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Pace Laps: As The Keselowski Crumbles

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series: As The Keselowski Crumbles

Brad Keselowski is the driving force upon which Team Penske’s NASCAR team is built. He’s the one who strongly suggested Joey Logano as a future teammate while earning his first and only Cup championship in 2012. His unique voice and Twitter presence showcases a passion for the sport that’s made him a leader in the garage entering the prime of his NASCAR career.

There’s just one problem for Keselowski; that prime isn’t exactly going as expected. At age 35, he now sits seven years removed from a series title following playoff elimination Sunday (Oct. 20) in the Hollywood Casino 400. Kansas Speedway capped off a miserable Round of 12 performance in which this former champion squandered a 24-point edge entering the race.

How did it happen? Keselowski and crew chief Paul Wolfe simply never had a handle on this racetrack. Wolfe, typically a master of race strategy, watched Logano and crew chief Todd Gordon run circles around them instead in terms of stage points. Logano collected a bunch to make himself comfortable while Keselowski’s meager total of five allowed Chase Elliott to close the gap just enough. Sprinkle in a long green-flag run and a caution flag to give Elliott a chance to make up spots (caused by Penske teammate Ryan Blaney) and the No. 2 team was suddenly vulnerable.

A few restarts later, poor lane choices and an impressive surge by Elliott left Keselowski sitting on the curb, looking for answers.

“We didn’t make it,” Keselowski said after a 19th-place effort had him coming up short. “I pushed as hard as I knew how and didn’t quite do good enough on the last restart, and that was it. We clawed as hard as we could, and there were times it looked like we were going to be fine and times it didn’t. In the end, it didn’t work out.”

To add insult to injury, an attempted phone hack was the cherry on top of a miserable day.

To be fair, 2019 won’t be a total wash for a driver who’s won three races or more in four straight seasons. But Keselowski knows that a driver in NASCAR’s modern era is measured in terms of titles, not one-race trophies. Logano may well win his second such championship next month at Homestead-Miami Speedway, bypassing Keselowski in that department. He’s made just one Championship 4 under this format, finishing last among the quartet (2017), and has faced Round of 12 elimination three times in four years.

GABLE: LOGANO NOW PENSKE’S TOP CONTENDER

Does that mean Penske needs to shake things up with this program? Keselowski and Wolfe have been together since 2011, and they have a high degree of respect for one another, but nine years is a long time. It’s fair luck has certainly played a role to a certain extent, especially considering the Russian roulette factor of Talladega Superspeedway every fall. But this pair used to own that track.

Not anymore.

All we know for certain is once again, a Round of 8 begins and Keselowski is on the outside looking in. This time, he’s the only Penske driver without a shot at the championship.

It’s a feeling that’s becoming all too familiar for a veteran with higher expectations. – Tom Bowles

FULL KANSAS CUP RACE RECAP & RESULTS

NASCAR Xfinity Series: Brandon Jones Wins at Kansas, FIGHT! 

Kansas Speedway is a quintessential cookie-cutter, 1.5-mile racetrack. But for whatever reason, in Xfinity Series competition, it’s become the perfect intermediate for this current handling package.

Over the past handful of seasons, we’ve seen it all at Kansas. We’ve gone from a Brad Keselowski feud with Kyle Busch in Xfinity competition to a first-lap crash in 2018 that took out half of the Round of 8. Saturday’s race (Oct. 19) was just as wild, adding another chapter to the madness.

As expected, the Big Three Xfinity drivers — Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick — were lights out. Combined, the trio led 154 of 200 laps, with Chase Briscoe pacing the field for 33 laps.

Briscoe, surprisingly, inched in command late in a thrilling battle with Bell. But when approaching Garrett Smithley in traffic, the No. 0 car kept going up and up and up until it hit the No. 98 Ford. Bell was also involved in the incident that eliminated both drivers’ chances to win.

