Podcast #112 — An interview with Hendrick Motorsports Crew Chief Kevin Meendering

Show notes:

This week was an off-week for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, so we decided to take the week off from the regular podcast. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a podcast for you this week.  We’ll get to that in a minute. First let’s take a quick look at some of the news from the Gander Outdoors Truck Series this Sunday.

Saturday’s truck series race from Iowa Speedway was postponed until Sunday morning due to rain. During the race, there was an altercation between Austin Hill and Johnny Sauter that resulted in Hill spinning Sauter and putting Sauter into the wall. Instead of pitting, Sauter fired up his truck and attempted to wreck Hill. Sauter was parked for the day and called to the NASCAR hauler.

Today NASCAR announced that as a result of his actions, Sauter has been suspended from NASCAR until the completion of the next Gander Outdoors Truck Series race. He remains eligible to compete for the truck series championship however. The ruling comes on the precident of similar penalties against Kyle Busch when he wrecked Ron Horniday, as well as Matt Kenseth for crashing Joey Logano a few years ago at Martinsville.

That wasn’t the only controversy from the race, however. In what seemed like a storybook ending for Ross Chastain, the “mellon man” as he has been coined dominated the race and took the win, all but ensuring he would be in the playoffs for the truck series just a couple races after changing his points eligibility from the Xfinity Series.

However, Chastain’s truck failed postrace inspection, and he was disqualified from the event. He received last-place points and forfeited the win — the first time that this has happened since NASCAR announced it would take wins away for post-race violations at the beginning of the season. As a result, Brett Moffitt was declared the winner.

We will likely talk more about both of these stories next week when James returns to the podcast.

Back to the task at hand.

Last week I was in attendance at the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway. During the weekend, I was able to talk to several drivers. One of which was Jimmie Johnson. Friday morning when I was walking through the garage area, I happened across Jimmie, who bumped into former crew chief Chad Knaus. The two shared a hug and talked for several minutes. During a breakout session in the media center Friday, I was able to ask Jimmie about the meeting, and how the relationship has been with Chad since the two split at the end of the season. The audio isn’t the greatest, because I had an issue with my good recorder Friday, but it works. Here’s what he had to say.

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Now the main reason for this podcast. What many may not know is, Jimmie’s current crew chief, Kevin Meendering, is a native of Michigan, having been born in Grand Rapids. As a result, a few of the journalists in attendance from Michigan were invited to chat with Meendering before the race Sunday morning. I’m going to play the interview mostly in its entirety. You’ll hear questions from me as well as the other journalists. Unfortunately, I don’t have their names. But enjoy about 15 minutes of semi-exclusive conversation with Jimmie Johnson’s crew chief, Kevin Meendering.

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Close show

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Podcast #111 — Joey Logano dominates at MIS

Show notes:

Recap: FireKeepers Casino 400 from Michigan International Speedway

  • Joey Logano wins/Dominates?
    • Listening to Joey’s scanner, TJ Majors was directing him like at a superspeedway, telling him where to run and everything the cars behind him were doing
      • AUDIO (1:14) Eric asked Joey how big of a role TJ Majors played in the victory Monday
  • Winners and Losers
  • Kurt Busch had a chance at the end
    • AUDIO (:19) Kurt said it was a whole new Michigan, and had the final caution not come out at the end, he had a plan to beat Joey
  • Did Joey jump the start?
    • Audio (0:08) Kyle Busch says yes
    • Audio (0:10) Kurt uncommitted, but says he would have done the same
    • Audio (0:08) Joey was cheeky about it in the media center

  • Overall, what did we think of the package at Michigan? Did it deliver?
    • Brad kind of dodged questions on it in the media center Friday
      • Audio (1:20) Last year Brad said this package would take the raw skill away. This year, Dustin Long asked him if that’s been the case, and Brad said he’s not thinking about it.
    • Jimmie Johnson said he doesn’t like it
      • Audio (0:05) Jimmie not happy with it
    • Kurt Busch enjoyed it at Michigan
      • Audio (0:19) Kurt liked it
    • A word on the season from Matt Weaver
  • The race was postponed from Sunday to Monday at 5 p.m. What do we think of this decision?

