next year, but I know, and it speaks volumes.

#ThanksKenseth

Sincerely,
Stephanie Stuart Landrey
--------------------

Winner Took All - Martin Truex Jr.'s Victory at Homestead Nets MENCS Championship

credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images
by Lisa Janine Cloud

Sometimes nice guys do finish first.

Martin Truex Jr., widely acknowledged as one of the nicest guys in NASCAR, held off a relentless Kyle Busch to win both the Ford Ecoboost 400 and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Championship Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The win was his eighth in a season in which he more than doubled his career total, and finished in the top 10 in 26 of 36 races, 19 of those in the top five. He more than earned the respect he'd been seeking for several years.

Championship contender Kevin Harvick finished fourth behind Kyle Larson, who was eliminated from playoff contention going into the Round of 8. Chase Elliott came home fifth, one of the 10 top-12 finishers who were in the original 16 playoff contenders.

Truex became one of just 32 drivers to hold the title of Cup Champion and the first to win under Monster Energy’s reign. He’ll be able to bookend the trophy with a pair of Busch Series championships, one of only five drivers to also win both a Cup championship and what’s now the Xfinity Series championship. Bobby Labonte, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski each scored one championship in the lower-tier series.

Larson led the most laps with 145 and won the first two stages, but as the sun went down, the No. 78 team found a way to get their car out front when it counted. Truex and Busch traded the lead over the final 100-plus laps of the race, with Truex leading, appropriately enough, 78 laps total.

credit: Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs
“You know, all day long, we didn't have the car where we needed it, to be honest with you. You know, we were probably third best out of the four for the most part for a while, and just kept clawing and scratching. I just kept trying to get everything I could out of it and giving them the info, giving Cole and the guys the info that I needed, the adjustments I needed, what I needed the car to do different [sic]. We really weren't making a lot of ground on it. I felt like we just missed it a little bit. But we stayed positive,” Truex explained.

“We kept working, and Cole had some pit strategy, got us the lead, and then once he got me the lead, I was like, okay, now it's all up to me now. There's no one in the world that I want to let down less than them. I was like, I can't ‑‑ I've got to hold the lead no matter what happens. This is it. This is my opportunity. They gave me the lead, and I've got to find a way to get it done.”

The challenges Truex and the team have faced, both personally and professionally, gave them the experience they needed to get in position and gave Truex the reserves on which to draw when the championship was on the line.

“I found a way to ‑‑ I just found a line that worked for my car with 20 laps to go that I couldn't find all day long. I had searched for it all day, could never find it, then all of a sudden with 20 to go, I found it. Not only did it help my car but it hurt Kyle's car, the 18. He got to second, and when he did, he was three, four tenths faster than I was before I found the line, and that was the difference.” Truex said.

“Just found it when I needed it. The timing was right, and we made it happen.”
credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images

Dale Earnhardt Jr., who ran his last race as a full-time Cup driver Sunday, visited his former DEI teammate in Victory Lane. Truex gave Earnhardt a great deal of credit for his success.

"Dale gave me my opportunity to move to North Carolina, to race cars for a living. You know, I wouldn't be here today without him. My path would surely be different. I wouldn't have won two XFINITY championships right out of the gate. There's a lot of things that would be different if it wasn't for Dale, and just the friend he's been over the years, the mentor that he's been to me over the years, it's been amazing."

Sunday's victory overwhelmed Truex, who as recently as the end of the 2013 season wasn’t sure he’d race again. He only had two career wins in eight full-time seasons at that point and had lived through some of the sport’s murkiest days. At the AAA Texas 500 in November 2013, he announced his deal with Furniture Row Racing and began the climb to the championship.

In 2014, his longtime girlfriend Sherry Pollex, his biggest cheerleader, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, making that season a rough one indeed.

“I don't know how to explain it other than I was surrounded by a lot of good people. That's all I can tell you,” Truex said. “You know, that Sunday night [in 2013] when I found out after Richmond that NAPA was leaving, that I was losing my sponsor and that my contract would be gone, I truly didn't know if I would ever race competitively in the Cup Series again. I didn't know if I'd ever have a chance at winning. Hell, I didn't even know if I'd have a chance of driving, period. So Sherry said, 'Don't worry, it's going to be fine, things happen for a reason.' I was like, yeah, whatever, you're damned crazy.”

“But that's true ‑‑ truer words have never been spoken. That's how it was,” he said.

“A few days later, I heard from Joe Garone from Furniture Row Racing, said, 'Hey, we think Kurt is leaving, we're going to blah blah blah blah blah.' You know, from those days until now, I don't know. I mean, I've always thought about it the same way. I love to race cars. I knew it was a privilege to race cars. I always gave it all I had no matter what, and I loved going to the track and working with a team to try to get somewhere. But this year definitely felt different. I feel like before we ever started this year, we knew we had this in us because we talked about it. We were like, 'Let's go get that championship; we can do it.'”

Pollex reinforced that attitude. She told NBC post-race, "We always say, if you can fight a struggle with a positive attitude and just have a smile on your face and find the good and the silver lining in everything, in the end you'll come out, and karma will pay you back and good things will happen to you."  .



Right Sides Only: Notes from the 2017 Champion Crew Chief, Cole Pearn

by Stacey Owens

Sometimes, the best answer to a question is a simple, "I don't know." In describing his emotions after winning his first championship as crew chief for the No. 78 Furniture Row team, Cole Pearn gave a simple answer.

"I don't know. Still in disbelief, I guess. I don't know, I can't believe it. Yeah, I don't know, we really tried to focus on being good once it turned nighttime, and I don't know, I was really trying there because a lot of those other guys were a little bit better during the day, and we kept pace, we weren't as good by any means, especially not on the long run, and we kept in the top 5, kept in position, and the pit crew was amazing all night, never once faltered. We just continued to adjust on it. We knew kind of when the track cooled down where we needed to be, and then, I don't know, we weren't going to beat the 18. There was no way. I knew kind of they were going to go on that one stop, so we decided to go to the two-stop strategy to try to provide opportunity to at least do something different, and we were fortunate enough to catch a caution that we didn't even need to come down, just straight speed, and really those last 30 laps, that's Martin.
            
