Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2015 myAFibRisk.com 400 at Chicagoland

Who’s in the headlineMatt Kenseth is peaking at the right time. The 2003 champion has won three of the last six races and heads into the Chase as the hottest driver in the sport. Joe Gibbs Racing had three of the top-six finishers, and at one point early in the race, had all four cars in the top four. The garage perceives that JGR has a significant horsepower advantage and that has to be playing on their minds. Unless the rest of the field catches up it just might be a battle among JGR drivers in Homestead for the wavy silver trophy.

What happened – Kenseth started on the outside of the front row and took 14 laps to get past polesitter Joey Logano. Over the final 386 laps, Kenseth led 352 of them. Logano restarted next to Kenseth for the majority of the restarts for the night and got the better of Kenseth on most of them. When it came down to the last one Kenseth made sure he didn’t go late, and maintained the lead that ultimately led him to secure the win. Outside of those shenanigans, the biggest story of the night was Michael McDowell hitting a safety truck that was on the track cleaning up debris under caution. His crew chief and spotter were invited to spend some time in the big yellow truck after the race.

Why you should care – After all of the hype and attempts to build excitement around the battle for the final Chase positions, it turned out to be all for naught. The top 16 that came into the race were the 16 who left with a shot at the title. The JGR teams have established they are the ones to beat. Stewart-Haas Racing is going to be in the mix, but this race was not their best effort to lay the foundation for their Chase run. Hendrick Motorsports is off, and while they have teams near the front at the finish, they are not contending for wins like champions should be.

What your friends are talking about – Restarts are the hot topic in the series and continue to be a confusing topic for fans and the drivers alike. Kenseth clearly went before the restart box on the final restart of the race, but in his defense, the rule reads ‘in the vicinity’ of the box. With the shown dependency of the 2015 rules package on clean air, there is no doubt that restarts, especially at the end of races, will decide this championship. NASCAR needs to get their arms around this issue and start calling people for violations or chaos is going to rule during the playoffs.

The hype began the moment that the checkered flag flew at Richmond and it will be all that we hear about over the next 10 weeks. The 16 drivers in the Chase will be paraded around like show ponies this week to any media outlet that will have them. The PR machine will be trying to play up perceived rivalries and you can be sure the altercations that occurred on pit road and in the garage during last season will be replayed constantly. The Chase might not be the way many people think a racing series should determine their champion, but it will generate excitement for sure.

The spring race at Richmond is probably going to be moved to Sunday afternoon. The facility has reportedly put in a request to NASCAR to have the start time moved to the daytime. The reasons are many but it is, at least in part, for fans to have more opportunity to experience the race weekend and to drive home during the day instead of late at night. The preponderance of night races has watered down the competition in the series and the new aero package, combined with daytime racing, should put on a fantastic show. Hopefully more tracks will follow suit and the product will be better in the end.

Who is mad Aric Almirola did everything he could at Richmond to make it into the Chase, but he fell 17 points short of the final spot. While he might have done a few things differently during the season and certainly could have benefited from faster cars, he could have easily made it with one simple strategy maneuver-  scored one bonus point this season. Had he taken the time to stay out and lead a lap on the first caution of every race of the season, he’d have made 25 more points and he’d have made the Chase by eight points.

Jack Roush dominated the sport in the early 2000s, to the point that it had to institute a rule to limit the number of drivers a given team could field. The organization has chased the memory of Kurt Busch‘s 2004 championship while managing a couple of runner-up finishes in the points. Since 2011, when Carl Edwards finished second in points and Kenseth finished fourth, the company has slid dramatically. This isn’t the first time they have lost their way, but this is the first time they have failed to put a single car in the Chase. Not only did they miss the Chase, but they were nowhere close. With the amount of money that Roush is pouring into the organization he cannot possibly be pleased.

