Kahne signs contract extension as No. 5 team gets new crew chief, sponsor

Lift Master will be a primary sponsor for the No. 5 three races each year, starting in 2015. (Credit: LiftMaster.com)

Lift Master will be a primary sponsor for the No. 5 three races each year, starting in 2015. (Credit: LiftMaster.com)

A lot of bustling is going on over in the Hendrick Motorsports camp.

NASCAR isn’t a full week into the offseason, but the No. 5 team of Kasey Kahne is making changes. Earlier this week, it was announced that Keith Rodden would return to HMS to crew chief Kahne. Rodden left his position as Kahne’s lead engineer to crew chief Jamie McMurray.

The switch severs the driver’s long-running partnership with Kenny Francis, who has been his crew chief since Homestead in 2005. It was the second-longest driver/crew chief relationship, behind the championship-winning duo of Jimmie Johnson and Chad Knaus. Rodden joined them in 2006, a crucial part of Kahne’s team until he moved in 2013. Matt McCall will take his place on top of the No. 1’s pit box.

As if that weren’t enough, Thursday brought news that Kahne signed an extension with HMS, tying him to the No. 5 car until 2018. A new sponsor is also joining the mix; Lift Master, who appeared on McMurray’s car since 2012, will become a primary sponsor for Kahne from 2015 to 2017. It will be featured three times next season.

The contract extension puts to rest the rumors that 2014 NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Chase Elliott will replace Kahne. After a difficult year for the team, the questions kept rising, and nobody had real answers. The result was a slight overhaul for the team, securing their driver, a new crew chief, and a sponsor in the matter of a few days.

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One for the Ages: Harvick escapes old shadows, wins first Sprint Cup championship

(Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

(Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

The new Chase format was a shot in the dark.

January brought news of changes. Drastic, NFL-like changes, ones that seemed severe and intriguing. Pitting four drivers against each other for one deciding race was a difficult idea to accept. Being open-minded, fans sat and watched the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season unfold with anticipation.

Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Newman used victories, consistency, and strategy to slide into the Final Four. Ironically enough, those same factors played a significant role in determining who won the championship (and race) at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The race was full of drama. Cautions, risky pit calls, balls-to-the-wall racing emerged as day shifted into night. Cautions dotted the field, and the anticipation kept rising and rising and rising.

A restart occurred with three to go. No one knew which driver would prevail. Harvick was leading, Newman was on his bumper, and Hamlin still had a shot. The only driver not in contention at the end of the event was Logano, whose pit crew let him down. His car fell of the jack during a crucial stop, and it was all over for the No. 22 team.

The No. 11 slid back on old tires. Rocketman gave it his all. Despite all of this, Happy Harvick prevailed, scoring the victory and the title.

Harvick’s first season with Stewart-Haas Racing turned out to be more than ideal, earning five wins with genius Rodney Childers. The combination was labeled “deadly” from the start, and they two backed it up in the best way possible: with a championship. This also speaks volumes on the time spent at Richard Childress Racing, where he couldn’t grab top honors no matter how hard he raced. He switch was not only a breath of fresh air but also a huge step out of an ominous shadow.

Harvick was known as Dale Earnhardt’s replacement for the longest time. Now, he’s earned his stripes.

Another facet of this event walked on stage and hugged his friend, his driver.

The year that Tony Stewart has endured is heartbreaking. It’s also been difficult for those around him, those who love him. He and Harvick are close. That was apparent when the driver of the No. 4 played defense against cringe-worthy allegations. After going into isolation, Stewart dipped into a dark cavern, one that seemed bottomless.

A championship may not heal his wounds, but it made him smile. That’s a shift in the right direction.

The Chase worked. By God, it worked.

The end of the 2014 season marks many goodbyes. Marcos Ambrose leaves NASCAR to race back home in Australia. Carl Edwards jumps off Roush-Fenway Racing’s ship and joins Joe Gibbs Racing. Steve Letarte, crew chief for Dale Earnhardt, Jr., prepares to join NBC as part of their new NASCAR coverage. Related, ESPN ceases all NASCAR broadcasting rights. We say farewell to some and wish others best of luck in their new endeavors.

