Notebook: Can Toyotas Challenge For Title?

Matt Kenseth

Matt Kenseth, who finished second last weekend at Atlanta, notes Toyota has made steady progress heading toward the Chase. (Photo: Getty Images)

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Matt Kensth joins Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch in the Chase after securing a spot last weekend with his runner-up finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The question is if the JGR cars are strong enough to compete for the NASCAR Sprint Cup title. Hendrick engines, which power Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing, have been the strongest this season with the Roush-Yates engines in the Team Penske cars as good or better at some tracks. The Toyota engines have not been as strong, scoring only two wins - Hamlin at Talladega and Busch at Auto Club Speedway.

“I feel like we have been on a steady climb improving our stuff the last few months,’‘ said Kenseth, who has back-to-back top-five finishes, the fourth time he’s done that this year.

“We all ran good in Kentucky and New Hampshire as a group, (at Bristol) we ran pretty good. So, I feel like we have been steadily gaining on it. We wish we were a little bit faster and were out there dominating races and winning more races for sure, but I feel like my team's really operating at a high level.’’

Kenseth admits the Hendrick-powered cars still hold an advantage.

“They’ve just got a ton of a ton of speed,’’ Kenseth said. “They're hard to keep up with, on short runs like that when you have restarts and stuff like that, it's almost impossible to beat them.’’

Together Again

For the third consecutive year, all four Hendrick Motorsports drivers will be in the Chase with Kasey Kahne qualifying last weekend via his Atlanta win.

Jimmie Johnson won the title last year with Dale Earnhardt Jr. fifth, the top Hendrick drivers. In 2012. Johnson led the Hendrick crew by placing third with Kahne fourth.

“I think we have got better balance this year than we have had in the past,’’ car owner Rick Hendrick said. “I think Jeff's been on a roll. It's been the best year of (Earnhardt’s) career with us. Jimmy and Chad (Knaus) have been a little bit off, but we're coming up on tracks that they're really good at. And this will give (Kahne’s team) some good momentum going into the Chase.’’

Testing

Stewart-Haas Racing, Levine Family Racing and Front Row Motsports (David Ragan only) are testing Tuesday and Wednesday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske and JTG Daugherty are testing Tuesday and Wednesday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. This marks the first of four tests teams are allowed at Cup tracks for Penske.

Here are other upcoming tests dates:

Sept. 22-23 at Texas Motor Speedway - Team Penske and Roush Fenway Racing.

Oct. 7-8 at Martinsville Speedway - Chip Ganassi Racing.

Oct. 13-14 at Martinsville Speedway - Team Penske and Germain Racing.

Oct. 21-22 at Homstead-Miami Speedway - Stewart-Haas Racing.

Oct. 28-29 at Homestead-Miami Speedway - Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing, Team Penske and Richard Childress Racing.

New Tire

Goodyear is bringing a new tire to Richmond this weekend. Compared to what was run there in the spring, the left-side tire features a mold shape change to add more stagger. The new right-side tire features a construction and compound change. It is designed for better wear and ability to put rubber on the track. The tire change came from a test July 8-9 with Denny Hamlin, Greg Biffle, Cole Whitt, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola.

Quite A Sight

 

Michael Annett lost one of his his contacts on Lap 150 of Sunday night’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Despite that, he went on to finish 21st - his best finish since placing 21st at Daytona in July.

 

Number Crunching

Carl Edwards, who won at Richmond last fall, has scored eight top-10 finishes in his last nine starts there. ... Jimmie Johnson has eight top-10 finishes in 25 career Richmond starts - 32 percent. That percentage of top-10 finishes is the lowest he has at any track. ... Kyle Busch has not had a top-15 finish in his last five races. ... Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski, with two wins each, have combined to win each of the last four Nationwide races at Richmond. ... There have been 15 different winners in the Nationwide series this season. There were 11 different winners last year. 

 

 

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