Kyle Larson came into the Cup series like a whirlwind in 2014, scoring eight top-five finishes during the season. This year, it has been a struggle to say the least for Larson. Attribute it to a sophomore slump, a reduced racing schedule away from the Cup Series, or a lack of feel for the new aero package. Whatever the case may be, the luster is off this year and the pressure is certainly mounting, not only on Larson but on his team. Larson has two years left on his contract and there are rumors that he’s destined for other teams when that expires. Chip Ganassi has to be pressing to see a return on his investment and belief in the young phenom before that contract runs its course.

Who is happyPaul Menard has continued to develop as a racecar driver. He’s always been a quick starter, but has tailed off as the season unfolded. Progressively, over the last 5-10 years, his tail off has come later and later in the year. This season it came late enough that he made the cut for his first Chase. With the pressure of the Chase now on his shoulders it will be interesting to see how Menard and his No. 27 team perform.

Jamie McMurray has been in this game for 14 years. He’s won some of the biggest races in the sport, but until Saturday night he had never made it into the Chase. In 2010 he won three races but only managed a 14th-place finish in the points. With Matt McCall now on his box calling the shots, McMurray has been showing consistency that has put him in the running for a title. How long he will be able to stay in the conversation will be seen.

Denny Hamlin was in the news for the wrong reasons leading into Richmond. Tearing an ACL for the second time in his career, he brought the spotlight onto himself and his team. Hamlin maintains that, while there is pain, he can drive through it and manage it while in the car. Fortunately for Hamlin, he brought home his car in sixth place and proved to the fans, his team, and himself that he could race well with this injury. We’ll see if he can make it to Homestead with a shot at the title.

When the checkered flag flew:

Kenseth put his car in Victory Lane for the 35th time in his career. It took 570 starts for Kenseth to reach that plateau. The win is Kenseth’s fourth triumph of 2015. This is Kenseth’s second career victory at Richmond International Raceway. Kenseth is 20th on the all-time wins list, two behind Bobby Isaac.

Kyle Busch came home in second for his sixth top-two this season. This was Busch’s ninth career top-two run at Richmond. Busch has finished runner-up 30 times in his career.

Logano came home in third for the fourth time in his career. This is the third career top three at Richmond for Logano. Logano has finished in the top three seven times this season.

Brett Moffitt finished 35th to win the Rookie of the Race.

The field is set, so now it is all about the Chase for the Championship. For the remainder of the season, we’ll track the points for the title contenders and who is locked into the subsequent rounds via victory. For now, the top 16 and their point position:

  1. Jimmie Johnson
  2. Kyle Busch
  3. Matt Kenseth
  4. Joey Logano
  5. Kevin Harvick
  6. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  7. Kurt Busch
  8. Carl Edwards
  9. Brad Keselowski
  10. Martin Truex Jr.
  11. Denny Hamlin
  12. Jamie McMurray
  13. Jeff Gordon
  14. Ryan Newman
  15. Paul Menard
  16. Clint Bowyer

Takin’ it to the Bank:

Cup winners this year have pocketed $8,858,287 in 26 races, while the last-place finisher has taken home $2,037,746.

In the Xfinity Series it has been $1,760,022 for the winners and $327,415 for last place in 25 races.

After 14 Truck races the winner has $723,941 in his coffers and the last loser has banked $136,682.

What is in the cooler – There are times in racing where a team hits it and just dominates a race. Saturday night was one of those nights. Kenseth led 352 of 400 laps. It was his world and everyone else was just a squirrel trying to get a nut. The 2016 aero package will hopefully bring better racing back to Richmond. For now, this one was a stinker. We’ll give it two, lukewarm, Magic Beaver Pale Ales from Lickinghole Creek Brewery.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – And so it begins. The field is set and the final 10-race run to the championship is ready to begin. The first race toward deciding the 2015 NASCAR Cup Champion is at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday September 20th. Coverage begins at 3:00 ET on the NBC Sports Network. It can also be heard on your local MRN affiliate and SiriusXM Channel 90. It can also be streamed on NBCSports Liveextra.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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As much as I want it to be so, I do not believe for a minute that the Hendrick teams and satellite teams will continue to be “off” during the contrived playoff chase. I hope I am wrong.