"For anybody that doesn't believe that he's a champion, he's -- I don't know, that was one of the best drives I've seen. We didn't have the best car by any means, and he found a spot on the track to be able to make it work and outran the best car, and the best car was Kyle Busch," said Pearn.

There comes a time in every race--but especially during the final race of the season--that a crew chief knows he's done all he can do for his driver, and the outcome of the race is out of his hands. For Pearn that moment came in the closing laps after the last pit stop of the afternoon.

"I think for me I probably had more tension with like 15 to go because the 18 was coming, and I wasn't sure where we were going to find the grip to be able to beat him [Kyle Busch]. Once Martin started finding a groove that was working for him and when he started to pull away at times a little bit from him, all I did was continue to watch where we were running, continue to watch where Kyle was running and try and find the lane that was -- at least give the feedback to Martin on what lane was working the best. Really, I think that need to be attentive was a calming factor in a way. I still felt surprisingly calm and surprisingly at peace as we approached those last few laps, and I think really when we got down with a couple to go, just started thinking about everything we've been through and started to let it kind of soak in or pour in on you, I guess, in a way, and just was really in disbelief that we were able to do it," Pearn explained.

The driver/crew chief bond is special. The pair know each other well and can anticipate the other is thinking. As well as Pearn knows Truex, did he know his driver had the ability to pull out all the stops in the waning laps?

"I don't know. I continue to believe every day that his talent level, and a lot of times we get a lot of credit as a team because maybe in his career he didn't have the success he's had since we've been together. I think that bodes for us getting a lot of the praise. I really -- he's a champion. You know, I think for me, one of the most clutch wins for the year was Charlotte when we were able to win and pull that off when maybe we weren't our best, either, and I didn't know that we had another performance like that in the bag, and somehow we found it. This is by no means or strongest track by any means. We hadn't had it Kansas or at Charlotte. We'd have worn him out. But this was not an easy one for us, and really he put it on his shoulders there because we were out of ideas. We were doing everything we could, and we made the best calls we could. I can't take away from that. But at the same time, he put it on his shoulders and made it happen," Pearn explained.
Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs

In those last few laps, Truex had a driver he certainly didn't want to see in his rearview mirror. How nerve-wracking is that for a crew chief who can't fix that situation?

"Oh, absolutely, yeah. I was worried for sure. I knew they were coming, and I knew how good they were on the long run all night, and he was starting to find his groove and find his speed. They're an unbelievable team, unbelievable competitors. The fact that Martin was able to find some speed and find a lane that was working for us, it was like, okay, well, we started to stretch it out. I just really tried to stay focused on what was working and just tried to stay focused on the task at hand. It was just eerily calm in a way. I think in a way I felt like we were probably -- high chance they were going to get us, and I think the fact when you realized that was quite possible, it allowed you to just calm down and we've got to fight tooth and nail for everything we can. I think that brought a lot of resolve and a lot of focus to what we needed to do, and I think -- I can't think of a better way to be a champion than to beat the other best team I can think of in those closing laps," Pearn said.

The team's quest for their first championship started early in the season. With the advent of stage racing, the No. 78 held a clinic for the rest of the field.

"I think early in the year, we were fortunate enough to be qualifying well and having good speed, and allowed us to win a lot of stages. I think really when the playoffs come, it's a product of everybody raising their game. There was a lot of races where maybe we weren't the best car early in races that we would have been early in the year, and I think that's kind of the difference.
           
"We had Chicago, we had a penalty, had a loose wheel; that really took us out of being able to win stages. Loudon we were going to run away with it, I think, and got crashed on the backstretch going to win the second stage there. Charlotte we sucked early in the race and really came through at the end. I think a lot of races we've faced a lot of adversity really early in races. It's maybe something that didn't happen early in the year. So I think that's just a difference in stage wins in the playoffs versus the regular season. It wasn't really any different strategy-wise, it was just kind of the way the races played out," Pearn said.  

The No. 78 team has experienced a lot of off-track heartache, so winning the championship is cathartic on many fronts. Not only has Martin Truex Jr.'s long-time girlfriend, Sherry Pollex, been valiantly battling ovarian cancer, but Pearn lost his best friend a few months ago. Pearn talked about how the win affected him.

"You know, it's a medicine at times, I guess. I was able to overcome kind of those last couple laps -- I don't know, I've got a hard time talking about it honestly.  I wish -- I lost my best friend, and I still think about him every day and every night. I don't know, I'm not sure.  It's pretty crazy to be able to win. You know, I just can't wait to get back home and see all my friends and family and be able to share this with them," Pearn said.

Pearn isn't kidding when he talks about taking time to spend with friends and family. Most championship crew chiefs visit the media center following the Homestead finale and tell the members of the press that they have no plans to celebrate because they want to get started on the next year as soon as possible. Pearn is an exception.

"We just won a championship in NASCAR; are you kidding me? I don't really give a crap what we do next week. (Laughter.)
           
"I don't know, I mean, we're going to enjoy it. I think -- I'm 35 years old and I've raced every year of my life since I was six years old and I spent every year of my life before that going to watch my dad at the racetrack. Barney [Visser] asked me on the way to work on Tuesday how long have I been doing this, and I had to add it up, and I never would have dreamt that this would have been possible, especially growing up where I did in Canada. That's kind of unheard of to break into a predominantly Southern sport and then to do it as a team in Colorado and win a championship, definitely going to take some time for reflection on that and think about what we've accomplished before we worry about 2018," Pearn explained.

He has, indeed, earned some time to reflect on his accomplishments before he concerns himself with next season. 

------------------------------------------


Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream every single weekend.
    The sole NASCAR enthusiast in her home, she's hopeful that one of her three daughters might also harbor an appreciation for NASCAR, but it isn't looking good so far.
    This self-admitted grammar nerd also loves country music, though she can't carry a tune; Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life; and her husband who's supportive of her NASCAR obsession and tunes in with her every week... even if it's just to watch the flyover.