News Items:

  • Hailie Deegan got her third career K&N Series victory with another controversial move, spinning her teammate to win. Thoughts?
  • Greg Biffle wins in Kyle Busch’s truck at Texas.
    • Wins the first Triple Truck Challenge bonus
    • Not eligible for bonus at Iowa
  • Alex Bowman will honor Tim Richmond at Darlington
    • Will lose Nationwide as a sponsor at the end of 2019
    • Hendrick says Bowman is safe for 2020 and beyond

Preview: Toyota Save-Mart 350 from Sonoma Raceway

  • The carousel returns this year

Picks

    • James: Kurt Busch
    • Eric: Clint Bowyer
    • Dark Horse
    • Eric: Daniel Suarez
    • James: Ryan Newman

Fantasy League Update

Close show

  • Where can we be found on social media?
  • James @jameskuch on Twitter
  • Eric @TSuperspeedway on Twitter
  • Facebook: Facebook.com/TheSuperSpeedway

For more of the podcast:

Logano dominates to win postponed FireKeepers Casino 400

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series FireKeepers Casino 400

Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway on June 10, 2019 in Brooklyn, Michigan. Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

BROOKLYN, Mich. — After a 27-hour delay due to weather, it took three extra laps to determine the winner in Monday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway. But Joey Logano, who dominated the race, was able to hold of challenges by Martin Truex Jr. and Kurt Busch during an overtime finish to take the checkered flag and his third win at the 2-mile oval.

Logano led 163 laps of 203 on the way to the win.

“It was nice to be able to show that the car had a lot of speed throughout the race,” Logano said. “I’m proud of that. What I’m more proud of though is the way we handled everything throughout the weekend. We unloaded with speed, but the car didn’t drive good. We were able to put some handling in the car, got the car driving decent. Qualifying on the front row and putting it on the pole is huge. That paid dividends throughout the whole race.”

“You don’t have days like that that are so close to perfect,” Logano said. “That doesn’t happen very often in our sport. So I’m very proud of the effort that we’ve had really the last few weeks.”

Kurt Busch was able to bring home a second-place finish after passing Martin Truex Jr. during the green-white-checkered. He and Truex worked together before the final caution to track Logano down.

“Logano’s car was strong,” he said. “He led the most laps today and it was going to be tough to beat him, and it was going to take two of us. Truex and I, we were synced up. We definitely had the vibe with him. We were drafting well to catch the 22, then the yellow came out. And after that it’s kind of every man for himself. I got a draft by the 41 down the back straightaway. I cleared the 19. I just didn’t have enough speed to catch the 22.”

Kurt said if the caution hadn’t come out late for Erik Jones’ crash, he had a different strategy to get the win.

“I was going to push the 19 through the 22, that was my other plan,” he said. “Didn’t work out.”

Truex said he didn’t know if there was anything else he could have done to get past Logano.

“We were going to need one heck of a push from behind — a shove down the straightaway,” Truex said. “I could get a little bit of a run, but never enough to get next to him and surely not enough to get next to him and clear him getting in the corner. His car was really good.”

“Hats off to those guys,” Truex said. “I thought we’d rack them up there, you know, green-white-checkered. I thought, hey, maybe we do have a shot at this thing and then he jumped the restart by over a car length. I don’t know, I guess they don’t enforce those rules anymore. We’ll have to remember that next time.”

Despite struggling through much of the race Kyle Busch was able to battle back to a fifth-place finish Monday on a track he has not liked in the past. Kyle has been vocal about the current package, but said his car just wasn’t strong enough to mount a challenge at Michigan.

“I think we got more than what I thought we were going to there most of the day,” Kyle said. “I don’t know, hard to have a fast car. The fastest car here led about every lap, right? We certainly didn’t have enough speed. We didn’t bring enough speed here this weekend, but we adjusted on it all day long. Adam (Stevens, crew chief) and the guys made changes. We pulled packer, did rounds, track bar, wedge, everything, and there’s nothing left, I guess.”

Kyle also questioned whether Logano may have gone a little early on the final start.

