Matt Kenseth gains ground with Fennig on his ride
By Dave Kallmann
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
We seek the most simple of answers: Yes, or no? Red, or green? Left, or right?
But life isn't a series of right-or-wrong solutions to straight-forward questions about eating ice cream for breakfast, interpreting stoplights or driving to the in-laws'. It's a continuous multiple-choice maze in which every turn has the potential to affect the next one.
The same goes for sports.Matt Kenseth didn't win a NASCAR race for more than two years. Jimmy Fennig came aboard as crew chief last summer. Together they won in impressive fashion Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway in a way Kenseth hadn't with Todd Parrott or Chip Bolin or through most of his time with Drew Blickensderfer.
This week Kenseth has been hailed as the next big threat to knock the Sprint Cup crown from Jimmie Johnson's head and Fennig as the man who put him within reach.
"He and Matt are as good a combination of driver and crew chief as I've experienced in my 24 years here," said team owner Jack Roush, caught up in post-victory glow.
The crew chief from Milwaukee was all the driver from Cambridge needed; that's the obvious conclusion. Stock-car racing is no more about yes-or-no questions, though, than any other facet of life.
As good a pairing as Kenseth and Fennig may be -- and there's no reason to doubt Roush -- they comprise just three parts of one exceptionally complex, multidimensional puzzle: Kenseth, Fennig and the interaction between them.
Would Kenseth have won at Texas last April had Fennig been around? Who knows? They almost won there in November.
But since then, every car on the track had undergone a facelift. Ford decreed its new FR9 engine fully tested and ready to go. Roush Fenway Racing retooled its engineering department.
And the team, overall, grew more competitive throughout last season -- some of that due to Fennig's work as head of research and development -- to the point that Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards each won twice in the second half.
"I don't know when we made the turn last year, I guess August or September; seems like the organization started making the turn and having flashes of brilliance of performing better here and there," Kenseth said before Texas.
"And thankfully so far we've been able to continue that throughout the winter and keep improving our cars and coming out of the box pretty competitive as an organization and as a team this year."
So now a man who went 76 races without a victory and spent most of last season clinging to the back end of the top 10 in points is 1 for 7 this year and tied for third in the standings with Johnson.
Give credit where credit is due. Kenseth's progress may well start with Jimmy Fennig. It just doesn't end there.
Two real races
Promising Nationwide Series driver Kelly Bires, who has started and parked in four of the six events this season, will be back in the seat of a good car April 29 at Richmond and June 4 at Chicagoland, driving Joe Gibbs Racing's No. 18 Toyota. The announcement was made Thursday.
Bires' career took a detour last April when a personality conflict between crew chief Tony Eury and Bires led to the 26-year-old from Mauston being released by JR Motorsports. Gibbs' 18 team has won 16 times with Kyle Busch since the start of the 2010 season.
Open for business
The ticket office at the Milwaukee Mile has been reopened for the Milwaukee 225 IndyCar Series race weekend with limited hours, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4-7 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturdays. Hours will expand from May to the June 19 race.
Fans can still buy tickets and find more information via milwaukee225.com.
Last Saturday it was 80 and sunny; this weekend, forecasts call for temperatures in the 40s and rain. That can only mean one thing: This weekend is the scheduled start of the racing season in this part of Wisconsin.
The IRA sprint cars are scheduled to race Saturday night and dirt late models Sunday at the Dodge County Fairgrounds in Beaver Dam.
Other upcoming openers include Slinger Speedway and the ASA Midwest Tour at Madison International Speedway, both on May 1.
Still super, though
Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne was treated Sunday for a bug bite he suffered on his left elbow about two weeks ago. Initial swelling subsided and he felt OK until he developed a rash and experienced numbness in his arm during the race Saturday night at Texas.
"When we landed, I just went to the hospital to get it checked out and they gave me antibiotics and fluids and it all went away," Bayne said during a sponsor announcement Tuesday. "So it looks like I'm not going to turn into Spiderman, unfortunately."
Next steps for Austin
The organizing group for the Formula One United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas, announced this week the facility would be called the Circuit of the Americas and also said it would host MotoGP beginning in 2013. The track has 10-year deals for F1, starting in 2012, and MotorGP.