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Kahne still annoyed after wreck at Watkins Glen PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, August 15, 2013 12:19 AM

Associated Press

 

Kasey Kahne was none too pleased after being involved in a wreck at Watkins Glen last weekend.

Matt Kenseth, the man who caused it, has apparently reached out to Kahne to express his regret.

“He texted me, I don’t know, five to eight times apologizing, trying to explain what happened, how he felt really bad about how it happened and all that stuff. I understand and I appreciate the texts,” Kahne said. “At the same time, we’re trying to get in the Chase. It hurts when you get wiped out when you’re minding your own business. It’s happened enough this year that I don’t know what I can do about it but I definitely am not pleased. It’s really annoying and upsetting.”

Emotions are high right now, with only four races remaining before the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Kahne is in 12th place in the Cup standings, although with two victories he’s in good shape for a wild card if he doesn’t make the top 10.

His 34th-place showing at Watkins Glen didn’t help matters, of course. It was the fourth time this season he was taken out by a Joe Gibbs Racing driver, including three times by Kyle Busch, who won Sunday’s race.

“Well, just looking at the incidents with (Kenseth) and Kyle, we’ve always had conversations after the fact. They’ve explained and felt bad about it. Truthfully, Kyle races me really good all the time. It’s not really on my mind when I’m racing with Kyle,” Kahne added. “Matt has been pretty tough on me a lot this year. He got me there. That’s definitely on my mind. I just kind of see things the way I see it.”

Kahne was asked in a teleconference Wednesday if he could recall being on the other end of situations like that — and how he’d handle it.

“It’s never happened to me,” he replied. “Kind of makes me think I need to start taking cars out but it hasn’t happened to me. I don’t know what it would be like on that side of it.”

GORDON’S GOAL: Jeff Gordon’s visit to Michigan International Speedway in June was marred by an early accident — he was out of contention almost immediately when he hit a spinning Bobby Labonte less than 10 laps into the race.

Gordon figures that whole mess could have been avoided if he hadn’t started so far back in the pack.

“Qualifying as poorly as we did put us in the position to get caught up in that wreck,” Gordon said. “We shouldn’t have been in that position to begin with. We have to improve our qualifying effort here.”

Gordon started from the 29th position in June and finished 39th. Heading into another race in Michigan this weekend, Gordon is running out of time if he wants to qualify for the Chase.

Gordon is in 13th place in the Cup standings and has no wins this year, which puts him at a disadvantage in the race for the two wild cards.

“A win would certainly help our chances but I don’t think it’s necessary,” Gordon said. “I think a string of top fives and top 10s could get us a top-10 spot in the standings.”

That string better start soon. Gordon felt like he had a good car at MIS in June but his starting position made it harder to avoid trouble.

“I feel like we’ve learned some things recently that will really help our performance in qualifying as well as the race,” Gordon added. “I was pretty happy with my car when the race started here in June. Hopefully, we have a strong car again.”

Veteran selected as NASCAR race’s honorary starter

BROOKLYN, Mich. — A U.S. Army veteran and Purple Heart recipient from Ohio has been selected as the honorary starter for the Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR race after his hope of honoring his 6-year-old son on race day resonated with voters in an online contest, organizers announced Wednesday.

David Balestrino Jr. of Youngstown won the contest on the Pure Michigan Facebook page, getting hundreds of votes for his entry on why he wanted to honor Brady by waving the green flag Sunday at Michigan International Speedway. Pure Michigan is the state’s tourism campaign.

“While serving in Iraq I missed the entire first year of Brady’s life,” Balestrino wrote in a statement. “That was the most difficult thing I ever had to go through.”

With the honor, he added, he hopes he “can make everyone who has served or is still serving proud.”

Balestrino served as a combat engineer from 2003-09 and received a Purple Heart during service in Iraq. For the contest, people submitted entries of 50 words or less explaining why they should be selected as honorary starter. His entry got more than 800 votes.

As honorary starter, Balestrino will get a pace car ride from NASCAR’s official pace car driver and attend the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers’ meeting. TV personality and Traverse City native Carter Oosterhouse is Pure Michigan 400 grand marshal of the event.

KENSETH’S KID: Ross Kenseth, the 20-year-old son of Matt Kenseth, is hoping to make his first start on the ARCA Racing Series on Aug. 25 at Madison (Wis.) International Speedway.

That’s just 100 miles from his hometown of Little Chute.

“Making my first ARCA start at Madison means a lot to me,” Kenseth said. “It’s a great opportunity to get in a Ken Schrader Racing car. They always have good stuff, especially at short tracks.”

This will be Ross Kenseth’s first start in a heavy stock car similar to those used in NASCAR’s top series but he’s already won at Madison International Speedway’s half-mile paved oval five times in various series during his young career. Matt Kenseth was the 1994 track champion and Ross’ grandfather, Roy Kenseth, has promoted races at the facility.

