Posted on: March 1, 2012 12:18 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2012 8:33 pm

Behind the Hauler: Kenny Francis

By Pete Pistone

  Kasey Kahne(L), Driver Of The #5 Farmer's Insurance Group, And Kenny Francis, Crew Chief Of The #5 Farmer's Insurance
(Francis is hoping to guide Kahne into the Chase and a possible Sprint Cup title in 2012)

Kasey Kahne
and crew chief Kenny Francis have been a successful tandem working together at a number of NASCAR operations. The duo spent last season with Red Bull Racing and went to victory lane in the second to last race of the year at Phoenix in anticipation of their long-planned move to Hendrick Motorsports.

As the 2012 season gears up, Francis is ready to guide Kahne behind the wheel of the Hendrick No. 5 Chevrolet. Although their season didn’t get off to the best start at Daytona with a variety of incidents and bad luck getting in the way, Francis believes a successful season as well as tenure at Hendrick lies ahead.

He joined SIRIUS/XM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” to preview the year and provide his perspective of working with Kahne and at Hendrick Motorsports:

Why do you and Kasey work so well together? What is it between you two?

We’ve got a lot of history together Kasey and I and we’ve been through a lot of ups and a lot of down too. We’ve got a great understanding of each other so hopefully we can be an asset to this organization and bring something to the table that’ll help everyone. We’re hopeful and confident that we’re going to run good and do well for Farmer’s (Insurance), all of our sponsors and the organization.

When did that chemistry begin?

Well we started working together the last race of 2005 officially but we had obviously known each other before that because he was our teammate at Evernham (Motorsports). So I’d say you know he was pretty young and I was younger too but he had a lot of talent and enthusiasm but I think we hit it off when we first met him. We started developing that relationship…it’s been a good time.

Assess him for us Kenny. What are some of the characteristics and attributes of Kasey Kahne that helps you as the crew chief try to get that car to victory lane on a more regular basis?

He’s pretty smart; he’s really good at thinking about the car and figuring out what he needs to go faster. He’s pretty analytical about things. He’s got a real good feel seat of the pants-wise. Which is great, he’s probably one of the most naturally talented people I know but he puts that together with a real good thought process.

Can you guys contend for multiple wins and a championship in 2012? A lot of people already have you as title contenders and expect big success in year one at Hendrick?

It’s too soon to kind of say anything. It’s going to take us some races to get used to things and understand the subtleties of these cars. The Hendrick chassis and bodies are a little different than what we had before. It all should be good. At the same time we are trying to sort out new cars and equipment and figure out what we’re building new, what we’re keeping from last year and there’s some uncertainty and unknowns.

How is he behind the wheel? It appears he keeps his emotions reigned in.

I think he’s good at that and a benefit yes. I mean everyone gets frustrated in this business, I mean it’s a tough business. You know it’s hard to keep your emotions in check in this business sometimes. Maybe some of that has rubbed off on me because I try to be even-keeled. I think that it’s an asset that you know if you’re having a tirade it’s not really doing anything to help solve the problem you’re having. If you’re going to get through it you have to put some thought into it and he’s very good about that.

You said you thought you could help the Hendrick team this year by maybe bringing a new perspective or some added information. Specifically are there things you’ve already been able to bring to the table here in the early going?

Well they struggled last year on their intermediate program and some of the mile-and-a-half tracks and we were able to be pretty successful on what we were doing last year. So that’s one area we’re focusing on. But overall the resources we have to work with and the strength of this organization is something I haven’t really experienced before. Having the stability and the strength of Hendrick behind us is a really good feeling.

So what can you guys accomplish in 2012?

Expectations are always high. We think we can contend, win races and when you win races good things happen in the points department. We had a pretty good run last year in some difficult circumstances for a lot of people and we had a good Chase. I’m hoping that momentum can carry over for 2012. We learned a lot last year that will help us this season and hopefully help the entire organization.