“Twenty-two may or may not have jumped the restart a little bit and got out and got clear, and pretty monotone after that if you ask me,” Kyle said.

Kurt said Logano went early, but not outside of the rules.

“Logano knew he had to go early, and that was his best chance to squirt ahead of the 19, and that’s what changed the complexion of the race,” Kurt said. “That’s what I would have done if I was in his position.”

Logano denied jumping the start after the race.

“I was able to see it right in front of me,” he said. “I hit it when I got there. I had a good start though, wasn’t it? That was a good one. That one felt good.”

After a pit road penalty early in the race put him down a lap, Michigan’s Brad Keselowski was able to battle back onto the lead lap and finish sixth.

“Just didn’t put it all together,” Keselowski said. “We were in a really good spot and then had the pit road penalty. Lost a lap and took us until about 70 to go to get it back. Kind of miraculous that we got back up to sixth to be honest. Just have to execute the entire weekend. It just didn’t happen today.”

Asked if he could have done what his teammate did if he had the lead, Keselowski said he didn’t know.

“I never got there to see,” he said. “Never got the chance to find out.”

There were 20 lead changes among 11 drivers Monday. There were seven cautions for 35 laps. The time of the race was two hours, 52 minutes and 50 seconds.

FireKeepers Casino 400 postponed due to rain

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Mother Nature was the only winner on Sunday at Michigan International Speedway, as rain forced the FireKeepers Casino 400 to be postponed until Monday.

The race is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. Monday, June 10. Garages will open to teams at 2 p.m.

NASCAR worked to dry the track, and had made progress multiple times. The field was coming to the green flag at two separate moments before the green was waved off. Eventually the cars were brought onto pit road where they remained until the race was called at around 4:30 p.m.

The SuperSpeedway will be at the track again Monday with full coverage of the race. Follow us on Twitter for updates during the race.

Reddick wins LTi Printing 250 after pitstop error costs Bell, Custer

NASCAR Xfinity Series LTi Printing 250

Tyler Reddick, driver of the #2 KC Motorgroup Chevrolet, takes the checkered flag to win the NASCAR Xfinity Series LTi Printing 250 at Michigan International Speedway on June 08, 2019 in Brooklyn, Michigan. Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Tyler Reddick led only 11 laps on the way to his sixth career Xfinity Series victory Saturday at Michigan International Speedway, but they were the 11 laps that lead to the big check, as Reddick inherited the lead after Christopher Bell and Cole Custer had to pit because they were low on fuel.

Reddick was strong throughout the early stages of the race, however able to make moves when others couldn’t.

“It seems like our car would work the bottom a lot better earlier in the run than most people could,” Reddick said. “Toward the end of the second stage, whenever we were running down the 12, the 20 and the 00, we were able to run them down pretty fast. But once we got there, it was a little difficult to really do a lot when you have three cars in a row like that.”

Reddick said they still needed a little work on the car, but he was able to make moves early in a run if he was able to get to cars quick enough.

“Our car would really take off,” he said. “I feel like we could make more moves than most people could early in the run on people, and our car would drive really good at the beginning of the run.”

“So it just ended up being kind of a race where whoever made the best call at the end and took advantage of whatever fell their way won the race,” Reddick said. “That falls on (Crew Chief Randall Burnett). He saw the way the race was going to go. He saw the leaders stay out there, and he wanted to get us ahead of the rest of the guys who pitted, so we took fuel only and we were able to get up in front of those guys, get around people that did stay out, and just be the one on that strategy.”

During a late caution, most of the leaders came to pit road for fuel to make a charge to the end. But a misunderstanding on the radio caused leader Bell to stay out. Custer stayed out as well, which left the two hoping for a caution late in the race that never came. Both pitted late for fuel, handing the lead to Reddick.

“It was just a miscommunication,” Bell said after the race. “My definition was a little different than what (Crew Chief Jason Ratcliff) had planned. Ultimately, that was a big hiccup on our day.”

Ratcliff explained more what the miscommunication was.