  

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Trackin’ Trucks: Briscoe wins race, Bell wins championship at Homestead

Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs

by Courtney Horn

Two drivers celebrated in victory lane at Homestead-Miami Speedway Friday night. Christopher Bell hit his marks and rejoiced as the 2017 Camping World Truck Series champion, while Chase Briscoe was able to put a full race together to earn his first career victory.

Bell, who graduates to the Xfinity Series in 2018, lead 10 laps and won Stage 1 of the Ford EcoBoost 200. Bell clinched the championship by finishing second, 13 seconds ahead of fellow Playoff contender Johnny Sauter.

“You never know when your last win is, when your last championship is, so to be able to be standing here as a NASCAR champion is something I would say I dreamed of, but I didn’t ever think it was a possibility, so I didn’t ever really dream of it,” Bell said. “But it – I’m just really speechless.”

Along with the earning the driver’s championship, Kyle Busch Motorsports also clinched the owner’s championship for the fifth straight year.

Credit: Sarah Crabill

The majority of the Friday night race belonged to Chase Briscoe and Ben Rhodes. The drivers exchanged positions for the lead multiple times, but it was Briscoe who took home the checkers.

Briscoe also grabbed Rookie of the Year honors in his last race for Brad Keselowski Racing. The team is set to cease operations after nine years in the series.

“We brought a really good truck, first off,” Briscoe said, “For us to not be in the Playoffs and to be shutting down to still bring trucks that can win races and sit on the poles is a huge statement from the organization in general.”

“I got kinda shuffled on the restart. I didn’t do a good job on my end, fell back to fourth. I felt like we were pretty right there at the end because I started to catch everybody again, but really our pit crew was awesome tonight.”

Ryan Truex earned his eighth top-five of the year, finishing fourth to cap off a tremendous season.

Briscoe’s teammate, Austin Cindric, rounded out the top five.

Matt Crafton finished sixth, while Stewart Friesen, Grant Enfinger, Justin Haley, and Timothy Peters all finished inside the top-10.

The final 2017 NCWTS Standings:

Champion: Christopher Bell
Second: Johnny Sauter
Third: Austin Cindric
Fourth: Matt Crafton

Friday, November 17, 2017

TV Schedule: Nov. 17-19

Homestead-Miami Speedway. Credit: Photo by Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images
It all comes down to this. Three series, three champions.

NASCAR's playoffs will be determined at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Who will wield the trophy in the Monster Energy, XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series?

This will also be an emotional weekend for fans of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Matt Kenseth as the two celebrated drivers embark on their final Monster Energy race. The guard is changing as we enter a new era in NASCAR.

The following is a handy guide to track events and TV coverage at Homestead-Miami. All times are in Eastern Standard Time.

Friday, Nov. 17:
8:30 a.m. Camping World Truck Series practice, FS1
10 a.m. Camping World Truck Series final practice, FS1
12:30 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series practice, NBCSN
2:30 p.m. XFINITY Series practice, NBCSN
3:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Qualifying, FS1
5 p.m. XFINITY Series final practice, NBCSN
6 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Qualifying, NBCSN
7:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series SetUp, FS1
8 p.m. Camping World Truck Series: Ford EcoBoost 200 at Miami, FS1
10 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Post-Race Show, FS1

Saturday, Nov. 18:
6 a.m. Camping World Truck Series: Ford EcoBoost 200 (re-air), FS1
10 a.m. Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice, CNBC
11 a.m. XFINITY Series Qualifying, CNBC
1 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series final practice, NBCSN
3 p.m. XFINITY Series Countdown to Green, NBCSN
3:30 p.m. XFINITY Series: Ford EcoBoost 300 at Miami, NBCSN
6:30 p.m. XFINITY Series Post-Race Show, NBCSN

Sunday, Nov. 19:
11:30 a.m., NASCAR RaceDay: Miami, FS1
1:30 p.m. NASCAR America Sunday, NBC
2 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Countdown to Green, NBC
2:45 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series: Ford EcoBoost 400 at Miami, NBC
3 p.m., NASCAR Hot Pass, NBCSN
7 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Post-Race Show at Miami, NBCSN
8 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lap, NBCSN
9:30 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Caption This Winner for 11-11-17: Pam Rossman


Congratulations to Pam Rossmanwho contributed the winning caption for this photo of
John Hunter Nemechek and Matt Crafton.  

All winners who include their twitter handles with their entries will be entered in a drawing for the end-of-season prize package of racing swag. 

What I'm telling you, John Hunter, is
that I am one of those "real men"
-- so I wanna wear pink, too!

Thanks to everyone who played Caption This during the 2017 NASCAR season. We'll announce the winner of the prize package soon. Stay tuned! 
----------------------------------------------------   

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: Crowning the 2017 champion at Homestead



By Carol D'Agostino

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Kevin Harvick - 5
All with 4 - Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson
All with 3 - Joey Logano, Brad Keselowski and Clint Bowyer

By Track
Kevin Harvick -9
Both with 7 - Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kyle Busch
All with 6 - Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch

Recent Pole Winners:  
2016 Kevin Harvick
2015 Denny Hamlin

Last Year's Race Winner: Jimmie Johnson

The Likely Suspects: With this being the last race of the season and with a championship on the line the excitement, particularly at the end of stages one and two, will be epic. I will focus my picks on my Homestead go-tos: Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski.  

My 2 Cents: My no-brainer pick at Homestead is a repeat offender from last week: the laser focused Kevin Harvick. He has an amazing record at Homestead and his eye on the championship. My next pick has to be Martin Truex Jr. My next picks are Jamie McMurray, Clint Bowyer, Ryan Newman and Chase Elliott. I will complete my team with Ty Dillon and David Ragan. 