Early on we need to get our feet wet and get going, run a few races and see where we're at and see what we've got to work on as we go forward from there. Every place has a little bit different strengths and weaknesses. And we're looking forward to getting going. 

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Posted on: March 1, 2012 11:46 am
Edited on: March 1, 2012 2:44 pm

Penske Racing leaving Dodge for Ford in 2013

By Pete Pistone

Image Detail
(The debut of the new Fusion in 2013 will include Penske Racing as part of the Ford program)

In a blockbuster announcement Penske Racing will join the Ford camp in 2012 leaving Dodge.

An official announcement was made Thursday morning confirming earlier reports the long-time NASCAR team would campaign Fords in NASCAR beginning next season.

“We look forward to joining the Ford Racing NASCAR program beginning in 2013," said team owner Roger Penske. "We appreciate the long-term commitment that Ford has made to Penske Racing and for their continued support of the sport.”

More: Dodge statement regarding departure

The move returns Penske to the manufacturer a partnership that began in 1976 and 1977. Penske left and came back in 1994 before aligning with Dodge.

In total, through 524 NASCAR starts (509 Cup Series and 15 Nationwide Series) with Ford, Penske Racing teams earned 28 victories (27 Cup Series and one Nationwide Series) and 42 pole positions (36 Cup Series and six Nationwide Series).

The announcement was a surprise to many as Penske's two car tandem of Brad Keselowski and A.J. Allmendinger were both considered pre-season favorites for victories as well as possible Chase contenders.

Only one race into the new year, the organization and the manufacturer decided to announce their new partnership.

“It was important to get this agreement in place early so that we can plan ahead for the debut of the new 2013 NASCAR Fusion,” said Jamie Allison, Ford Racing director. “We will work with Roush Fenway on the final development of the new car during this season, but we want to be able to have our teams building their new cars for the 2013 season before the end of the year, as the transition to the new body is taking place.

“With the operations and technology resources Penske brings from all forms of racing, we know they will be a strong addition to our program, and we look forward to working with them and all our teams to create a stronger Ford NASCAR program with even greater depth.”

Ford unveiled its new 2013 Fusion during a media event in Charlotte back in January and the manufacturer sees the addition of Penske to its line-up of NASCAR organizations including Roush Fenway Racing and Richard Petty Motorsports as another opportunity to win the Sprint Cup title in 2013.

“This is an historic day for our racing program, and we are thrilled to see another member of the extended Ford family coming back,” said Mark Fields, Ford’s president of The Americas. “Working together with Penske Racing gives Ford another championship-level program, and we are excited to take our racing program to all-new levels.”

Where this news leaves Dodge and its NASCAR program is still murky. Penske was the only team in teh Dodge camp fielding entries in both the Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series.

Dodge is set to unveil its new 2013 Sprint Cup Charger next week at Las Vegas Motor Speedway but at this point does not have a team aligned with the manufacturer for the new year. 

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Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: March 1, 2012 10:02 am
Edited on: March 1, 2012 10:31 am

Report: Penske to switch from Dodge to Ford

By Pete Pistone

Autoweek is reporting that Penske Racing will leave the Dodge camp and field Fords for the 2013 season. An official announcement is expected to come Thursday afternoon.

Penske has fielded Dodges since 2003, winning 26 times in that span.

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Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: February 29, 2012 10:06 pm

Video: Matt Kenseth on Inside NASCAR

Daytona 500 winner Matt Kenseth reflects on his victory, Danica Patrick's wild week and his forays into the Twitter universe.

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Posted on: February 29, 2012 5:15 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 5:17 pm

Kevin Conway helps solve hit and run case

By Pete Pistone

A tragic hit and run accident outside the Chicago area forever changed the lives of the Lech family.

But in a small way NASCAR driver Kevin Conway has helped the family cope with the grief of losing a loved one by helping identify the man who killed Melissa Lech.

Conway and the Nemco Motorsports team started featuring local missing persons cases on the back of his car in 2011 as a way to connect with NASCAR fans and the local communities supporting the races.