Congratulations to all Chase contenders and those who made every race a thrill ride. From the sport’s most popular driver winning the most prestigious race to tempers overflowing and coming to blows, it was one for the ages.

May 2015 be even more invigorating.

As Elliott’s future shines bright, Nationwide’s presence in series fades

(Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

(Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)

Chase Elliott comes from a famous pedigree, yet he made his own spotlight in 2014.

The son of Bill Elliott wrapped up the NASCAR Nationwide Series championship last Saturday at Phoenix International Raceway, yet it didn’t lessen the glory. After finishing 17th, the youngster grabbed the official championship flag and performed a burnout of his own. The combination of JR Motorsports equipment, leadership from boss Dale Earnhardt, Jr., and passion burning inside his being proved to be a winning one. Elliott becomes the first rookie and the youngest driver to claim the NNS title.

The beginning of a driver’s legacy coincides with the end of a sponsorship era. After Nationwide downsizes to sponsoring JRM, it will become NASCAR Xfinity Series. Nationwide will definitely be missed; their dedication to the sport is admirable, and things just won’t be the same.

Matt Kenseth won the race, holding off Kyle Larson in two green-white-checkered finishes. Larson’s performance mirrored the one he gave Friday night, dominant for a majority of the event. Unfortunately, late-race incidents deterred him from winning in both instances. If he keeps it up, he may secure his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win Sunday evening.

The NASCAR Nationwide Series is now a thing of the past, yet its reputation will live on. Constantly criticized, always under review, the second-tier series was something else. Being tainted by Cup drivers didn’t help it out much. However, as a new chapter begins, a clean slate appears. It’s now the time to shape fans’ perception of the series.

Two-thirds of the sport’s final weekend is officially over, setting up expectations for the NSCS race. Despite this, they won’t crown an eighteen-year-old champion. And it doesn’t get any cooler than that.

Thrilling night in Florida turns fruitful for Wallace, Crafton

ncwts_111414_wallace_crafton

(Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty images)

There’s no doubt that NASCAR’s Camping World Truck Series is its most exciting level. With powerful names backing rogue talent, it’s an adventure-seeker’s dream. No race is dull, and no driver is dominant. It thrives on the unpredictable.

Coming to Homestead Miami Speedway is always bittersweet; it’s too soon for this series to end, especially after having a handful of races. It gave us many beautiful memories, one that was reenacted Friday evening.

Darrell Wallace, Jr. overthrew a strong Kyle Larson for the win in Florida, a replay of the race at Eldora Speedway. After being eliminated from championship contention after issues in Texas, the Kyle Busch Motorsports driver proved himself with the hard-earned win. Larson started from the pole and was fast all night, yet Wallace challenged when it mattered most. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie raced his tail off, yet it wasn’t enough for the win.

Wallace’s victory also tied up KBM’s owner’s championship. Busch, who raced Friday night, congratulated Wallace and celebrated himself with a nose-to-nose burnout with his driver. It’s no surprise that KBM’s constant speed and talented youngsters earned them a championship on that side.

Finishing fifth was Ryan Blaney, who could barely muster a smile afterward; he wound up second in points despite his top five effort. The young gun has impressed the entire year, bringing wins and respect to the Brad Keselowski Racing name. He’s bound to do great things in the future. Keep your head up, kid.

So, who won the championship? Matt Crafton became the first driver to win back-to-back titles in NCWTS. All he had to do was finish 21st or higher, but he went for gold and secured a top-ten slot.

It’s uncertain what 2015 will bring for the series, from driver changes to the heart-racing final laps we’ve grown to love. In the end, all that matters is the sight of beat-up trucks and passionate wheelmen.

February can’t come fast enough.

