Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: The Latest Push To Fix Kasey Kahne
June’s off week came with a crew chief change in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Travis Mack was replaced as Kasey Kahne‘s head wrench after just 15 races as the No. 95 Leavine Family Racing team remains mired in midpack. Jon Leonard will replace Mack on an interim basis as the Hendrick Motorsports transplant never gelled with Kahne from the start. However, it was just Mack’s first full-time role on top of the pit box in the MENCS. The talented car chief will likely get another chance down the road.
I’m just not sure how many more chances Kahne’s gonna get. 2018 has been a rough road for him, replacing Michael McDowell after a disappointing six-year tenure at HMS. The 38-year-old has a lower average finish than McDowell in the ride (24.0 to 22.2) and sits mired a distant 28th in the standings. During a year where seemingly everyone with a full-time ride is in playoff contention, Kahne’s a whopping 130 points behind Alex Bowman for the final spot.
What the driver has done is bring more sponsorship to the ride; roughly half of the races have been backed by companies like Procore, Ollie’s Bargain Outlet and Thorne Camo. Money was indeed one of the reasons owner Bob Leavine chose to make the switch last summer.
“This deals partially with performance because obviously, Kasey is a playoff-caliber driver,” Leavine said in September 2017. “He has a wealth of information being with a larger organization like Hendrick Motorsports, and we think that will help us. [But] we also look at this as an opportunity for marketing to be able to sell sponsorship.”
What’s that old saying about money not always buying happiness? With McDowell also having an up-and-down season in his new ride at Front Row Motorsports it’s fair to question if this divorce should have never happened in the first place.
You also wonder what the future holds for Kahne. A full season of disappointing performances and… what next? Derrike Cope has shown us a former Cup winner with marketing savvy can stick around as long as one likes. But can Kahne, once a title contender truly be happy at this point running 25th every week? – Tom Bowles
XFINITY Series: Iowa Standalone Championship Preview?
Justin Allgaier wanted an Iowa breakthrough badly. His agricultural sponsor, Brandt, is located in nearby Illinois and developed a corn-themed paint scheme for this standalone event. A total of eight top-10 finishes in 12 career Iowa starts had yet to result in a victory despite several close calls. Just last summer, he led 106 laps before Ryan Preece turned the race into his coming-out party at NASCAR’s top levels.
So from the start, Allgaier was itching to get up front, getting aggressive in one of the best NASCAR XFINITY Series races we’ve seen this year. A daring three-wide move up the middle slid him past Austin Cindric, earning him a stage one victory. Once up front, the veteran was hard to beat, leading 182 of 250 laps to become the first two-time winner among XFINITY full-time drivers this year.
But the finish was closer than the stat sheet made it appear. Christopher Bell spent much of the final stage running side-by-side for the lead with Allgaier. A fantastic drive from the rear of the field saw Bell’s No. 20 Toyota in the top 10 by the end of stage one, top five by the end of stage two and the only car with speed to match the No. 7. Lap after lap, Bell would be stuck on the low line, Allgaier would go high and the duo would dice it up for the win.
Was their battle a sign of things to come? Those two may be fifth and sixth in the standings, victims of bad luck but they’re 1-2 in laps led among XFINITY full-time regulars. They’ve both won on tracks featured in the postseason (Dover, Richmond) and have Championship 4 experience (Bell is the reigning Truck Series champion). JR Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing, their organizations have won the last two XFINITY titles.
Sure, Elliott Sadler has been consistent this year but he’s stumbled the past two weeks, hitting the outside wall early in Iowa and limping to 28th. Unfortunately, as we’ve seen with NASCAR’s new playoff format, his consistency doesn’t get the job done anymore. Winning does. If anything, Daniel Hemric and Cole Custer have outclassed the point leader Sadler as of late; they were both solid top-five runners at Iowa Sunday. Each of them hasn’t run outside the top five since Charlotte, in fact.
So we may not have seen the last of this Allgaier-Bell duo. In fact, Sunday’s battle may just be the beginning, one not fully settled until the final laps of the championship race this November down at Homestead-Miami Speedway. – Tom Bowles
Camping World Truck Series: Ben Rhodes’ Tough 2018 Continues
The 2018 Camping World Truck Series season hasn’t exactly been kind to Ben Rhodes. In nine races, Rhodes has just six top 10s in equipment that could easily have been more competitive. He’s struggled with motor issues in a few races that have baffled the team, but that’s not the only problem.
