Catching up before an All-Star weekend

The most telling quote from the recently-returned Matt Kenseth after last Saturday night’s KC Masterpiece race at Kansas Speedway was the following:

“The good news is it’s got to get better.”

Kenseth has been brought in to trouble-shoot at Roush Fenway Racing, where he spent the bulk of his NASCAR career.

Given the initial results – the car didn’t make it through pre-qualifying inspection in time to post a qualifying lap; Kenseth finished 36th after the No. 6 Ford was swept up in a late-race crash and had often been a lap down – it seems there’s a good bit of labor ahead for the two-team organization.

Tedious work and incremental gains may eventually lead to improved performance. But it’s a slow, slow process.

Owners will tell you that competitive shortcomings aren’t corrected overnight – the go-to analogy is that it’s akin to turning around an ocean liner.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the organization’s race shop, Ricky Stenhouse led 10 laps and finished 11th at Kansas in the No. 17 RFR entry,

Kenseth is slated for six more starts in points events as well as this weekend’s Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Trevor Bayne is scheduled to return to the driver’s seat for the June 3 Pocono 400.

NASCAR officials say the crash at Talladega Superspeedway that saw the No. 1 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet of Jamie McMurray go airborne was a result of “ramping” and do not anticipate changes going forward.

McMurray, 41, was not injured when his car came up off the racing surface, was struck by Ryan Newman and flipped several times. The incident occurred during practice for the Geico 500.

McMurray’s entry turned sideways when a left-rear tire went down; as the car came up off the racing surface, the roof flaps deployed but the car was struck in the side, forcing it up into the air.

NASCAR has three categories for such incidents: pure liftoff, ramping and punting. Pure liftoff is when a car spins by itself and lifts off the track without contact from another car. Ramping is when one car runs across or is forced across another vehicle; punting is when a car is struck from behind by another vehicle and lifts off the track.

“There are so many combinations of (ramping and punting),” Gene Stefanyshyn, NASCAR Vice President of Innovation and Racing Development, said. “From what we can see, he (McMurray) ‘ramped’ on Newman and just started to roll. … the nice thing about it is he got out and walked away.”

Keeping the cars grounded has been an on-going project for NASCAR’s safety group. Almost two years ago, changes were put in place after Matt Kenseth’s No. 19 Toyota became airborne. That resulted in changes which increased the lift-off speed (necessary for a car to become airborne by itself) by 30 mph.

“We didn’t like that (Kenseth incident) so we went to work and came up with a package, we took it to Daytona with five cars, tried it, asked the drivers ‘any difference? Are you seeing anything?’ Stefanyshyn said.

“And all the drivers said ‘Hey, no handling problems … everything is fine. In fact, it feels a bit better.’

“We did see the speeds go up a bit. but when we went to the (wind) tunnel … we improved the liftoff by somewhere around 30 mph. When we could liftoff before at say 185, we put like 30 on top of that … so you’d have to go over 215 to lift off (unassisted).”

Another thing that is helping protect drivers in such instances is the enhanced vehicle chassis, mandatory on the series’ superspeedways (Daytona and Talladega) this season and all tracks by 2019.

“That car compared to what happened to Austin Dillon in 2015 where he went up into the fence (at Daytona) and came down and his floor was coming out and all that – McMurray’s car was in pretty good shape, did a pretty good job” Stefanyshyn said.

“So, we feel comfortable with that package we’re rolling out; that will really help.”

The number of teams penalized for back glass (support and structure) infractions increased by one this week with the penalty dropped on the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team with driver Kyle Larson.

That’s five through the first third of the season.

Good thing those sort of “incidents” don’t provide a competitive advantage or else everyone would be trying it.

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