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Kenseth wins pole for Chase decider
Matt Kenseth exerted a modicum of pressure on Sprint Cup points leader Jimmie Johnson on Friday night, winning the pole for the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Sunday, 3 p.m. ET, ESPN).
Johnson will start seventh, needing to finish 23rd to capture a sixth championship. Third-place driver Kevin Harvick, who is 34 points behind Johnson, will start sixth.
Johnson didn't seem to be feeling any pressure after Kenseth paced the 1.5-mile track at 177.667 mph (30.394 seconds), however. And Kenseth didn't appear to be trying to exert any, as the chums goofed with each other on pit road following their laps.
Kenseth admitted that his 11th career pole was much needed following a demoralizing 23rd-place finish in an unwieldy No. 20 Toyota at Phoenix International Raceway last Sunday. That calamity allowed Johnson to balloon his points lead from seven to 28 entering this week.
"I think more than anything it was a confidence-booster," Kenseth said.
Kenseth will still require some sort of calamity to befall Johnson, but is heartened to be in a spot -- at least initially -- to exploit it.
"It's a great position to be in," Johnson said of his lead. "It's nice, but it doesn't guarantee anything. I have to run all 400 miles on Sunday and that's really the goal for this car."
-- Brant James
This guy wants it. RT to congratulate @mattkenseth on getting the #NASCAR Qualifying pole! #callmechamp pic.twitter.com/VLH7t6sNtd— Homestead-Miami (@HomesteadMiami) November 16, 2013
Montoya says farewell ... for now
Juan Pablo Montoya left open the possibility of dabbling in Sprint Cup in the future if he can work out the details with new IndyCar owner Roger Penske.
Montoya, 38, will conclude his full-time NASCAR career Sunday after eight seasons when he makes his final start in the No. 42 Chevrolet for Ganassi Racing. The Colombian, whose two Cup victories came at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, suggested he would like to return for more road-course events.
The former Indianapolis 500 winner and CART champion said he had no regrets about converting to NASCAR after a six-year Formula One career. His best Sprint Cup points finish occurred in 2009, when he finished eighth. He finished 22nd last year and enters this year's finale in 21st position.
"It's been up. It's been down. It's been everything. We won some races, which was good," Montoya said of his career. "We made the Chase. That was good. But we had last year as a team, we were nowhere and it was hard. When you run 20th it is no fun. I don't think it's fun for anyone to run 20th."
-- Brant James
.@MartinTruexJr56 describes his qualifying lap @HomesteadMiami to Jerry Punch. @napaknowhow @toyotaracing #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/RrWdVMnh8O— M. Waltrip Racing (@MWRteam) November 15, 2013
It's almost time for qualifying! #DaleJr goes out 4th. #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/DY2KzONXIO— Hendrick Motorsports (@TeamHendrick) November 15, 2013
Hornish: Thanks but no thanks
Sam Hornish Jr. said his business management was contacted by Chip Ganassi Racing following the announcement on Thursday that four-time IndyCar champion Dario Franchitti would retire.
Hornish said he expressed his gratitude for the call but will not pursue an opportunity.
"They didn't say why they needed a driver but I had an idea," Hornish said.
Franchitti suffered a broken back, right ankle and a concussion in a crash in the season-ending Houston Grand Prix and was advised by physicians to retire.
Sam Hornish Jr. says he's accomplished everything he's wanted in the IndyCar Series.
Hornish, a three-time IndyCar champion who began transitioning to NASCAR in 2006, has reiterated consistently that he has no desire to return to open-wheel racing. He left open the remote possibility of considering a return only if in dire financial straits in a few years if he is unable to secure another NASCAR contract. Second in Nationwide points with the finale on Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Hornish has no deal for next season after Penske Racing informed him he would not be re-signed.
"If I'm sitting at home for a while and I just got to go hop into a race car ... I don't know," he said. "I've said it a million times: I did everything over there that I wanted to do, and way more. The only goal I had when I started racing was to go to the Indianapolis 500. I look at that as a chapter in my life. I also have the responsibility to do the best I can to take care of my wife and kids. If I had a huge mortgage or amount of debt I had to pay off, I might think about it. But the situation I'm in financially, it allows me to be able to wait and try to make something work over here."