NASCAR brings a lot of criticism on itself and they seem clueless and indifferent. Twice in one race the tide of ignorance and indifference went the way of Toyota. Big shocker. It was told that they gave the “Richmond Speech” in the drivers meeting, seems they meant the teams not themselves. Two ignored violations by Busch and Kenseth is problematic, as there is a lot on the line with this stupid “Chase”. NASCAR needs to ramp up their “professionalism” a lot, as it is no existent and pathetic right now. They should be above question and reproach in their rulings..they just feed the favorite card always.


Get ready to hear how dramatic last season’s Chase, as if brawls on pit road and in the garage are to be confused with actual exciting racing.
Just about every Richmond fall (ok, to be technical, late summer) race since the start of the Chase has been a stinker.


LETS GET READY TO RUMBLE. If that is your thing, there should be plenty of post race chaos on pit road similar to last year. It got a little tiresome after a while, but that’s the pressure these drivers are under now. So Nascar got what it wanted in that regard, even though the racing will be less than stellar. I don’t have much interest in it. I will probably check out the last few laps of each race to see who ran away with the race win and who is fighting on pit road afterwards, but other than that, football and golf will rule my tv. Sorry Brian, you turned this diehard fan into a casual one.

Bill B

LOL… The race was not compelling thanks to Kenseth’s domination. The chase determination was non-existent thanks to the gap between Bowyer and Almirola after Darlington. Seems NASCAR did not get either of the goals they try so hard to achieve by trying to manufacture excitement with their rules and games they play with officiating the races.

There seemed to be a couple of questionable cautions during the race, as usual.

If you didn’t think NASCAR made the right calls with on-track shenanigans during the regular season, you won’t find the chase any better. In fact, NASCAR seems very reluctant to ever make a call on any chase participant once it starts. So get used to guys jumping the restarts and nothing being done about it.

Thank God we won’t have to hear anything more about who makes the chase. Now we just have to put up with the even more annoying “?????? Nation” bullshat.


Bill, Serious question. What exactly is the difference between attempting to “manufacture excitement” and outright “fixing”? Isn’t fixing by definition attempting to control the outcome?

Bill B

It’s a fine line, that’s for sure. It’s a matter of degrees of how blatant the attempt is and that is open to interpretation and perception by each individual.
For instance, IMO, the NFL has crafted the rules to make the game more offensive in nature because more scoring equals more interest from fans. I’d swear the refs don’t make the same calls in the last 2 minutes that they do in the rest of the game. How do you explain how for 50 minutes neither team can do much but then in the last 5 minutes of the game both teams score 3 times?
So, I can’t answer your question. All I can say is that NASCAR has increased the crapshoot factor of who wins the races every year since dumbass has taken over. No doubt the wave arounds and lucky dog rules are meant to keep more drivers on the lead lap and more fans from changing the channel. Likewise the chase was designed to make the championship more interesting (in theory) and create more viewers since more drivers are included. Too bad both have backfired, crossed that imaginary line, and resulted in the turning more fans off than on to NASCAR. If there is any silver lining for NASCAR it’s that, if they keep it up, they should be able to appeal to the wrestling and reality tv fans and eventually offset the sports fans they lost.


i lost interest in the race very early into the race saturday night. got tired of all the chase following, green under names means in, yellow means almost…whatever.

was there any on track passing for the lead after the first 5 or so laps after a restart? what i saw reminded me of the same song different day, leader takes off and that’s if.

i did wake up at about 11:30 pm and saw some of the chase crap. even the driver’s acted like they didn’t want to be there for that dog and pony show and photo ops.

i did notice how announcers didn’t mention the attendance. at darlington they fell over themselves talking about the great fan attendance.

i guess toyota feels like they’re due a championship.

have a feeling i won’t be paying too much attention to the chase and their nations.

Mike Neff

Actually Janice there were four on track passes for the lead that didn’t happen immediately after a restart. That is part of why the race got two beers instead of one. It was due to Kenseth’s poor restarts but it was refreshing to see a better car actually run down a slower leader and pass them. Unfortunately that was primarily due to the lesser reliance on aero at Richmond than at the 1.5 mile tracks. Don’t look for it to happen at Chicago, Kansas, Charlotte, Texas or Homestead.