“This is a track where you can actually play some strategy,” he said. “We don’t go to many tracks that you can do that. I felt like last week was one, and I feel like Michigan is one where you can mix it up a little bit. Everywhere else we go is kind of straightforward.”

“We talked about, ‘If I tell you this, then it means to pit now,’” Ratcliff continued. “Just some code words and it’s really simple actually. It’s first-grade stuff and somehow we mixed it up. He did exactly what his wristband said on it. Unfortunately, it was poor execution on my part in communicating what to put on the wristband. I think we had a good performance today after a little bit of a struggle last week in Pocono. I felt like our car had speed, so we’ll just build on that and go onto Iowa.”

Had a caution flown, both Bell and Custer likely would have been able to pit for tires, which would have given them the advantage. But that didn’t happen.

“The strategy didn’t work out for us,” Custer said. “That is Michigan. Half the time it is just pit strategies. Our Jacob Companies Ford Mustang was awesome. I think we brought the fastest car here, it just didn’t work out in the end. We will go on to the next one. It is good we have fast cars.”

Custer led 20 of the 125 laps. He passed Bell after the pit stop to finish 12th. Bell said Custer was just faster at the end.

“The 00 blew our doors off, so we just have to get faster,” Bell said. “That’s our biggest thing, and for whatever reason on the bigger tracks right now, I don’t have the speed that the 00 has. We just have to keep working hard and get our Rheem Supra to be a little bit faster and it will be easy to clean up the miscommunication there.”

Early on it looked like Paul Menard would be the driver to beat. Menard led 56 laps on the day, all in the first half of the race.

“It’s kind of interesting how the lines kind of moved around,” Menard said after the race. “I could make tie on the bottom and you normally can’t here. The car was really fast up front. A little on the loose side. Then you get behind and it’s like you have to adjust for it more when you hit traffic. I was just a little tight at the end.”

There were six cautions for 29 laps, four for accidents and two for the stage breaks. There were five leaders.

14 races after his split with Knaus, Jimmie Johnson says they still get some time to hang out

Michigan June 2019 4094

Jimmie Johnson and former Crew Chief Chad Knaus share a hug after bumping into each other in the Michigan International Speedway garage before the first practice for the FireKeepers Casino 400 June 7. Eric Young/The SuperSpeedway

By Eric Young

BROOKLYN, Mich. — It’s been 14 races since Chad Knaus last crew chiefed a race for Jimmie Johnson — Kevin Meendering took over this year at Daytona ending a partnership that went back to 2002.

Before the first practice session Friday at Michigan International Speedway, Johnson and Knaus bumped into each other in the garage and shared a hug and a few moments of conversation.

Johnson said the two have had a chance this year to spend some time together despite the split.

“Yeah, on the Easter off weekend, we were able to spend the day together,” Johnson said. “We were both vacationing near one and other and we did connect and have some fun. So yeah, we see each other. But not as much as we used to since we’re not working together. But we have a friendship and a bond. Our work life strained it for a few years there, but it didn’t impact it and we are still great friends.”

Michigan June 2019 4117

Chad Knaus and Jimmie Johnson chat in the garage at Michigan International Speedway June 7. Eric Young/The SuperSpeedway

Johnson’s slide has continued into the 2019 season. He hasn’t won a race in more than two years and only has one top-five finish this season. But he said things have been going well so far with Meendering.

“They are going well,” Johnson said. “We want more. We need to be doing better than we are, but he is a great guy, a hardworking guy. We just need some more speed in our Ally Chevy.”

Sunday’s FireKeepers Casino 400 has a little extra on the line, as Meendering hails from nearby Grand Rapids, making MIS his home track. But Johnson said Meendering hasn’t mentioned any extra motivation for the win this weekend.

“No, he hasn’t said anything,” Johnson said. “I think there is an unspoken desire to do well through the whole season. Doesn’t matter the specific track. But as you bring it up, I do know he is from this area and hopefully we can give him something good close to home.”

So how close are they getting to putting everything together?

“Some weekends we feel like we are there,” Johnson said. “Last weekend we had some mechanical issues that we learned about post-race, which put the sting in our performance. It just depends on the weekend or the hour. We live and die by the stopwatch, unfortunately.”