My Final Four: Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Chase Elliott and Ty Dillon

Points to Ponder:
  • Playoff contenders have won 10 of the 13 (75%) previous Playoff races at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Two non-Playoff drivers have won the Homestead-Miami Playoff race: Greg Biffle (2004 and 2006) and Denny Hamlin (2013).      
  • Roush Fenway Racing leads the series in Playoff race wins at Homestead-Miami Speedway with six, including five consecutive: Greg Biffle (2004 – 2006), Matt Kenseth (2007) and Carl Edwards (2008). 
  • A total of 14 different drivers have won a Coors Light Pole Award at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Among active drivers Kurt Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Kasey Kahne lead with two each. 
  • There have been 12 different Monster Energy NASCAR Series race winners at Homestead-Miami Speedway; with four of the 12 having multiple wins. Denny Hamlin is the only active driver among them with two wins.
  • 12 of the 18 (66.7%) Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races at Homestead-Miami have been won from a starting position inside the top 10 – most recently – Kyle Busch (third starting position; 2015). 
  • A total of 15 different MENCS drivers have finished runner-up at Homestead-Miami Speedway, led by Kevin Harvick with three second-place finishes; followed by Jimmie Johnson with two.  
  • A total of 35 different MENCS drivers have finished in the top-five at Homestead-Miami. Among active drivers Kevin Harvick leads with eight top fives; followed by Jimmie Johnson with five. 
  • A total of 52 different MENCS drivers have finished in the top-10 at Homestead-Miami. Among active drivers Kevin Harvick leads with 14 top 10s; followed by Jimmie Johnson with 11. 
  • Kevin Harvick leads the series in average finish position at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a 6.938
Remember, if you're playing Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing, your pick deadline is Friday, November 17, at 5 a.m. EST.

Enjoy the race! Post your comments here or follow me on Twitter at @purplecatpr.com.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Fast Track Facts: Homestead-Miami Speedway

credit: NASCAR Media
Four drivers – Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. – head to Homestead-Miami Speedway this weekend with a chance to become the first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion. Learn more about the track hosting the Ford Championship Weekend for NASCAR’s top three national series in this week’s Fast Facts, originally published in Nov. 2014.
  • The idea for Homestead-Miami Speedway stems from the destruction caused by Hurricane Andrew in Aug. 1992. In an effort to revitalize the area after the storm, promoter Ralph Sanchez presented his idea for a motorsports facility in Sept. 1992; on Aug. 24, 1993 – exactly one year after the Hurricane – groundbreaking for the track took place. The facility currently has a 1.5-mile oval and a 2.3-mile road course.
  • The first official NASCAR race at the track was a Busch (now Xfinity) Series race on Nov. 3, 1995, won by Dale Jarrett. The day before, Geoffrey Bodine won a Truck Series exhibition race at the track.
  • The first Cup Series race at the track was on Nov. 14, 1999, won by Tony Stewart. To accommodate the event, the speedway doubled its seating capacity.
  • After the Indy Racing League made its initial appearance in 2001, with Sam Hornish Jr. taking the checkered flag, the speedway was awarded NASCAR’s Ford Championship Weekend beginning in 2002; all three of NASCAR’s top series – Trucks, Xfinity and Cup – end their seasons at HMS.
  • In May 2003, a $12-million track reconfiguration transforms the nearly-flat track to one with 18- to 20-degree variable banking. In Nov. 2005, the first season finales took place under the lights.
  • In 2009, HMS hosted season finales for six of North America’s major motorsports series: IndyCar, Indy Lights, GRAND-AM, Sprint (now Monster Energy NASCAR) Cup, Nationwide (now Xfinity) and the Truck Series.
  • Greg Biffle and Stewart lead all drivers with three wins; Jeff Gordon has the most top fives (seven) and is tied for the most top 10s with Harvick (12). Keselowski set the NASCAR track qualifying record in Nov. 2014 (181.238 mph/29.795 seconds).
  • Find out more about Homestead-Miami Speedway at www.homesteadmiamispeedway.com

Monday, November 13, 2017

Travel Tips: Homestead-Miami Speedway – Nov. 17-19, 2017

credit: NASCAR Media
The 2017 championships for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck Series will be decided this weekend, Friday through Sunday, Nov. 17-19, during Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Florida. Four drivers in each division will be vying for their respective titles as the 2017 season comes to a close.

On Friday, Nov. 17 from 8-11 a.m. ET, the Hot Rods and Reels Charity Fishing Tournament takes place on the infield lake at HMS. The event, which benefits the Darrell Gwynn Quality of Life Chapter of the Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis, allows fans to spend quality one-on-one time with top NASCAR personalities; past participants have included Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Trevor Bayne, Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer. Find out more about the tournament here.

Check out the Ford Car Show on Sunday, Nov. 19 from 9:30 a.m.-2 p.m. ET on Speedway Blvd. near Gate 1. Jack Roush, Edsel Ford II, Wood Brothers co-owner Eddie Wood and NASCAR champ and team owner Tony Stewart will be checking out the cars on hand and judging the best. Find out more here.

Key on-track times:

Friday, Nov. 17
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – 8:30 and 10 a.m. ET
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice – 12:30 p.m. ET
  • Xfinity Series practice – 2:30 and 5 p.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 3:30 p.m. ET
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying – 6:15 p.m. ET
  • Camping World Truck Series Ford EcoBoost 200 – 8 p.m. ET
Saturday, Nov. 18
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice – 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET
  • Xfinity Series qualifying – 11:15 a.m. ET
  • Xfinity Series Ford EcoBoost 300 – 3:30 p.m. ET
Sunday, Nov. 19
  • Pre-race concert featuring the Eli Young Band – 1 p.m. ET
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 – 2:30 p.m. ET
Find out more about the weekend and purchase tickets at www.homesteadmiamispeedway.com

Right Sides Only: Notes from the Can-Am 500 Winning Crew Chief, Jason Ratcliff

by Stacey Owens

If you ever see a NASCAR team get emotional, it's usually in Victory Lane. And for the record, that emotion is almost always expressed in happy tears. For some who celebrated with Matt Kenseth and Jason Ratcliff following their win in the desert, those tears may have been a mix of happy tears and a little sadness.

Unless you've been living under one of those rocks in the desert, you're aware that Kenseth has decided to step away from NASCAR at the end of this season, so the win at Phoenix International Raceway was bittersweet. Jason Ratcliff talked about what the win meant to him.

"Well, I mean, it means the world to me. I think for us, we've been really close this season, and just hadn't quite been able to put it all together and close the deal, and you know, knowing that the situation where Matt is going to go into a different season in his life maybe in a few weeks, we were hoping that, hey, if we could get back to Victory Lane, that would be awesome. To be able to come here, especially to Phoenix, which is, I think, one of Matt's favorite tracks as well as mine, we've always performed well here, so to come here and get a win, you know, tops it off, kind of puts an exclamation point on the season for us," Ratcliff said.