Joe D.

And if just one of those times Almirola gets caught up in a back-marker’s wreck (and ends up finishing 40th instead of 15th) because he dropped to the rear by pitting a lap later the whole “stay out on the first caution lap to get the bonus point” strategy goes out the window.

Bill B

Yeah Joe, I thought about that too. No way can anyone over-simplify the complexity of the variables by stating something that obviously stupid. It does make you think about the value of bonus points though.


I was going to comment on that remark by the author as well. His argument assumes that Aric would still have finished in exactly the same place each week, while at least once during the race pitting with the lap down cars and restarting tail end of the lead lap instead of where he was actually running. Ridiculous.

Mike Neff

Just for fun, went back and looked at a couple of recent races. At Darlington Almirola was in the top 15 so it would have been a stretch there to invoke this strategy. At Richmond however, he was 29th when the first caution flew. There were 31 cars on the lead lap. At Bristol he was 23rd and there were 29 cars on the lead lap. Yes it is a small sample size but I think it demonstrates that the strategy isn’t ridiculous or obviously stupid.

If the No. 43 team started doing it at the beginning of the year, other teams would probably catch on and pull a similar maneuver, at which point it becomes a chess match as to whether you try and play the card or not. However, for a team that missed the Chase by 17 points that left 25 easy points laying on the table throughout the ‘regular season’ it is a legitimate question.

Again, we’re talking about a team that routinely ran closer to the back of the lead lap than near the front of it and, let’s be honest, in reality shouldn’t be contending for a title. But when you’re talking about millions of dollars in exposure for your organization by making the ‘playoffs’ shouldn’t you try and take advantage of every possible opportunity to score points?

Bill B

Really Mike? It’s absurd to think that staying out for a bonus point and losing track position would be a viable option. It’s penny wise and pound foolish and would have a very low probability of working out the way you envision it. I’m no statistician but this sounds like some kind of get rich quick scheme and if an actuary were to crunch the numbers I’d bet it would be one hell of long shot to employ that strategy all year.

Kevin in SoCal

I was going to say the same thing Joe. A better example would have been to say Almirola should have pushed for one or two more positions each race, and he would have made it on points.


Can’t blame Kenseth for jumping the gun a bit, but this is going to start creeping to the middle of turns 3 & 4 if NASCAR doesn’t pin this down a bit better. They have a light at the entrance to pit road for when it is closed/open. Why not but a big green light there and if the lead drivers RPM’s go up by 10% before the light goes on, give them a penalty.

By the way, what is the penalty? Pass thru?

Anyway, this Toyota domination makes for boring racing….hope the other teams can figure something out in a hurry.

Carl D.

It’s sad when that the only thing anyone will remember about a short track race is that a driver hit the safety truck.

I agree that the JGR teams are the favorites going into the chase. Still, with the exception of Edwards, every one of those teams has choked during one chase or another. I believe Logano and Harvick are contenders this season as well, and Johnson is definitely a threat as always. Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski are a step behind their teammates but could surprise. Truex is your dark horse. Everyone else is burnt toast.


Wasn’t it Edwards whose choke job led to Stewart’s championship a few years ago?

Carl D.

I don’t know if I’d call that one a choke… Edwards fought hard and actually had the same amount of championship points as Stewart; not bad considering that Stewart won half of the 10 chase races. My opinion is that Edwards didn’t choke, he just got out-chased.

Brian France Sucks

He lost that race in the pits to Darrian Grubb. Grub pitted Stewart for four tires just before a caution flew. Bob Osborne freaked and pitted Edwards for two tires. Tony on 4 tires held off the 2 tires of Edwards, who had the better car all race.


I was very glad that Gordon ran well in the race and that his team finally pulled their heads out of their butts and did their jobs on the pit box and on pit road. However, honestly I thought the race overall was pretty boring. I wound up muting the tv so I didn’t have to hear the incessant chase chanting from the booth. I get there wasn’t much to cover otherwise because Kenseth was so dominant but it is a bore IMO.