On the restart, Custer and Reddick got into one another from the front row. Their contact allowed Brandon Jones to sneak by in a mild upset. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver went on to lead the final 10 laps en route to his first career victory.

After the race, Custer approached Reddick on pit road to show his displeasure. When putting his hand on Reddick’s shoulder, Reddick went “berserk,” as Custer later put it. Both the Stewart-Haas Racing and Richard Childress Racing teams got in an altercation.

The on-track action delivered and the off-track wrestling bout seemed pointless, as the pair said they’ll probably crack a cold one and discuss it. But I’m entertained. – Dustin Albino 

FULL XFINITY RECAP & RESULTS

LUNKENHEIMER: MORE ON CUSTER-REDDICK INCIDENT

TYLWALK: FULL XFINITY POST-RACE ANALYSIS

Sports Cars: IMSA Hires John Doonan As New President

A couple of months ago, IMSA president Scott Atherton announced his intentions to retire from his position, leaving the sanctioning body with a hole at the top of their hierarchy.

Tuesday (Oct. 15), IMSA made a big move to replace Atherton by hiring John Doonan, effective the beginning of 2020.

Doonan comes to IMSA as a known quantity inside the paddock.  He’s currently the director of motorsports for Mazda North America, which does way more than just support the Mazda DPi program with Mazda Team Joest.

Indeed, Doonan has overseen a massive motorsports program that ranges from grassroots amateur racing right up to the pinnacle of sports car competition.  Recently, he unveiled the new Mazda3 TCR that will race next year in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.  Mazda promotes the fact that there are more of their makes raced on a regular basis than any other brand in the United States. Doonan is at least partially responsible for that.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime and dream opportunity after attending IMSA races since I was [a] young boy,” Doonan said amid the news.  “I am very humbled and truly honored to have the opportunity to join the IMSA team, and I’m really looking forward to making a positive impact for our sport, our partners and our industry.”

In Doonan, IMSA has a representative with years of experience in motorsports at the helm.  There are few people currently in the paddock that are as respected.  The general opinion from those in the know is that the future of this sports car racing division is in good hands. – Phil Allaway

ALLAWAY: BLANCPAIN GT NO. 1 RACE AT LAS VEGAS GOES TO K-PAX

ARCA Racing Series: Christian Eckes Caps Incredible Comeback With ARCA Championship

It was Venturini vs. Venturini on Friday night (Oct. 18) at Kansas Speedway. Christian Eckes came out on top to earn his first career ARCA Menards Series championship by defeating Michael Self during a late-race restart. It capped one of the most impressive comebacks in series history.

Indeed, Eckes has been racing from behind since food poisoning forced him to miss an event at Salem Speedway back in April. The following race, Eckes found himself with a last-place finish after crashing at Talladega.

But after that, Eckes caught fire. Winning at the Nashville Fairgrounds in May, he started a streak of 16 straight top-11 finishes to end the year.  Not only would that push Eckes to the title, he’d also earn the victory at Kansas, his fourth of the 2019 season. It’s what could become one of his final victories as a full-time ARCA Menards Series driver, as he’s expected to move up to Kyle Busch Motorsports in 2020.

“The car was on a rail all night,” Eckes told ARCA before reflecting on his 2019 season. “We missed a race, the entire season has been filled with drama and we are still here. It’s absolutely incredible.”

Though Eckes’ future is basically set up, runner-up Self’s 2020 plans are unknown at this time.

“Second sucks,” Self said. “I am thankful to have the opportunity to come and race for a championship. We won four times but we had a lot of ups and downs. I wish it would have turned out differently, but I am really happy for Christian and the Venturini team. I just wish it played out in our favor tonight.”

Bret Holmes put a lock on third place in the final standings, followed by Travis Braden and Joe Graf Jr. – Christian Koelle

FULL ARCA RACE RECAP & RESULTS

KEITH: KANSAS ARCA POST-RACE ANALYSIS

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Frontstretch Staff
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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