Survival earns victorious Harvick and others slots in Final Four

(Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)

(Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)

The level of intensity kept rising until the very end, a needed win coming for a hopeful Kevin Harvick. The driver of the No. 4 and three other drivers earned their tickets to Homestead-Miami Speedway in a thrilling bout at Phoenix International Raceway Sunday afternoon. Eight teams entered the event with their fingers crossed, praying that things would go their way.

For half of them, it unfortunately didn’t.

Harvick’s performance was nearly flawless, proving something that everyone already knew: Phoenix is his track. Out of the last four races at the venue, he’s won three of them. His first season with Stewart-Haas Racing has been full of ups and downs, so a championship would definitely taste sweet. He’s finally found what Richard Childress Racing couldn’t give him, and he’s riding it all the way to Homestead.

No one could foresee the chaos that would ensue; on the final lap, Ryan Newman smacked Kyle Larson, sending the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series rookie out of his way and up into the wall. That spot gave Newman the one point he needed to kick Jeff Gordon out of The Chase. This marks the second weekend where an end-of-the-race scuffle worked out negatively for Gordon.

Also in his first season with a new team, the fire that lit under Newman’s hind end is quite impressive. Who would’ve thought that No. 31 team could squeak into the final four?

Those also eliminated are Brad Keselowski, Matt Kenseth, and Carl Edwards. With the final four as Harvick, Newman, Denny Hamlin, and Joey Logano, a brand-new champion will be crowned next Saturday

Hamlin and Logano’s day were equally confusing; both went laps down early on and somehow managed to find consistency at the end.

That was the story of the race: survival. Points still mattered in the end, and they will always matter in racing.

However, the story will be completely different in Homestead. Whoever finishes the highest gets the title of 2014 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion. Which position is the highest? Oh, yeah. First.

That’s what they mean by “win and you’re in.”

The Final Four

1. Denny Hamlin
2. Joey Logano
3. Ryan Newman
4. Kevin Harvick

Crew chiefs, crew members punished after Texas melee

Fines and suspensions have been announced for various crew members and crew chiefs following the altercation at Texas Motor Speedway Sunday night. No drivers received punishment.

After observing video and various photos, three crew members have been fined $25,000 and suspended for the next six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races: Jeremy Fuller from the No. 5 team of Kasey Kahne, and Dwayne Doucette and Jason Ingle from Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 team.

Another No. 24 crew member –Dean Mozingo—is suspended for the next three races and owes a $10,000 fine.

Crew chiefs Kenny Francis and Alan Gustafson have been fined $50,000 and placed on probation for the next six races. This is on the grounds that crew chiefs assume responsibility for the actions of the team members.

In a statement, NASCAR senior vice president Robin Pemberton said, “We reviewed the content that was available to us of the post-race incident along pit road, and identified several crew members who crossed the line with their actions, specifically punching others. We therefore have penalized four crew members as well as their crew chiefs, as they ultimately are responsible for members of their team per the NASCAR rule book.”

“A NASCAR championship is at stake, but we can’t allow behavior that crosses the line to go unchecked, particularly when it puts others in harm’s way.”

The initial incident began on-track with two laps to go, when Brad Keselowski attempted to fill a hole left by Jeff Gordon. The two bumped, and the No. 24 slid back until his tire blew. Livid, he confronted Keselowski after the race. Crews surrounded the two as they bickered back and forth. In a twist, driver Kevin Harvick shoved Keselowski, and that caused punches to be thrown.

The suspensions and probations will run over into the 2015 season. Though the drivers got by without any issues, various crew members and crew chiefs have been punished for the fight at Texas.

Fines and suspensions have been announced for various crew members and crew chiefs following the altercation at Texas Motor Speedway Sunday night. No drivers received punishment.

After observing video and various photos, three crew members have been fined $25,000 and suspended for the next six NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races: Jeremy Fuller from the No. 5 team of Kasey Kahne, and Dwayne Doucette and Jason Ingle from Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 team.