As far as parading the 16 around like show ponies, yes, they will do that. Will it generate excitement? Not in my opinion, but then again, I have never liked the chase. NASCAR has become an also ran in the sports world. Putting the races on obscure channels is not helpful. Richmond – the race before the chase – as it has billed itself for so long now – didn’t sell out.

Tim S.

I get the feeling that even if it had been a race with 25 lead changes among 20 different drivers, the playoff theme would still have been endlessly trumpeted. In a world where the Daytona 500 winner crows about being “locked in,” can we expect anything less? A notable exception might have been if two winless popular drivers had battled for the victory at the end. But even that would’ve been looked at through the lens of chase qualifications or bonus points, rather than a win. I’m not the least bit shocked that it didn’t sell out. It races like a clone track now and the hallowed playoff field was essentially already set. Nothing to get excited over, even for fans of the playoff system.


all this manufactured excitement over who is 16th in points..
in racing???
that like the 15th loser..
wait.. what?? the guy who is 16th in points has a shot a championship?
in racing?
is this like T-ball now??


Is it any more absurd than a guy who finished the first 26-races in 25th position, missed the first 11-races because he was injured trying to inflate his ego by running in a lower series, and was 464-points behind the guy who was leading, and now he is in second place? Oh wait! It was NASCAR’s fault that he got hurt, and so, the inebriated moron running the show (into the ground) decided to give him a special waiver. T-ball? How about turning the whole sport into a joke!

Kevin in SoCal

If it was anyone other than the much-hated Kyle Busch, I dont think there would be this much outrage about it. Especially if it was your driver. And no, he’s not my driver either.


Sorry Kevin, but you are wrong, and hate has nothing to do with what I said. It wouldn’t matter if it was Junior, it would still be wrong. And just to let you know, if it was Logano, I would still say what I did. Just wait until the non-NASCAR controlled media start having a field day bashing the sport, calling it completely irrelevant. With some of the decisions coming from the person running his show his way (because he can), would they (the non-NASCAR controlled media) be wrong? Too, go and read some of the articles on the site of one of NASCAR’s broadcast partners and read some of the comments. All too often, someone comments about NASCAR not being a real sport. Sorry to say it, especially after following this sport for over 50-years, but, the sport has become a joke, thanks to one Brian France.


i could see a medical waiver being given to 1 or 2 races, but to miss all that kyb did and still be in the chase just slaps fans in the face. ken you’re right, kyb got hurt cause of his ego and wanting to prove he’s a winner on all levels.

this long-time fan can all but care less about the sport now. the kyb deal was just another nail in the na$car coffin for me.

Kevin in SoCal

We can agree to disagree then. I don’t see it any different than Kurt Busch last year winning only 1 race and sucking the rest of them to 25th in points after 26 races, even though he raced all 26. Kyle at least won 4 races and proved he belongs.

Bill B

You all are all arguing the same point and it has less to do with Kyle Busch and more to do with the chase itself. The problem is that too many drivers that qualify for the chase shouldn’t be given the opportunity to win the championship at all because they basically didn’t get it done during the regular season. If you put a gun to my head and told me I had to come up with a chase scheme, mine would be that only the top 5 in points gets reset. Then we wouldn’t even be talking about someone that missed more than one or two races being a contender no matter how much they won. Why would someone have to put a gun to my head you ask? Because otherwise I would go back to a season long points system heavily rewarding wins.




If I were king for the day, the first 5 chase tracks are among those I’d lose one race or get rid of altogether. Chicago: delete outright. New Hampshire: delete outright & return to North Wilkesboro out of spite. Dover: lose one race. Charlotte. Keep the World 600; rotate the all-star (or get rid of it); and lose the fall date. Kansas: delete outright & move to Iowa.

I’ll pay attention to Martinsville (ancestral ties to SW VA) and to ‘Dega (bc I live in the general area). Otherwise, it’s week 3 of college football. Yes, we struggled (i.e. got our asses handed on everything but the scoreboard) against J-State, but War Eagle!


