Phoenix Rear-View Mirror

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Watching an athlete leave any sport while they’re still at the top of their game is a rarity. But that’s exactly what Matt Kenseth is doing this year.

Kenseth is a victim of NASCAR economics and does not have a Cup ride next year. Think about that for a second. A guy with a championship and 39 career wins, destined for the NASCAR Hall of Fame and still driving as well as anyone currently in the series won’t be competing in 2018.

Kenseth proved just how good he still is with a stirring drive to Victory Lane in Sunday’s Can-Am 500, getting by incredible fan favorite Chase Elliott less than 10 laps from the finish to score his first win of the season and snap a 51-race drought in the process. It was an emotional win to say the least and the usually steely-eyed Kenseth shed a few deserving tears when he climbed out of the race car.

Too often in sports athletes overstay their welcome. Willie Mays stumbling around in a Mets uniform, Johnny Unitas trying to sling footballs for the Chargers or Michael Jordan clanging balls off the iron playing for the Wizards are unpleasant memories.

NASCAR is not immune and many drivers have remained in the sport well past their prime.

But here’s Kenseth facing the stark reality that next week’s Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway may very well be his last-ever NASCAR race.

If that’s truly the case, it’s a shame. But at least on Sunday, Kenseth delivered a NASCAR “thanks for the memories” for the ages.

  • The Chase Elliott-Denny Hamlin feud added a new chapter Sunday when the duo battled tooth and nail for position. Their celebrated Martinsville incident remains squarely a focal point around the sport and the duo proved there was no love lost between the two when they battled for position late in Sunday’s race. Elliott did not openly dump Hamlin but he made contact several times trying to get the spot and eventually did. It led to a cut tire and trip into wall and out of the race for Hamlin as well as the championship. I’m not sure the score is quite even between the two and NASCAR’s newest rivalry looks to have a lot of life left in it.
  • Another sold out crowd showed up at Phoenix for Sunday’s race continuing a very solid streak of attendance for the track. Next spring’s NASCAR weekend will be the final events for the current configuration of the one-mile desert oval with the 2018 playoff races to be contested on what will literally and figuratively be a brand new ISM Speedway, the facility’s new name thanks to a title sponsorship deal signed earlier this year. The current frontstretch will be the backstretch and the start-finish line will be moved to just past the infamous dogleg, which should create an interesting brand of racing to be sure. New grandstands, an updated infield and garage area plus a state-of-the art media center will all be part of the upgraded property in about a year’s time.
  • Saturday’s XFINITY Series race didn’t go exactly as some predicted with a slight shake-up in the Championship 4 picture. JR Motorsports drivers Elliott Sadler, William Byron and Justin Allgaier all advanced to next week’s title race in Miami and did so without their regular pit crews. Thanks to an emergency landing in Arkansas by the plane carrying members of the organization’s race day pit crews from Hendrick Motorsports, JR Motorsports had to put together makeshift teams to work with thee drivers. Then when Brennan Poole, who had a playoff spot coming into the race, exited early with damage in an accident it opened the door for Daniel Hemric to race his way to the championship field. The Richard Childress Racing driver did it but not without a clean and tight fight to the checkered flag with Cole Custer in a display of sportsmanship we haven’t see in a while.
  • Friday night’s Truck Series race was the antithesis of the NXS competition with a much more rough and tumble approach taken by nearly the entire field. Three red flags for some hard crashes slowed down the race one for an an incident between title contenders Austin Cindric and Ben Rhodes. Fingers were pointed by many to both drivers but in this no holds barred atmosphere NASCAR has created with playoff racing it’s hard to find fault on either side. That’s hardly solace for Rhodes, who had a chance to get into next week’s Truck Series championship race at Homestead but saw those hopes dashed in the accident while Cindric will go on to race for the crown.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the positions of the Motor Racing Network.

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