It may have been an exclamation point for the team, but for Ratcliff, it's more of a comma. The veteran crew chief isn't leaving the sport like his driver is, but he hasn't yet revealed his plans for 2018.

"I can't tell you, but I do know. I think you'll know in a few days. Yes, it's very emotional. I thought -- I told someone earlier, we left here last year, it was probably the lowest point in my career knowing that if we could have just finished the race, obviously won it, we would have been one of the four going to Homestead, and then 365 days later, come back and maybe create probably I would say for sure the highlight of my career to this point," Ratcliff explained.
Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
 Like his driver, though, Ratcliff was emotional about the spoiler win.


"It's a very emotional win to be able -- the last five years have been just spectacular. We've had some really good wins, some great seasons, a lot of highlight reels, but I think this one tops it for sure," Ratcliff explained.

On their way to their last potential win as driver and crew chief for the No. 20 team, how much work did Ratcliff need to do on the car to help get Kenseth to Victory Lane?

"Matt said it's a secret; I can't tell you.

"You know, occasionally over the last five years we'll have a Saturday practice like the one we had yesterday where Matt comes in--he never even uses the word perfect--but occasionally he'll say, 'Man' -- he'll go, 'Okay, thanks. Man, the entry is pretty good, it turns pretty good, the exit' -- he almost said "perfect" yesterday.' Occasionally you'll get one of those. So I knew when we left here last night, we came in this morning, we didn't do anything really to speak of, and throughout the race, the pit box was -- we were pretty much spectators. We didn't do much. The pit crew did a great job all day. We adjusted on air pressure a little bit, put a quarter round in the right rear twice. That was about it. It was a good car start to finish," Ratcliff said.

And what a finish it was.
------------------------------------------


Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream every single weekend.
    The sole NASCAR enthusiast in her home, she's hopeful that one of her three daughters might also harbor an appreciation for NASCAR, but it isn't looking good so far.
    This self-admitted grammar nerd also loves country music, though she can't carry a tune; Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life; and her husband who's supportive of her NASCAR obsession and tunes in with her every week... even if it's just to watch the flyover.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Trackin’ Trucks: Johnny Sauter wins at Phoenix

Johnny Sauter celebrates his win at Phoenix.
Credit: Robert Laberge

by Courtney Horn

Johnny Sauter survived a wild night during the Lucas Oil 150 at Phoenix Raceway to score back-to-back wins in the Round of 6 of the Camping World Truck Series Playoffs.

Sauter held off a charging John Hunter Nemechek in the final laps to score his fourth win of the season.

“We didn’t have the best truck,” Sauter said. “We had a really good truck on long runs, and obviously the two KBM trucks took care of each other, so just a great night.

“I was really worried at the end there with those red flags 'cause my stuff took awhile to get going, and then I figured something out there. Hornaday has been wearing me out about not getting good enough restarts, so I’ve been working on it. Hats off to everybody at GMS.”

Christopher Bell clinched his way into the Championship 4 early in the race after winning Stage 1. The Kyle Busch Motorsports driver led 90 laps and secured the Stage 2 victory before finishing eighth.

While the first half of the event was relatively quiet, a late crash took out two of the CWTS Playoff contenders. On a restart on Lap 129, Austin Cindric went to the bottom of the track to make a pass on Ben Rhodes, but Rhodes blocked and ended up spinning in Turn 1. Rhodes’ teammate Matt Crafton had nowhere to go and was also collected.

“He put me in a bad place, and I tried everything I could to keep the spot,” Rhodes said. "... it looked like a desperation move to me because there was so much racing left to do.

“He didn’t have the position on me at all. … Driving over his head, I guess.”

Shortly after that incident, three drivers suffered heavy damage while battling for ninth. Jessie Little, Ryan Truex and Dalton Sargeant were the victims of a five-wide battle gone wrong.

A Look Into The Playoffs 

The Camping World Truck Series heads to Homestead-Miami, where four drivers will battle for the 2017 championship.

Bell, Sauter, Crafton and Cindric all advance to the season finale. Bell leads Sauter by three points.

Sauter and Crafton each have a win at the 1.5-mile track. Bell finished eighth a year ago, while Cindric will be competing for the title in his rookie season.

The final race in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series airs next Friday, November 17, 2017 at 8 p.m ET on FS1.

Caption This: John Hunter Nemechek and Matt Crafton


Welcome to Caption This!

From time to time, we’ll post a NASCAR photo taken by a Skirts and Scuffs photographer. You have until this Tuesday night to leave us a funny caption in the comments. Your goal is to make us laugh out loud.

We’ll publish the winning caption on Wednesday.

All of the 2017 weekly winners’ names will be tossed into a hat for a drawing, and one will win a prize package of racing swag at the end of the season. It could be you!

Enjoy this week’s photo of NCWTS drivers John Hunter Nemecheck and Matt Crafton, taken by our Debbie Ross at Martinsville last month.

What is Crafton saying to Nemechek?   
Here are the rules:
* Leave your photo caption in the comment section below by Monday at midnight.
* Include your name and twitter handle.
* Only one entry per person for each photo.
* If you win multiple times during the season, you get an entry in the prize drawing for each win.
* Anonymous posts & entries without a twitter handle are not eligible to win.

Keep in mind that we offer Caption This in the spirit of fun. Any nasty, vulgar or otherwise offensive entries will be disqualified and removed at the discretion of Skirts and Scuffs.

So bring on your funnies! Then pop in again on Wednesday to read the winning caption.
---------------------------------------------


Friday, November 10, 2017

TV Schedule: Nov. 10-12

Phoenix International Raceway. Credit: Sean Gardner/Getty Images
Who will be the last driver to break into the Championship 4? Five Monster Energy drivers will aim at Phoenix this weekend to join Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch in competing for the championship in next week's finale at Homestead.

All three series head to the desert to race at Phoenix. The following is a handy guide to track activities and television coverage at Phoenix. All times are in Eastern Standard Time.