Iowa Speedway was the latest example of a race that was downhill from the start. Rhodes found himself involved in two different incidents Saturday night (June 16). One of them did not bring out the caution, setting him even further back. In the end, he was left to settle for a disappointing 17th-place finish, four laps off the pace.
“We really struggled at Iowa Speedway from the time we unloaded, and I never felt like we really made any gains in practice,” Rhodes explained. “We qualified 11th, and we were back there in some iffy situations, around some crazy traffic. One thing led to another, and we got caught up in two wrecks. Unfortunately, that ended our night with a brand-new truck, and we had to putt around for the rest of the race.
“I think there were some big learning takeaways from this. You always learn every time you hit the racetrack, so we know how to better prepare going forward.”
The problem for Rhodes is that he currently sits in a precarious position in the standings. He holds a slim 13-point advantage over Justin Haley, who is in the eighth and final spot to set the playoff field. Another bad race, coupled with a win by a driver who has yet to visit Victory Lane this season, could put the No. 41 on the outside looking in on NASCAR’s postseason. – Beth Lunkenheimer
NHRA: Good Day for DSR
ARCA Racing Series: Chandler Smith Scores 1st Career Victory
Venturini Motorsports’ No. 15 called it a “serious ass-whuppin” when the checkered flag flew Friday night at Madison International Speedway, and that’s exactly what it was.
After winning his fourth ARCA Racing Series pole in as many starts, besting the field by three-tenths of a second, 15-year-old Chandler Smith finally scored his first career win. Smith led the last 74 laps and won by more than a full straightaway over second-place finisher Zane Smith. Points leader Sheldon Creed, Chase Purdy and Gus Dean rounded out the top-five finishers. Toni Breidinger, the all-time winningest female driver in USAC racing history, finished two laps down in 10th in her ARCA debut.
Smith’s win came over a field of 19 cars, the smallest field to start an ARCA Racing Series event since 1996. Despite the low car count, lapped traffic proved treacherous throughout the evening, as the narrow groove at Madison failed to expand over the course of 200 laps.
One storyline that didn’t pan out was the potential for tire issues. Numerous drivers including Riley Herbst and Bret Holmes had fiery brake rotors for the entire second half of the race, though no General Tire failures were experienced due to melted beads.
Due to a hard-fought third-place finish, Creed maintains a 55-point lead atop the standings over MDM Motorsports teammate Smith. ARCA now heads to St. Louis this Friday night for 150 miles at Gateway Motorsports Park. – Bryan Davis Keith
Sports Cars: WEC Reveals Second Take on Proposed 2020 Top Class Regulations
While the focus in Le Mans last weekend was on the 24 Hours of Le Mans, there was some big news to announce. Friday, the ACO revealed a new set of proposed regulations for the FIA World Endurance Championship’s top class.
Replacing the current LMP1 class will be an unnamed class (at present) that is designed to be sleeker, maintain present levels of performance and significantly cut costs. Specifically, the budgets would be cut by 75 percent from current hybrid budgets. In addition, the new class would be designed to look something like the newest hypercars available for the street.
The new top class will still be a hybrid class, but with a fixed configuration. There will be a KERS (Kinetic Energy Recovery System) on the front wheels in addition to regular rear-wheel drive to produce an effective four-wheel drive system. The systems developed in WEC will also have to be made available for street cars, but street-going versions of the cars themselves will not have to be sold like with GT1 cars in the 1990s.
Despite the lack of a public sale requirement, Toyota already appears to be going forward with such a car for the street. On Friday, Toyota unveiled the GR Super Sport Concept. This car will have a 1,000 horsepower engine and hybrid system directly out of the Toyota TS050 and pretty much fits the general idea behind the new rules. Toyota has not indicated whether or not this vehicle would be the basis for their new challenger in 2020, but it is telling.
Will these rules come to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship? That is currently unclear. While the regulations are cheaper than the present and way cheaper than what was originally proposed last year, it still appears to be significantly more expensive than the current DPi formula. – Phil Allaway