Stewart will meet the press
STEWART’S RETURN — After being sidelined for more than month when he broke two bones in his right leg in a sprint car accident, three-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion and Stewart-Haas Racing Tony Stewart co-owner will meet the press next Tuesday at the team’s shop in Kannapolis, N.C.
Given how SHR founder and co-owner Gene Haas said earlier this week that he hired Kurt Busch to drive for SHR more or less over Stewart’s objections, Tuesday’s presser should be one for the ages. FOXSports.com will be there to bring you all the action.
“I don't think Tony was exactly enthralled with what I did,” Haas said of the signing of Busch during a press conference announcing the hiring last Tuesday. Then, laughing, Haas added, “But I think he saw it my way, you know. Either that or get out of the building.”
Haas said Stewart was against expanding to a fourth car for next year, but got overruled.
“I wanted to go forward with that,” Haas said. “Tony broke his leg. I didn't have really a chance to talk to Tony about it at all since he wasn't really talking to anybody. So I kind of did this on my own, probably overstepped my authority a tick there. I'm not used to having too many authorities to work with. I've been pretty much on my own. I did realize that Tony might be a little bit upset about it. He was, he was a little upset.”
Stay tuned. There will be much more to this story.
KENSETH COMING ON STRONG — By his very nature, Matt Kenseth is, well, kind of reserved. The Wisconsin native and 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion is one of the more low-key drivers in the sport and when he won his first Daytona 500 a local columnist joked that Kenseth would celebrate by going out and painting the town plaid.
That said, when Kenseth is feeling good, look out. With five victories so far in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing, the most recent coming Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, Kenseth now holds the No. 1 seed in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. The final Chase field will be set after next week’s race in Atlanta.
> Given his low-key nature, Kenseth isn’t one to blow is own horn, but Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, he made it clear that he likes the position he’s in right now.
“I feel a lot better this week after winning last week and I think we had a pretty good test this week at Chicago,” said Kenseth, who qualified sixth for the AdvoCare 500. “I feel pretty confident right now. I feel like we have a really good race team. Right now, we're really on top of our game on pit road and with car prep and the rest of the stuff. I feel good about all that, but you have to perform each and every week once you get there. The wins are great — obviously as long as we make the top 10, that seeds us up toward the top. We should be at least a tie or hopefully ahead. That is good.”
KESELOWSKI WON’T BACK DOWN — Despite being on the outside of the Chase looking in right now, defending NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski is geeked about his chances of racing his way into NASCAR’s playoff round. Keselowski unloaded fast at Atlanta Motor Speedway on Friday, his No. 2 Penske Racing Ford going to the top of the chart on the first lap of the 90-minute practice for Sunday night’s AdvoCare 500. Keselowski’s lap of 190.071 miles per hour held up as the best in the session, ahead of Carl Edwards, Kurt Busch, Clint Bowyer and Keselowski’s teammate Joey Logano.
“I feel like both Atlanta and Richmond kind of suit our team very well,” said Keselowski, who is 11th in points, just 4 points behind Logano. “We tested both tracks and had very successful test sessions. I feel like we’ll be a team that can quite honestly win the race, so from a points perspective I can’t sit here and tell you that it’s not on my mind, but my primary focus is just on winning the race. If we can get that done, then everything takes care of itself.”
As always, Keselowski professed to be unafraid of the possibility of failure. He qualified 22nd for Sunday’s race.
“I look at this as a tremendous opportunity to prove the merits of our team and that we can operate at a high level because there have been a lot of circumstances out of our control that have put us in this position to not be locked in so late in the season, and our back is against the wall,” said Keselowski. “But these are the times where great teams step up and they make something happen and where great drivers step up and they make a play. That’s what I’m looking forward to, I’m looking forward to that opportunity to prove what we’re worth and what we’re made of.”
BIFFLE BULLISH — Roush Fenway Racing’s Greg Biffle didn’t finish better than 10th in a six-race stretch from Kentucky to Watkins Glen. But after finishing ninth in each of the last two races, the veteran driver is a little more optimistic about his chances of making the Chase and running well during NASCAR’s playoff round.
“I have to say five weeks ago, especially after Indy, I would say we really don’t have a prayer of winning the championship if we make the Chase,” Biffle said Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. “That has changed over the last four or five weeks. We’ve gotten a lot better. We’re continuing to work hard with this new car and understanding it better and finding small things and continuing to improve. Of course, we’ve got a couple tests coming up that we’re hoping to learn some more about this race car and get more competitive, but I feel like we’ve gotten more competitive.
Biffle likes where his team is vs. a year ago, even with a 23rd-place qualifying effort at Atlanta. “I feel like we’ve made huge improvements on our car and that is definitely a momentum upswing heading into the Chase versus last year, where we were sort of hit-and-miss and had a pretty good average, and then the last four races before the Chase we were terrible,” he said. “We really just weren’t that good and we were just kind of hanging on. We came out of Richmond with point lead before the reset, but I think we’re running better now and we’re on that upswing. If momentum has anything to do with it, we’re definitely going up instead of lateral or down.”
A TRYING START — Brian Vickers, the newly minted full-time driver of the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota, came into the Atlanta weekend fresh off a fourth-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway last Saturday night. But Friday got off to an unfortunate start for Vickers as the MWR team had to change engines when they found a problem under the hood. That means Vickers will start Sunday night’s AdvoCare 500 from the back of the field next to Michael McDowell, who failed to make a qualifying run.