Friday, Nov. 10:
11 a.m. Camping World Truck Series final practice, FS2
1 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series practice, NBCSN
2:30 p.m. XFINITY Series practice, NBCSN
3:30 p.m. K&N Pro Series West race, NBCSN
4:30 p.m. XFINITY Series final practice, NBC Sports App
5:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series Qualifying, FS1
6:30 p.m., Monster Energy Cup Series Qualifying, NBCSN
8 p.m. NCWTS Setup: Phoenix, FS1
8:30 p.m. Camping World Truck Series: Lucas Oil 150, FS1

Saturday, Nov. 11:
11:30 a.m. Monster Energy Cup Series practice, NBCSN
12:30 p.m. XFINITY Series Qualifying, NBCSN
2 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series final practice, NBCSN
3 p.m. XFINITY Series Countdown to Green: Phoenix, NBCSN
3:30 p.m. XFINITY Series: Ticket Galaxy 200, NBC

Sunday, Nov. 12:
12 p.m. NASCAR RaceDay: Phoenix, FS1
11:30 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lane, FS1
2:30 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series: Can-Am 500, NBC
6 p.m. Monster Energy Cup Series Post Race, NBCSN
6:30 p.m. NASCAR Victory Lap, NBCSN

Thursday, November 9, 2017

NASCAR Fantasy Fusion: The ultimate do or die in Phoenix

By Carol D'Agostino

Drivers with Most Top 10s (Last 5 Years):
By Race
Both with 5 - Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch
All with 4 - Joey Logano, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin
Both with 3 - Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Brad Keselowski  

By Track
Kevin Harvick - 8
All with 6 - Brad Keselowski, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Kurt Busch
Jimmie Johnson - 5

Recent Pole Winners:
2016 Alex Bowman
2015 Jimmie Johnson

Last Year's Race Winner: Joey Logano

The Likely Suspects: For the last race before  Homestead, do we pick Phoenix elites or drivers with playoff momentum? I do like the drivers do -- take it each race at a time focusing on that track. These are my Phoenix go-tos: Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.

My 2 Cents: The winner of the Phoenix Raceway Playoff race has gone on to win the title four times. It's not looking so good for Jimmie Johnson, but he could pull off a win here. Kevin Harvick, last week's race winner, is laser focused, and that's not so good for the rest of the contenders. Harvick is an elite driver at Phoenix. Could he go back to back and make it a points race for that last spot in the Championship Four? That brings me to my no-brainer pick: Kevin Harvick, of course!

My next choices are Kyle Busch, Kasey Kahne, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Ryan Newman. I will round out my team with Matt DiBenedetto and Ty Dillon.

My Final Four: Kevin Harvick, Chase Elliott, Ryan Blaney and Ty Dillon.

Points to Ponder:
  • Nine drivers have won the pole for the Playoff races at Phoenix, led by Jimmie Johnson with three, followed by Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin with two each, and Alex Bowman, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. Matt Kenseth and Ryan Newman with one each. 
  • The top five MENCS Playoff race (2004-Present) lap leaders at Phoenix are: Kevin Harvick (744), Jimmie Johnson (596), Kyle Busch (307), Denny Hamlin (305) and Carl Edwards (243).
  • There have been 23 different MENCS Coors Light pole winners, led by Ryan Newman with four. Newman is also the only driver to win consecutive poles at Phoenix. 
  • Hendrick Motorsports leads the series in wins at Phoenix with 10, followed by Roush Fenway Racing with seven. 
  • Jimmie Johnson leads active drivers in the series in top-five finishes at Phoenix with 15, followed by Kevin Harvick with 13. Johnson also leads active drivers in top-10 finishes, followed again by Harvick with 18.
  • Jimmie Johnson (28 starts) leads all active drivers in average finishing position at Phoenix with a 8.964. 
  • Jimmie Johnson (8.964), Chase Elliott (9.667) and Kevin Harvick (9.879) are the only three active drivers with average finishes inside the top 10 at Phoenix. 
Remember, if you're playing Yahoo! Fantasy Auto Racing, your pick deadline is Friday, November 10, at 5 a.m. EST.

Enjoy the race! Post your comments here or follow me on Twitter at @purplecatpr.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Rookie Stripe: How to Convince People You’re a Die-hard NASCAR Fan, Even if You’re Still Learning

Photo Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs
by Logan Stewart

Let’s face it, NASCAR can be complicated, especially when rules change year to year. It’s tough being a rookie in NASCAR … even as a fan. I was there once, too.

Racing brings together fans of all ages and backgrounds in a feverish excitement over a sport that can be wild and tumultuous, yet utterly confusing.

Someone once said to me, “Fake it ‘til you make it,” and that advice has never steered me wrong. Even if you don’t know every detail of racing, your fandom is just as important to the sport as the lifelong fanatic, so here are 15 ways that you can let everyone know how much you love NASCAR.

1. Tell everyone that going to the Daytona 500 is at the top of your bucket list. The Daytona 500 kicks off the NASCAR season in February and is the culmination of Speed Weeks. It’s kind of like the Super Bowl of NASCAR, but it’s held at the beginning of the season.

2. NASCAR is a sport. Always. A long-running debate exists over whether NASCAR is a sport, like baseball, basketball or football. The truth is, many pit crews are former pro athletes who want to extend their career beyond the field, or they may be post-college athletes who are not going into another pro sport. And drivers have to be in shape to endure hours in hot temperatures at high speeds.

3. Affectionately nickname your driveway Victory Lane, or call your garage The Hauler.

4. Perpetually sip on Monster Energy®, the drink that’s the title sponsor of NASCAR. Or if caffeine's not your thing, at least pretend like you are.

5. Pick a favorite track and favorite driver. Buy a t-shirt with your driver and his or her number and wear it. Especially on race days.

6. Know that “the Chase” is now known as “the Playoffs” and immediately correct anyone who says otherwise.

Photo Credit: Charlotte Bray for Skirts and Scuffs
7. Talk about what you’re planning to wear at an upcoming race and roll your eyes at anyone who mentions wearing stylish, uncomfortable shoes, especially heels. (See How to Prepare for Your First NASCAR Race)

8. Throw some racing guru lingo into your conversation. Try talking about the view of the cars from the frontstretch or drivers who are on the bubble. And of course, you should always be ready for the Big One.