His car featured information about the Lech case when Conway competed at Chicagoland Speedway last September.

It led to David McCarthy to show up at Lech's sister's house in Joliet, Illinois and admit he was responsible for striking and killing the 20-year-old college student.

McCarthy said he had seen reports about the case on local news as well as information surrounding Conway's car during the September Chase opener held at Chicagoland Speedway.

He admitted his guilt and turned himself in as a result and Conway is thrilled his effort could help bring justice.

“We have so many fans around the country, millions of people watching on TV and thousands in attendance,” Conway told The Chicago Sun-Times. “We wanted to use the platform that NASCAR gives us to tie it back into the community.”

Conway did have a chance to meet the Lech family while in Joliet and hopes the arrest can bring closure.

“I’ve lost my sister and my father,” he said. “I know what personal grief is like. To know they will be able to work through it from this point forward.

“It’s kind of mixed emotions — I’m glad this worked but still feel for the Lech family and their loss.”

Conway hopes that other stories will also come from the effort.

“For us to play a small part in solving one of these cases and to help bring closure — it’s humbling, and it’s a great honor to be affiliated with that and to play a role in that,” Conway told the paper.

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Category: Auto Racing
Posted on: February 29, 2012 4:40 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 7:05 pm

NASCAR right to come down hard on Chad Knaus

By Pete Pistone

Image Detail
(Illegal C-Posts at Daytona were the latest infractions on the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet - Getty)

Chad Knaus
is no stranger to being penalized by NASCAR. 

In fact this latest infraction and punishment would be the third time the Hendrick Motorsports crew chief got in hot water just at Daytona alone. 

Knaus was fined $25,000 and Jimmie Johnson hit with a 25 point penalty in July of 2002 when the 48 Chevy was found to have illegal rear trailing arms which dropped the back of the car lower to the ground. 

In 2006, Knaus was ejected from the track, fined $25,000 and handed a four-race suspension for installing an adjustable rear window to help the aerodynamics. 

Of course there are other examples of the Knaus ingenuity during his NASCAR career including a 2007 incident at Infineon Raceway for a body violation that resulted in a six-race suspension. 

He’s been relatively infraction free of late, at least in the suspension department, but last fall generated a lot of attention at Talladega when he was overheard instructing Johnson to “crack the back” of his car into the wall if he won the race because the rear end was too low to pass post inspection. 

So with that body of work already on his record, it’s no wonder NASCAR came down as hard as it did this time around with a six-race suspension, $100,000 fine and 25-point penalties in the driver and owner departments.

Such a repeat offender was bound to get the book thrown at him at some point.

“It certainly makes you scratch your head,” said NASCAR president Mike Helton when the Daytona inspection infractions were announced two weeks ago. “What we’ve learned over time is to, in the heat of the battle, try to accomplish what we immediately are after, which is to get all the cars inspected and get them on the race track and then sit back and kind of digest it all.

“But you do kind of scratch your head on a name that reoccurs.”

There’s a school of thought that believes Knaus is simply doing his job, trying to find that gray area where the NASCAR rulebook ends and ingenuity takes over.

NASCAR’s history is full of cheating incidents including the very first race the sanctioning body ever ran in 1949 when apparent winner Herbert Westmoreland's 1947 Ford was found to have illegal rear springs in post inspection and the victory was handed to second place Jim Roper.

But in order for the sport to have credibility there has to be a rulebook and NASCAR has to enforce said rules.

Since the advent of the “Car of Tomorrow” in 2007, NASCAR has made it clear the sanctioning body would not tolerate tampering of any kind with the Sprint Cup machine. The biggest and smallest names in the sport have all felt the wrath of NASCAR when the rules were compromised.

NASCAR has had no problem increasing those penalties over the years to get its zero tolerance point across.

"Now if this penalty won't stop it, we have no problems ramping up," Sprint Cup director John Darby said back when Knaus and fellow Hendrick crew chief were penalized in Sonoma. "We can keep going, and we will, until we get the results we're looking for."