Mike, you had a point until you mentioned North Wilkesboro. At this point you can’t get a 4 wheeler around that track without difficulty. Its time to let Wilkesboro go people. And as long as NH packs the place they will not lose a 2nd date. And if you are going to get rid of NH, you need to also get rid of Phoenix. Same track. The rest I’m with you on. On a side note, I’m interested to see how this new package works on the flat tracks.


Just once in a while it would be nice if instead of The Official Sock Puppet of NASCAR reporting we got an honest evaluation of the actual event. Really, could this race have been any less interesting?

Bill B

I don’t know John,,,, I heard Kenseth fans like it :)

Kevin in SoCal

“Kenseth clearly went before the restart box on the final restart of the race, but in his defense, the rule reads ‘in the vicinity’ of the box.”

I’m a Kenseth fan so I’m probably biased, but I saw his front end inside the restart box when he punched it to restart the race. If they’re going to take a hard-line stance then NASCAR needs to change the rule to “your entire car must be inside the restart box” or “your cockpit must be inside the restart box” or whatever they deem necessary.


perhaps they should just create a much much larger zone and leave it in the hands of the drivers…
what am i say.. this’ll never happen.. it makes too much sense.


How about everyone starts by the guy/gal waving the green flag like everywhere else in the racing world. This restart box thing is stupid to begin with.


now that hendrick has signed contract with lowes, knaus and johnson, see how poorly those cars run now.

Tim S.

Did anybody anywhere think they weren’t going to get that deal done? Just another way for Hendrick to get attention. Faux suspense.


I did dishes to see if the dishwater was as dullas the race; sadly the dishwater was more exciting.


It’s a safe bet who will be the 1st drivers out of the chase, the 4 that barely made it in. Also the chase SUCKS in any format Brian uses, there have been to really good races this year, but we have to wait until next for NASCAR to implement those areo package’s. Also running the spring race on Sunday next year is not a good move, less people will come because of having to drive home Sunday night, and have to take Monday off or miss work, the TV ratings will be lower because show it on FoxSports 1 and folk do things out on spring afternoons. And NASCAR isn’t it!


I don’t know man, Newman and Hamlin stayed in all the way to Homestead last year. I’d love to see one of the 5 winless drivers this year get there without winning a race and clinch the “championship” by finishing 2nd at Homestead. Let the blithering idiots at NASCAR try and explain that away.

Kevin in SoCal

I forgot to mention earlier, who else noticed Kenseth knock the “Federated” box off his car, since he’s sponsored by DeWalt again? Wasnt it a rule made 10 years ago or so that says drivers cannot do that? I guess they forgot.


He even commented that he was glad the box wasn’t full. Last time it was over sports drinks wasn’t it?


Yes, I remember very well that NASCAR would not tolerate product placement being “shoved off or tampered with in anyway once they allowed stickers on the newborns in V-Lane. I was told I was crazy, but I am right. It is absurd the product placement is everywhere, are their toe nails painted with sponsors, if so look for it soon. what a turn off.


I was at the race, and I can tell you from first-hand experience that it was as boring as it looked on TV. But, that being said, I found myself trying to justify my expense by searching anywhere…everywhere for some excitement. And I found it some 100 laps or so before the end of the race. Didn’t anyone else notice just how fantastic a job Almirola was doing in those last 100 laps? I believe he was flirting with the top 10 most of the night, but then he began a slow and steady march to the front. One by one he was passing cars until, all of a sudden, there he was in the top 5. And still he kept going! with 30 laps to go he was clearly closing in on Kyle Busch for second place (or was it third?) But then (amazingly enough!) a $#%@&*! mystery debris caution! Granted, although he was easily passing everyone else, he probably would not have had anything for Kenseth (nobody did), but wouldn’t it have been a MUCH more exciting show if this guy were to actually have PASSED the #18 ??? Couldn’t you just see the headlines? (“Underdog goes all-out for a shot at the title!”). Oops! No, wait! He was chasing the favored ones. So maybe even the “excitement” quotient (manufactured or not) must still take a back seat to putting (or keeping) the correct cars/drivers in the spotlight.

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