9. Talk endlessly about the skills and athleticism of NASCAR pit crews, especially how fast the over-the-wall team is.

10. Always favor NASCAR over football, the two sports that go head to head for viewership on weekends in the fall.

11. Check Jayski for the latest in NASCAR news headlines.

12. There is a checkered flag among the flags in Apple® emojis. Use it in your texts and tweets, especially when you live tweet during races.

13. Discuss Dale Junior to anyone who will listen. 2017 is his last season. He’s a fan favorite and his dad was a legend. #JuniorNation

14. Claim that burning rubber is your favorite smell. Trust me, other super fans will totally get it.

15. Talk about how sad you’ll be during the off-season, the three months in winter between the end of one season and the start of the next.

Photo Credit: Debbie Ross for Skirts and Scuffs









Monday, November 6, 2017

Travel Tips: Phoenix Raceway – Nov. 10-12, 2017

credit: NASCAR Media
The Can-Am 500 on Sunday, Nov. 12 at Phoenix Raceway is the last race before the championship finale of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Playoffs. Stars from all three of NASCAR’s top series will be racing in Arizona, Friday through Sunday, Nov. 10-12, as the Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series also set their four Championship contenders.

The Busch Garage is located outside of Turn 2 behind the Bobby Allison Grandstands and open to all fans attending events at the track at no charge; it features live entertainment, custom furnishings, flat-panel televisions and food and refreshments. Find the schedule here.

Get a Pre-Race Pit Pass for access to driver introductions, photo opportunities in Gatorade Victory Lane and more. Cost is just $65 for the entire weekend. Find out more here.

Key on-track times:

Friday, Nov. 10
  • Camping World Truck Series practice – 9 a.m. MT
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice – 11 a.m. MT
  • Xfinity Series practice – 12:30 and 2:30 p.m. MT
  • Camping World Truck Series qualifying – 3:30 p.m. MT
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series qualifying – 4:45 p.m. MT
  • Camping World Truck Series Lucas Oil 150 – 6:30 p.m. MT
Saturday, Nov. 11
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series practice – 9:30 a.m. and noon MT
  • Xfinity Series qualifying – 10:35 a.m. MT
  • Xfinity Series Ticket Galaxy 200 – 1:30 p.m. MT
Sunday, Nov. 12
  • Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am 500 – 12:30 p.m. MT
Click here for the driver and celebrity appearance schedule. The “Worry Less Quick Links Fan Guide” can be found here.

Purchase tickets and get more information about the weekend at www.phoenixraceway.com

Sad, but true: Matt Kenseth stepping away in 2018

Matt Kenseth in driver intros for the AAA Texas 500 Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017.
photo: Lisa Janine Cloud/Skirts and Scuffs

by Lisa Janine Cloud

He didn’t hold a press conference to make an official announcement.

He didn’t spend the year on a farewell or appreciation tour.

There were no buildings on the Dallas -- or any other -- skyline lit with the No. 20.

Yet when the green flag flies at Daytona in February 2018, like his rival for the 2000 NASCAR Rookie of the Year, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Matt Kenseth won’t be behind the wheel of a racecar.

If Earnhardt Jr.’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career is ending with a whimper rather than a bang, to borrow a phrase from Reuters writer Lewis Franck, then Kenseth’s is ending with a whisper.

And that's a cryin' shame.

In his typical understated fashion, Kenseth revealed Saturday that he is no longer actively seeking a ride for 2018. During a podcast with Nate Ryan of NBC Sports, Kenseth said that after his elimination from playoff contention at Martinsville and a great deal of thought, he decided to step away from driving in NASCAR beginning in 2018.

 “I don’t know what that means," Kenseth said. "I don’t know if that’s forever. I don’t know if that’s a month or I don’t know if that’s five months. I don’t know if that’s two years. Most likely when you’re gone, you don’t get the opportunity again. I just don’t really feel it’s in the cards."

In July, Joe Gibbs Racing, where Kenseth has spent the last five seasons, announced that Erik Jones would be driving the No. 20 car in 2018. JGR made the move to protect their asset, Jones, when it became apparent that fielding Jones’ No. 77 at Furniture Row Racing would not happen in 2018.

Team owner Joe Gibbs said at the time, “When a number of circumstances made it clear over the past few weeks that a second year for the 77 car was probably not viable at this time for Erik, we all agreed that we wanted to keep him in the Toyota racing family and felt it was the right time to make this transition. He is an exciting driver that has already proven to have the ability to compete at the highest level of our sport. He is also shown to be a great representative to our partners, and we believe he is at the beginning of a long and successful career.”

The move, however, left the 2005 MENCS champion without a seat in the four-car organization, despite being having earned 13 of his 38 career wins for JGR. Still, Kenseth showed an almost unbelievable amount of focus, finishing third at New Hampshire that weekend and making it as far as the second round of the playoffs in what the Wisconsin native described as “a really long and frustrating season on many levels.”

While he’s not officially retiring, like his former teammate Carl Edwards, he’s also not ruling out driving again if the right opportunity presents itself. Unlike Edwards, the decision is not one he would have made for himself had he been able to secure a competitive ride.

“Sometimes you can’t make your own decisions, so people make them for you. That’s unfortunate because I wanted to make my own decisions. I felt like in a way I’ve earned that -- to be able to go out the way other drivers who had similar careers, to dictate when your time is up. Anyway, I just came to the realization it’s probably time to go do something different,” Kenseth explained.

“I’m not committing to anything for 2018. I’m just gonna – I don’t know, I mean the retirement word doesn’t really make a lot of sense in this sport really because there’s, it’s not like the NFL where you get a pension if you officially retire or you do any of that stuff. Mostly it’s for people like Jr. that got to fill the seat and have a sponsor and all that stuff. For me it’s just different because I didn’t really have that option. My seat got filled before any of that so there’s really no reason to talk about it.”

Kenseth deflected when asked about talks with other team owners.