“There isn’t a greater place for Ross to get his first ARCA start than Madison,” Matt Kenseth added. “That track has meant a lot to us through the years. We both have enjoyed some great times and have won some big races there. I really appreciate one of my racing heroes, Ken Schrader, giving Ross a chance and his first start in the ARCA series.”

HONORING LEFFLER: The late Jason Leffler will be honored with a race in his name at Wayne County Speedway in Illinois later this month.

Leffler died in June in a dirt track accident in New Jersey. He was a 2-time winner on the NASCAR Nationwide Series and a 1-time winner in the Truck Series.

The Jason Leffler Memorial race will take place Aug. 28. It will be a $5,000 to win Midget race, in which 100 percent of the front entrance and 50 percent of the back entrance will go to a fund set up for Leffler’s son, Charlie Dean Leffler.

“This race is my way to honor Jason who was a great racer but more importantly, a great father to Charlie Dean,” track owner Doug Stringer said. “Jason’s passing has left a hole in the hearts of many of us who loved him and had the honor of calling him our friend. As we continue to mourn, we must keep Charlie Dean in the forefront of our minds and do everything we can to ensure he grows up knowing what an amazing person his father was and how much he was respected as both a driver and a friend.”

Stringer’s company, Stringer Holdings, manages the NASCAR and World of Outlaws race sponsorships for Great Clips.

Sprint car safety procedures in question

KNOXVILLE, Iowa — Three-time NASCAR champion Tony Stewart reignited the debate about the danger of open-wheel winged sprint cars when he broke his leg last week in rural Iowa.

It was the third crash in a month for Stewart. It came after Leffler died racing sprint cars in June and long-time driver Kramer Williamson died after a crash earlier this month.

Sprint car racing has always been inherently dangerous — that’s a big part of its appeal — but the spate of high-profile wrecks has some questioning whether the cars are as safe as they should be.

“They understand that these cars are rocket ships and that there’s danger involved. Me as a competitor and seeing what has happened in our sport and what has influenced change for the good in safety, I’m hoping that those with the World of Outlaws and those that are the influencers … would be willing to step it up,” said Gordon, a 4-time NASCAR champion who raced sprint cars early in his career. “They’ve made slight changes and improvements in this area. Obviously, it’s not enough.”

Gordon’s not the only one concerned about the safety measures in place for sprint cars, which generate tremendous horsepower and can be a ton lighter than a NASCAR race car. Sprint car star Donny Schatz, who last weekend won the famed Knoxville Nationals title for the seventh time in eight years, is among those clamoring for change.

“I’m not confident that safety measures are (being) met in this sport. There are a lot of people that are working hard to perfect things, to make things better. But sometimes people don’t see things until people get hurt,” Schatz said. “There are some areas that safety can be addressed. But it’s also a gray area that no one wants to get involved in.”

Schatz drives for Stewart’s sprint car team. Like Stewart and fellow NASCAR driver and sprint car enthusiast Kahne, Schatz runs in the safest equipment available. But Schatz believes that not all of his competitors are putting safety ahead of speed.

Schatz said that manufacturers and sanctioning bodies need to work together to implement more car specifications that put safety first.

Brian Carter, the CEO of the World of Outlaws sprint car series, said the sport has made significant strides in recent years, pointing to roll cages, the car’s weight requirement of 1,400 pounds — which is intended to keep them from becoming dangerously light — and chassis improvements designed with safety in mind. Carter added sprint cars have adapted some of the head and neck restraint technology from NASCAR.

It’s not just the cars, though. The condition of the dirt tracks that host sprint cars is also crucial.

Carter said World of Outlaws tracks are inspected by the organization’s insurance company before being approved as a venue and requirements include high walls and a catch fence with cabling. The series also requires safety response and fire safety teams to be on hand at every race.

But small tracks can only do so much. It’s unrealistic to expect small dirt tracks across the country to adopt the expensive SAFER barrier walls now required in NASCAR.

“It’s going to be open wheel racing. Until we change that, these cars are going to catch a wheel and they’re going to flip. The key is really keeping the driver safe,” Carter continued. “The key is … knowing that they’re going to flip and tumble and making sure that we understand what happens when they do and make sure the driver’s compartment is as safe as it can be.”

Carter added World of Outlaws is constantly reviewing its safety procedures, with changes that could be made in the offseason.

But the tug of war between safety and speed will likely continue. Sprint car drivers have long internalized the constant presence of danger, knowing that the element of risk is part of the sport’s charm.

“Nobody wants to give up an advantage in performance and these guys, like I said, I compare them to space cowboys. That’s what makes them awesome and that’s what makes the cars incredible. That’s what makes their fan base as loyal as it is,” Gordon added.

 

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