Which is why this potential six-race time out for Knaus makes sense. A multiple time offender as he is, Knaus deserves more scrutiny.

Clearly the fines, penalties and suspensions that have come before haven’t impacted Knaus’ penchant for thinking too far outside of the box.

My guess is even this time around it won’t change that outlook.

But NASCAR is doing the right thing with this unprecedented disciplinary action.

And somewhere down the road when Knaus decides to hang up his crew chief uniform, I wouldn’t be surprised to see a job offer come his way in Daytona Beach.

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Posted on: February 29, 2012 4:37 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 6:57 pm

Poll Position: Will Jimmie Johnson make Chase?

Jimmie Johnson ran just 1 lap in the Daytona 500 before a wreck took him out of contention (US Presswire)


Will Jimmie Johnson recover from 25-point penalty to make the Chase?

Pete Pistone

Jimmie Johnson's challenge to get back to the top of the Sprint Cup mountain as a six-time champion became a bit more difficult with the pending six race suspension of Chad Knaus and the 25 point penalty for the team's Daytona infractions. But JJ and the 48 team can absolutely overcome the obstacle.

In an odd way, the hole Johnson finds himself in, may actually provide even more motivation for the team.

Johnson has dealt with running without Knaus before, winning the 2006 Daytona 500 with interim crew chief Darian Grubb guiding the way as Knaus sat out a suspension. As it was then, the Hendrick organization has a wealth of talent at its disposal and perhaps more resources than any other team in the Sprint Cup Series.

If the six race Knaus suspension sticks after the team's appeal, I have no doubt someone will come from the ranks to crew chief the 48 and Johnson won't skip a beat.

Knaus won't be able to be at the track during the forced vacation, but he'll still be very much a part in the planning and preparation process back at the shop, ensuring Johnson has a potent piece for the six races. Johnson has talked a great deal about learning lessons after his run of five straight titles ended last year and how the experience provided motivation for 2012. This misstep by Knaus will simply add to the determination level.

I picked Johnson to be my 2012 champ and this doesn't change my mind.

Brian De Los Santos

In light of his disastrous finish (start?) in the Daytona 500 where he collected just 2 points after wrecking on Lap 2, a 25-point penalty would seem a mighty big  hole to have to dig out of. But I'm going to say he still makes the Chase.

Subtract 25 points from his regular-season total last year and he still would have made the Chase comfortably. Of course, he had only four finishes outside the top 20 and none worse than 31st in the 26 races.

He's already been dinged with one bad finish -- which you can almost count as two bad finishes after you tack on the penalty -- so there's no a lot of room for error. But a similar campaign to what he had last season should still put him in the mix for a Chase berth.

There's a little less room for error, but if anybody can do it, it's the five-time champion 48 team, even without the services of Chad Knaus for six races.

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Posted on: February 29, 2012 2:43 pm
Edited on: February 29, 2012 3:10 pm

NASCAR penalizes Jimmie Johnson's team

By Pete Pistone

Image Detail
(Johnson goes to this weekend's race in Phoenix with a -23 point total in the Sprint Cup standings)

NASCAR has suspended Jimmie Johnson's crew chief Chad Knaus six races as part of penalties levied to the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports team as a result of rules infractions found at Daytona 500 pre-inspection.

Additionally, Johnson was docked 25 driver points and the team 25 owner points while Knaus was fined $100,000.

Because of his 42nd-place finish in Daytona, Johnson now goes to Phoenix this weekend with negative 23 points.

NASCAR confiscated illegal C-Posts found on the Lowe's Chevrolet during the Feb. 17 inspection.

Johnson and car chief Ron Malec were placed on probation until May 9.

Hendrick Motorsports announced it would appeal the penalty imemdiately.

"Our organization respects NASCAR and the way the sanctioning body governs our sport,” said Rick Hendrick, owner of Hendrick Motorsports. “In this case, though, the system broke down, and we will voice our concerns through the appeal process.”

NASCAR has agreed to defer the suspensions until after the appeal process.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or