“As far as any conversation with owners or anything, I probably would rather keep that to myself, because the more I think about that, it’s not really fair to my peers or the owners, really, because all the cars have drivers in them, so it’s probably easier just to keep them to myself.”

That’s vintage Kenseth right there. A class act all the way. He may not like what happened, but stirring up controversy about other teams won’t change it, so why drop names?

“I’ll just take some time off, whatever that means. I don’t know if that’s a year, two years, three months, four months, I mean you never know what happens. Maybe something comes along that really makes you excited, and it feels like it’s going to be a fit, you might go do. Certainly not gonna rule that out, but for now, I’m not making any plans for 2018. I just plan on having some time off.”

Kenseth and daughters at Charlotte Motor Speedway
photo: Debbie Ross/Skirts and Scuffs  


Kenseth and his wife, Katie, are reported to be expecting their fourth child next month.

“I think it’ll be busier staying at home than going to the racetrack,” Kenseth said. “Right now it’s busy at home. It’s a fun busy, a great busy. I think it keeps you young. As much as I fought it and as much as I tried to deny it’s not time, it probably really is.

Whether Kenseth ever starts another Cup race after the 2017 season, one thing is clear: With a pair of Daytona 500 trophies alongside his Cup championship, combined with 38 Cup and 29 Xfinity series wins, he’s a lock for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Right Sides Only: Notes from the AAA Texas 500 Winning Crew Chief, Rodney Childers

by Stacey Owens

Not every crew chief who dons the Justin cowboy hat at Texas Motor Speedway looks like he just stepped out of the Old West. Apparently, Rodney Childers was concerned about how he looked and immediately asked those in the media center, "First, I was wondering if I look goofy (laughter). I told Claire I see the pictures from Victory Lane and Chad always looked goofy with his hat on. I was wondering if I did, too." Childers didn't look goofy, but even if he had, he was in Victory Lane, and 39 other crew chiefs were not.

For much of the season, the No. 78 has dominated and looked like he might just win again this weekend. But according to Childers, the No. 4 team has been fast and had a few things gone their way recently, they likely could have recorded wins before arriving at Texas Motor Speedway.

"Overall, it's just a great weekend. In all honesty, we've had good speed lately. We probably could have won a few races here lately. Just didn't do our jobs, whether we made a mistake on pit road, different things. But we had a good car at Chicago, we had a good car at Dover, a good car at Kansas.
               
"It's all about putting it all together on the right day. Some days that's hard to do. But we've got a great group that has worked really hard back at the shop building a great racecar. Doug and all his guys at the engine shop have worked day and night trying to get their side of it better. Everybody at Ford has done anything we've asked them to do. Keep pushing to try to make each other better. It's been a team effort.
               
"Just happy to get one in Victory Lane. I feel like we should have won more races this year. It's disappointing. I don't like to lose. It's been a hard year. So to finally get one back into Victory Lane, to feel like we have something we can race with the last four or five weeks has been impressive to me.
               
"Just really looking forward to racing at Phoenix next week. I should say I'm looking forward to racing at Homestead, but I want to win Phoenix first, then we'll worry about Homestead next," Childers said. 

When the team has a fast race car, then Kevin Harvick can do what he does best: drive it fast. Childers talked about giving Harvick the tools he needs to succeed.

"He's just laser focused, does his job. But it's really about giving him stuff to work with. His tool is the racecar. If we don't give him good tools to work with, he's not going to do a good job.
                
"I think making our racecars better, making the horsepower better, getting our setups better, all the things we worked really hard on the last two months, has just gave him something he can work with. That's really what's important.
               
"All these guys are so good at what they do, if you can ever get him what he wants to feel, I think I got something there. I knew when we unloaded at Dover, he said it felt more like 2014, 2015. As soon as he said those words, I knew we had something that we were going to start being able to work with" Childers explained.
Lisa Janine Cloud for Skirts and Scuffs

Since they have equipment they can work with, how does Childers feel about competing for another championship since Harvick is locked in to the finale in two weeks in Homestead?

"Now that we've been through this Chase, these last five races, you always assess yourself. We did a lot of complaining to ourselves, sitting in meetings, saying, 'Well, they got more downforce, they got more power,' those type of things.
               
"I look back on that, and that was my fault. I was never that way in 2014. I was never that way in 2015. Really it come down to a couple months ago. Why are we complaining? We're not going to fix their part. We're not going to take downforce away from them. We're not going to take horsepower away from them. All right, we've got to change what we're doing. We've got to decide if we want to win races and race for a championship. 
               
"We started building way better racecars. We started having way better setups. We went for three and a half years without changing any shocks. We ran the same four shocks for three and a half years. All of a sudden we put these our four on, the thing is on fire. That's the kind of things you have to work on. There's people out there, like Chad Knaus, that never settle. That's the reason they win championships.
               
"I feel like over the last two months we have done a good job of not settling, making our cars better, going racing. The hell with everybody else. We need to worry about ourselves. If we give him the right tools on the racetrack, he's going to win races with it.
               
"I'm just proud of having that backing whether it's Smoke or Zippy or everybody at the shop.  Everybody has worked their butts off the last two months to try to make things better, and they have.  Just fortunate to be in a place and a position where the crew chiefs can make a difference and lead the way a little bit. To be honest, I didn't do a good job leading the way. The last two months, I've tried to do a better job.
               
"Just fortunate to be in a place I can do that," Childers explained.

Will Homestead be a place of good fortune for the No. 4 team? He's proved that it can be. Just one more race stands between Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and next week's winning driver who will join them in a quest to raise the Monster Energy cup.

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Stacey Owens lives just outside Music City USA. She's always wanted to be a NASCAR writer, so working as a columnist and support editor for Skirts and Scuffs allows her to live that dream every single weekend.
    The sole NASCAR enthusiast in her home, she's hopeful that one of her three daughters might also harbor an appreciation for NASCAR, but it isn't looking good so far.
    This self-admitted grammar nerd also loves country music, though she can't carry a tune; Kentucky basketball, even though at 6' tall, she's never played a day in her life; and her husband who's supportive of her NASCAR obsession and tunes in with her every week... even if it's just to watch the flyover.


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