Notebook: One Last Time for Fennig

Jimmy Fennig

Jimmy Fennig won a Sprint Cup championship with Kurt Busch and the Daytona 500 with Bobby Allison and Matt Kenseth during his storied career. (Photo: Getty Images)

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As NASCAR prepares to crown its Sprint Cup champion this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, it also marks the end of an era for two crew chiefs.

Jimmy Fennig, one of only five crew chiefs to win a Sprint Cup championship in the Chase era, will leave his post after this weekend’s race. Steve Letarte, crew chief for Dale Earnhardt Jr., heads to the NBC booth after Sunday.

Fennig’s 40 Cup victories rank second among active crew chiefs. Only Chad Knaus has more with 68. The low-key Fennig has more Cup wins than the four crew chiefs vying for the championship this weekend have combined (34 wins).

Among Fennig’s victories are two in the Daytona 500. Fennig won with Bobby Allison in 1988 - when Allison finished ahead of son Davey - and with Matt Kenseth in 2012. Fennig’s championship came in 2004, the inaugural year of the Chase, with Kurt Busch.

“Racing is what makes him tick and the competition,’‘ Kenseth said of Fennig. “It’s hard to argue that Jimmy isn’t one of the best crew chiefs in the garage. There’s not many people that have been in the sport as long as he has and remained relevant and competitive as long as he has.  

“I’ll never forget when we won the Daytona 500 in 2012 and he was smiling and said, ‘The last time I was here was 25 years ago with Bobby Allison – that was the last time I won the Daytona 500.’ When you think about that and all the changes that this sport has had with technology and the cars and engineering and all that stuff compared to where we started, it really says something about somebody that’s still that competitive today.”

Said Edwards, who has had Fennig as his crew chief the past two seasons: “I don’t know how much formal education in any engineering Jimmy Fennig has, but if there is a problem, he can solve it – period.

“Jimmy somehow finds more time in the day and finds a way to work harder than almost anybody I’ve ever met. He cares as much or more about winning than anyone I’ve ever been around, so to me Jimmy has been a huge positive influence on me and my driving and he’s a friend.’’

Dubious Distinction

After winning a series-high seven races last year, Matt Kenseth is on the verge of going winless this year. It would be one of the greatest turnarounds in series history. 

Only Carl Edwards’ falloff would be greater. Edwards won a series-high nine races in 2008 and then went winless the following season.

If Kenseth does not win this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he would become only the eighth driver in series history to win at least five races one season and go winless the following year (while running the full schedule). 

Others on that list are Jeff Gordon (six wins in 2007, zero in 2008), Kasey Kahne (six wins in 2006, zero in 2007), Mark Martin (five wins in 2009, zero in 2010), Bill Elliott (five wins in 1992, zero in 1993), Dale Earnhardt (five wins in 1980, zero in 1981) and Richard Petty (five wins in 1978, zero in 1977).

Of those drivers, two are in the Hall of Fame (Earnhardt and Petty) and one will be inducted in the next class (Elliott).

On The Line

A number of marks and streaks are on the line this weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Tony Stewart looks for his first victory of the season. He’s won at least one race every year he’s been in Sprint Cup (15 seasons). His streak is tied for fifth in series history. Richard Petty won at least one race a record 18 consecutive seasons (1960-77).

Other drivers who won at least one points race last year and are still looking for their first points win this season are: Brian Vickers, David Ragan, Greg Biffle, Jamie McMurray and Martin Truex Jr.

There have been 13 different winners this season. That would be the fewest winners in a season since 2010. 

Richard Childress Racing is seeking its first Cup championship since 1994. If Ryan Newman delivers a title to the organization, it would be the largest gap in series history between championships for a team. The longest drought between championships for an organization is four years for Hendrick Motorpsorts between Jeff Gordon’s 2001 title and Jimmie Johnson’s crown in 2006.

               

Motor Racing Network – "The Voice of NASCAR" – will have live coverage of Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 from Homestead-Miami Speedway starting at 2 p.m. (ET), with live streaming at MRN.com.

 

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