Another No. 24 crew member –Dean Mozingo—is suspended for the next three races and owes a $10,000 fine.

Crew chiefs Kenny Francis and Alan Gustafson have been fined $50,000 and placed on probation for the next six races. This is on the grounds that crew chiefs assume responsibility for the actions of the team members.

In a statement, NASCAR senior vice president Robin Pemberton said, “We reviewed the content that was available to us of the post-race incident along pit road, and identified several crew members who crossed the line with their actions, specifically punching others. We therefore have penalized four crew members as well as their crew chiefs, as they ultimately are responsible for members of their team per the NASCAR rule book.”

“A NASCAR championship is at stake, but we can’t allow behavior that crosses the line to go unchecked, particularly when it puts others in harm’s way.”

The initial incident began on-track with two laps to go, when Brad Keselowski attempted to fill a hole left by Jeff Gordon. The two bumped, and the No. 24 slid back until his tire blew. Livid, he confronted Keselowski after the race. Crews surrounded the two as they bickered back and forth. In a twist, driver Kevin Harvick shoved Keselowski, and that caused punches to be thrown.

The suspensions and probations will run over into the 2015 season. Though the drivers got by without any issues, various crew members and crew chiefs have been punished for the fight at Texas.

Appreciation, a Lost Art

Most people don’t appreciate passion as it happens. They wait until time passes to admire the effort, the skill, and the desire. It’s a disservice to those who put blood, sweat, and tears into their craft. And other times, people don’t understand what is truly defined as passion. It comes off as cockiness and results in profanity-laced Twitter responses by “fans.”

This is what our culture has morphed into, and I am sick of it.

I love genuine athletes. It doesn’t matter what sport they participate in; they have my support. I say “genuine” because there are some who fall off to the wayside. They let the money and fame get into their morality and sicken it, becoming fueled by dollar signs instead of dedication. It’s when they have the opportunity to be a role model and fail. It’s when their new goals center on drugs, sex, and tangible happiness. When the fake athletes are revealed, we as fans let a bad apple ruin the entire basket. Instead, we need to highlight the good apples, show them off and prove that the world of sports is a fantastic place to be. Because it is.

Brad Keselowski is the racer NASCAR needs. He isn’t manufactured; there are rough edges and imperfections. There are times when people wish he were created in a factory, and I can’t help but shudder at the image that renders in my mind. I do not want to live in a world with a clean, soft-spoken Keselowski. There are drivers with that demeanor already, and they’re great. When the Michigan driver came onto the scene, however, he did it with a bang. And what followed was a breath of fresh air.

Holes are a huge thing in racing, especially when they’re left open on the track. Some are large and gaping, others are barely the right size. A driver would look yet wouldn’t go for the opening. The racer doesn’t care. It doesn’t matter if there are two laps to go or two-hundred, he’s going to make it work. He can taste the lead, smell the shower of beer and victory, and feel the magnitude of winning. With this format of the Chase, finishing first punches your ticket. If someone takes that opportunity away, someone’s getting punched.

Jeff Gordon had a right to be mad. He wanted that win more than anything in the world. Another championship, another chance to say, “Hey, I’m still here, even if I’m in my forties.” Because he is a racer, he understands what Keselowski was trying to do; when he was younger, the four-time champion would do the exact same thing. However, he was mad for a good reason, having a win stripped away from him. He wanted Keselowski to know that.

Chaos prevailed, a crashing sea of media, drivers, and crew members flooding pit lane. Keselowski was punched by a No. 24 crew member. Gordon came out of it with a bloody lip.

I will be truthful: I enjoyed every second of the scuffling, because I’m thrilled to see that these drivers still care. They want to be validated even after winning the championship once or thrice before. That’s beautiful. That’s all that’s right in the world.

That’s passionate.

Keselowski is the grit NASCAR can use, Gordon is the old dog who still has his bite. Neither of them did anything wrong, and we need to appreciate their fire.

Because who knows when another genuine athlete will come along?