Friday, September 19, 2008
Kenseth has almost no shot at Chase title
DOVER, Del. -- Matt Kenseth entered the Chase already thinking he was a long shot to win a Cup title.
Then he got caught up in a wreck, was knocked out at New Hampshire and saw his championship hopes all but evaporate.
The former Cup champion is going to need the run of his career if he has any shot of becoming a factor over the final nine Chase races. Kenseth was 40th last week at New Hampshire and is in 12th place in the standings -- already 177 points behind co-leaders Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson and 78 points behind Jeff Gordon in 11th.
Kenseth had three straight top-10 finishes before he finished the final "regular season" race at Richmond in 39th and limped into the Chase. The finish forced Kenseth to concede, "I don't think we'll be a factor."
Kenseth -- one of only two drivers to have qualified for all five Chase fields -- said he can't dwell on his long road ahead.
"If you can go out and win races or finish up in the top five, you're going to get a lot of points, more than most people," Kenseth said on Friday. "I think you just concentrate on that every week and hope it's enough."
Kenseth hasn't won a race all season or finished higher than third, two things he'll need to do on a regular basis over the final nine races. He starts eighth for Sunday's race at Dover International Speedway.
Kenseth hopes to keep his No. 17 Ford up front to avoid the kind of crashes in the rear that ended his race early last week. He hasn't seen a replay and doesn't plan too, either.
"The only thing that we could've done to not be in the wreck was to be running better and be ahead of it, so really my focus is to get ourselves running better so we can be up front," he said.
A second Cup title isn't necessarily lost yet for Kenseth. After all, Jimmie Johnson finished 39th at New Hampshire in 2006 and didn't have a top 10 finish in any of his next three races before taking off and winning the title. Kenseth -- who won on the Monster Mile in 2006 -- can only wish he has similar luck down the stretch.
FREE AGENTS?: Seats for 2009 are filling fast in the Sprint Cup Series, and two new names have emerged as possible job candidates.
Paul Menard indicated Friday he could leave Dale Earnhardt Inc. at the end of the season, and AJ Allmendinger is still without a new contract at Red Bull Racing.
Neither driver wanted to discuss their future after qualifying at Dover International Raceway, but when asked if he was considering rides with both DEI and Yates Racing next season, Menard said "Yes."
"We'll let you know when we get to it," Menard added.
Menard drives the No. 15 for DEI and the car is sponsored by his father's midwest-based hardware chain. The family could move the sponsorship and Menard elsewhere, and Yates is considered a candidate because it has both the room to grow its two-car operation and is in need of financial support.
Allmendinger, meanwhile, has been in limbo as Red Bull decides the future of its race team now that former F1 driver Scott Speed is waiting in the wings.
Speed is favored by executives for the Austrian-based energy drink maker, which invested heavily in developing Speed for Formula One. When he lost his ride in that series, Red Bull sent him back to the U.S. to learn stock cars and he's been very good in both the Truck Series and lower-level ARCA Series.
It could mean that Allmendinger, despite marked improvement in the second half of this season, could lose his ride in the No. 84.
Allmendinger declined to comment Friday on his future.
Should the team not re-sign him, or offer him just a temporary one-year deal while Speed continues to develop, Allmendinger could look elsewhere and one seat still open is the No. 41 at Chip Ganassi Racing. Reed Sorenson is leaving that team at the end of the season, and Ganassi has yet to name a replacement.
An Allmendinger-Ganassi pairing could make sense: Ganassi has several successful open-wheel teams, and Allmendinger moved to NASCAR from the now defunct Champ Car Series.
LAWSUIT DROPPED: Gillett Evernham Motorsports and Robby Gordon Motorsports agreed to a settlement in their lawsuit on Friday and have terminated their merger plan.
Gillett Evernham Motorsports had sued Gordon last month, claiming the owner/driver violated terms of an agreement that would have sold his team to GEM. Gordon insisted he hadn't breached any contract and wanted to proceed with the sale of Robby Gordon Motorsports to GEM.
As part of the resolution, the lawsuit will be dismissed and the merger will not proceed.
Gordon agreed to the deal on Jan. 29 to sell his team at the end of this season for $23.5 million. The deal would have given Gordon a four-year driving contract with GEM, and possibly a seat on the team's board of directors. GEM would have acquired Gordon's shop and property in Charlotte.
GEM claimed that Gordon has talked to other teams about merging, and that Gordon made disparaging remarks that he wasn't getting comparable engines to the other GEM drivers during a television interview at Watkins Glen.
"Management personnel for the two teams acknowledge that there were misunderstandings, but both sides acted in good faith throughout, and in the end it was circumstances beyond their control that caused the merger not to proceed," the two teams said in a joint statement.
The filing of that suit led to speculation that GEM has its sights set on buying another race team as part of its effort to expand to four cars.
Bill Davis' one-car team has a lucrative Toyota deal, but is lacking the sponsorship needed to be competitive. Michael Waltrip Racing, another Toyota team, also could be a target. Waltrip has three cars, but only one has full-time sponsorship locked up for 2009.
GOING TO KANSAS CITY: A partnership involving Kansas Speedway won a contract Friday to build and manage a state-owned resort casino that will overlook the track.
That means a second Sprint Cup date will likely be added to the schedule.
The proposal calls for a $680 million Hard Rock Hotel and Casino with 3,000 slot machines, a 300-room hotel and convention center and retail outlets. It would overlook the No. 2 turn of the 1½ mile D-shaped track.
Last month, the speedway said that if it received the Wyandotte County contract, it would seek a second NASCAR Sprint Cup race
"Now that we have been given the green light to develop one of the nation's most unique sports and entertainment projects, we look forward to moving forward with our other announced plans," said Kansas track president Jeff Boerger. "This includes requesting that NASCAR move a second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race to Kansas Speedway. I look forward to NASCAR's premier stock car series racing twice a year in the nations heartland by no later than 2011."
The Sprint Cup series makes its first stop of the season in Kansas City next week. If Kansas City is awarded a second date, that means one race will be plucked away from International Speedway Corp. to fill the spot.
AP Auto Racing Writer Jenna Fryer contributed to this report.