Though the IndyCar Series is no longer an oval-dominated circuit and has switched to a new generation of car since Hornish's departure, he feels he could become competent there again. But he doesn't think he could rekindle his own interest.
"I picked up on it pretty good on the cars and knowing what it was like," he said. "But for me to say that I could go over there and it would be easy, I don't know. I think that I could do it. I'm almost 100 percent sure.
"But when the rush or the thrill or whatever you want to call it, the desire to get in that car is not there, I don't think that I would commit to it 100 percent. Then what's the point of it? It'd be wasting everybody's time. I'm appreciative of all the people that called and are interested, were interested, in me doing it. Roger [Penske has] asked me many times. It's just not on my career path."
-- Brant James
Rick Hendrick said that interest from potential sponsors "is picking up," but the economic climate remains challenging for owners such as himself seeking to fund championship-caliber teams. While the current Sprint Cup paradigm requires upward of $20 million to fund a team able to yearly compete for titles, like the one Hendrick fields for points leader Jimmie Johnson, finding funds from a single source is less common. Johnson's No. 48 Chevrolet is one of the few in the garage with a single full-time sponsor.
"I feel like the interest is picking up," Hendrick said. "We're getting more people that we're talking to. The good news is the folks that we have are renewing. That's good. When the economy was at its worst, it looked like the whole financial crisis was affecting the world, we were worried."
Hendrick said his team renewed its sponsorship with Axalta for Jeff Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet on Thursday night and the company has "huge plans." In addition, Hendrick said CEOs from Farmer's, which sponsors Kasey Kahne's No. 5 Chevrolet, visited the team in Phoenix and the chairman of Lowe's will be at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday as Johnson attempts to win a sixth championship with the company.
Fellow owners Joe Gibbs and Richard Childress concurred, noting a high level of recommitments from existing sponsors.
-- Brant James
.@austindillon3 damages front splitter in final practice: http://t.co/tjZpVg7Qc2 #NASCAR pic.twitter.com/N2NUWZddXm— NASCAR Nationwide (@NASCAR_NNS) November 15, 2013
That concludes the final #NASCAR Nationwide Series practice at Homestead. @ReganSmith was the fastest with a speed of 167.380 mph— NASCAR Nationwide (@NASCAR_NNS) November 15, 2013
Tony Stewart's new perspective, via @MartySmithESPN -- give it a read. Huh. http://t.co/hOC4iNPUPv #NASCAR— NASCAR on ESPN (@ESPNNASCAR) November 15, 2013
Cup practice over with Jimmie 11th; Kevin 16th and Matt 19th. Top 20: 56 5 27 15 78 17 24 18 11 22 48 2 16 88 43 29 99 42 20 31. #NASCAR— NASCAR on ESPN (@ESPNNASCAR) November 15, 2013
HOMESTEAD, Fla. -- NASCAR president Mike Helton said series executives remain "confident in what we did" in reacting to the outcome-manipulation scandal that marred the final race of the regular season at Richmond International Raceway.
Following the lead of chairman Brian France, the series imposed a series of sanctions on Michael Waltrip Racing that effectively removed its driver, Martin Truex Jr., from the Chase, allowing Ryan Newman in and later inserting Jeff Gordon -- the aggrieved party in a late-race manipulation -- as a 13th championship-eligible contestant. The series then enacted a series of rules attempting to curtail the behavior in the future, including codifying that drivers attempt "100 percent" to advance their positions.
"It's an issue that we have to continue to monitor as well as the industry," Helton said, "but I think for some time the incident itself and our reaction to it and the industry's reaction to it, whether it's through the fans or sponsors or what have you, creates such a huge awareness around it that I think teams will actually for some time be more careful -- which is the purpose of penalties anyway, is to eliminate it from happening again."
Helton added, however, that the sanctioning body is "experienced enough" to remain diligent in monitoring the teams. The restrictions placed on teams entering the Chase opener in Chicago included eliminating digital radios for spotters and limiting one spotter per car on the observation stand during races.
-- Brant James
Take your pic with the @Sprint Cup at the #SprintExperience in the display area! @MissSprintCup pic.twitter.com/dl4YJL3Txn— Homestead-Miami (@HomesteadMiami) November 15, 2013