Friday roundup: Kansas news and notes

Here are some of the highlights from Friday at Kansas Speedway:

Kenseth returns, but…

Matt Kenseth had a bummer of a first day back in NASCAR.

While Kenseth said it took him only two laps to feel like he’d never been out of a car, the No. 6 Ford itself appears to need some work — maybe more than his fans anticipated.

After Kenseth was only 28th in practice and his car didn’t get on track to qualify due to not passing inspection in time, the 46-year-old acknowledged it was a rough day.

“We didn’t have a lot of speed in practice at all today and we have some work to do to get it driving better as well,” said Kenseth, who will start 35th. “It’s going to take some patience. I’m not a super patient person, but it’s going to take a little time and some patience on everyone’s part to get this rolling in the direction we need it to.”

Kenseth was late starting practice because his car had trouble getting through tech inspection. He then made several short runs in the limited time — some as short as one lap — as he attempted to quickly diagnose the car’s issues.

“I knew what I was looking for and I could get a read rather quickly — at least which direction a change brought us in, whether it was a positive change or a negative change,” he said. “Really trying to get through enough stuff.”

Part of Kenseth’s task in his return to Roush Fenway Racing is to get the cars driving better again, and Friday showed how much work there is to be done.

“I didn’t have a lot of expectations for today (speed-wise),” he said. “I was hoping today would go smoother than what it went. I certainly hoped we would have been faster than what we showed in practice.”

Harvick the destroyer

Kevin Harvick, winner of four races this season and dominator of pretty much every week this season, was asked after winning the pole whether he plans on giving anyone else a chance at Kansas.

“I hope not,” he said. “I have no plans to.”

With apologies to Kyle Busch, the other drivers are well aware of who the top driver is this season so far.

Harvick is “head and shoulders above everyone else right now,” outside polesitter Ryan Blaney said.

“Kevin seems to be by far the fastest right now,” William Byron said.

Harvick now has 23 career poles, and 17 of them have come since he joined Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014.

Bowyer on blame

Clint Bowyer’s rear-window violation at Dover was due to a broken part and wasn’t intentional — at least according to Bowyer.

After his second-place finish was penalized this week, Bowyer said he was certain his crew wasn’t trying to skirt the rules. He said to look at the pictures for proof.

“If we’d have been pushing hard and they were foolish and got caught doing something bad and I felt like that’s how I got that performance advantage and that’s why I ran so good last weekend, you’d feel like you cheated somebody,” he said. “But I looked back at 150 pictures that we have available to us and went back and looked at the other guys that had the same problem — and I just didn’t see the same result.”

Bowyer will be without his usual car chief for the next two races.

Speaking of penalties…

Martin Truex Jr. said NASCAR’s rules are “over-enforced” and fans are tired of hearing about penalties every Wednesday. Dover runnerup Bowyer and third-place finisher Daniel Suarez were both among those to receive major penalties this week.

“(Fans) think everyone is cheating and (say) ‘This is ridiculous,’ and ‘I don’t want to watch racing because these guys are frauds.'” Truex said. “I’ve seen (the penalties) that happened this week, and that’s not why that guy ran third or why that guy ran second. Let’s have some common sense in the way we enforce some of these things.”

Truex said he recognizes NASCAR is in a “tough spot” in search of a level playing field, but is frustrated at the ongoing issue.

Wednesday inspection, you take four cars (after the race),” he said. “If you took the whole field, 38 of them might have failed this particular week. You had so many that didn’t pass.”

Ryan Blaney suggested NASCAR should still do the penalties but not tell anyone about them in order to keep the conversation focused on the racing each week.

Byron quietly having solid season

The Hendrick Motorsports cars have still been a bit off, but William Byron is measuring himself against his teammates — not the rest of the field. And he feels like he’s making gains in that department.

“I’m running close to where my teammates are and that is always really a reference point for how you are performing,” he said. “I feel like I’m right in the middle of them sometimes. Richmond, we were probably the best of our cars and I was really excited about that.

“I think that I am able to run with them, and if I can do that and continue that progression, once we do get the speed that we need we will all be that much better.”

Byron said at the start of the year, there was a bit of a shock with some races like Atlanta. And when they missed it in those races, it was a big miss. But now, he said, “the misses are a lot better” and are still competitive performances — like a top-15 instead of top-30.

Byron has eight top-20 finishes in his 11 Cup starts and is 17th in the point standings.

Almirola doesn’t care who owns NASCAR

Most drivers didn’t have much to say about the report NASCAR is up for sale, but Aric Almirola said it didn’t matter to him, anyway.

“I just show up every single weekend excited to go race and that’s what I love,” he said. “That’s what I’ve always done, so for me, as long as there’s a platform and a ride available for me to go race, I don’t really care who owns it. That’s just the truth. I know that’s probably not the answer you’re looking for, but I could give a crap less.”


News analysis: France family reportedly exploring NASCAR sale

What happened: According to a report by the Reuters wire service, the France family is exploring a sale of NASCAR. Reuters said investment bank Goldman Sachs is working with NASCAR to find a potential buyer. NASCAR declined comment when I asked about this story and I have not been able to confirm it independently — but Reuters is a highly respected outlet and there’s no reason to believe this is a false report.

What it means: This is the first development in what could ultimately become one of the most important stories in NASCAR history. That the founding France family is even considering selling the sport and cashing out is a massive development that could have significant repercussions. And if the sale actually happens? NASCAR as we know it is likely to change forever, perhaps undergoing a transformation that could be similar to Formula One’s makeover. F1 was sold two years ago for $4.4 billion to Liberty Media.

News value (scale of 1-10): Like an earthquake too large to be accurately measured by a seismograph, this one is off the charts. Depending on what happens and who buys it and what their intentions are, this could turn out to be the biggest NASCAR story ever.

Three questions: With the potential of a sale now becoming public, what kind of immediate impact could this have on the sport? What entity has both the interest and billion dollars (at least) it would take to purchase and run the most popular form of racing in America? Would a new owner be able to save NASCAR from its decade-long slump, or would such a change only accelerate the decline?