Keselowski, Jones hope to capitalize at their home track

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BROOKLYN, Mich. — Michigan International Speedway is always a special track to win at for teams, as it is often considered to be in the backyard of manufacturers Ford and Chevrolet. But for a couple Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers, it would be even more special.

“It would certainly be one of the biggest wins of my career,” said former Cup Series Champion Brad Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford and Michigan native. “I try not to think about it, because you just get some bad vibes going if you don’t just do your thing. But it’s certainly always on my mind.”

The Rochester Hills driver will make his 20th start at the 2-mile oval Sunday. He has six top fives, 10 top-10s and one pole, averaging a finish of 11.9. And he’s run well here. He finished second to Kevin Harvick the last time the Cup Series raced at MIS.

“I feel like I’ve sat here on this podium the last half a dozen years after the race finishing second or third, which really stinks, but it’s better than finishing poor,” Keselowski said. “But not the win that, of course, we’re looking for. Huge item on the bucket list, checkmark that’s not there and I feel like we’ve had the opportunities. I’ve made a few mistakes and I feel like in some ways we’ve been good, but not great enough to do it.”

Keselowski referenced 2012, when he felt he had the best chance to get it done.

“We weren’t the best car — I don’t think we’ve ever really come here and been the best car, but we were in position and I made a little mistake late that probably cost us,” he said. “Other than that, we’ve been just kind of right there.”

“Someone once told me to win races at the Cup level, you run in the top five and things will fall your way,” Keselowski continued. “And we’ve done that a lot here, running in the top five, and it hasn’t come together. It hasn’t fallen our way. I’ve got to believe in the back of my head that it’s there and that it will if we keep doing the things that we’ve been doing. But it hasn’t yet. That’s just the reality.”

Byron’s Erik Jones, driver of the No. 20 Craftsman Tools/Sport Clips Toyota, has less experience at MIS, having started only four Cup Series races before Sunday. But his results have been decent. Spurred by a third-place finish in August 2017, Jones has an average finish of 11th at his home track. Coupled with some good results this season, Jones said he would love to get a victory at MIS.

“It’d be great,” he said. “I think we’ve been close here at a few places this year. Last weekend was a great race for us, and we’ve got the speed to do it. I think our cars have been good this year. We’ve just had some bad luck.”

Jones said he feels like things are turning around for him.

“Winning here would be huge,” he said. “It’d be pretty awesome going into an off week and spend some time at home with a win at your home track. I can’t think of a better scenario than that. I would sure love to do it Sunday.”

A preview of Friday action at Michigan International Speedway

By Eric Young

BROOKLYN, Mich. — Friday will be a busy day in the Irish Hills of Michigan as the ARCA Menards Series will compete, the NASCAR Xfinity Series will practice and the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series will practice and quality ahead of the FireKeepers Casino 400.

Below is the schedule for Saturday afternoon’s on-track activities:

Noon – ARCA Menards Series group qualifying

1 p.m. – NASCAR Xfinity Series 1st Practice

2 p.m. – Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 1st Practice

3 p.m. – NASCAR Xfinity Series 1st Practice

4 p.m. – Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Final Practice

6 p.m. – ARCA Menards Series VizCom 200

Podcast #110 — Stop asking about Kyle Busch’s package

Show notes:

Recap: Pocono 400 from Pocono Raceway

News Items:

Do We Care?

  • M&M’s opening a Glampground at Kentucky Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway

Preview: FireKeepers Casino 400 from Michigan International Speedway

  • Eric will be in attendance
  • Picks
    • Eric: Erik Jones
    • James: Brad Keselowski

Dark Horse

    • James: William Byron
    • Eric: Ryan Newman
  • Shoutouts if any

Fantasy League Update

Close show

  • Where can we be found on social media?
  • James @jameskuch on Twitter
  • Eric @TSuperspeedway on Twitter
  • Facebook: Facebook.com/TheSuperSpeedway

For more of the podcast:

  • Website address: www.thesuperspeedway.com
  • Podcasts will be found on there as well.
  • Find us on iTunes, Google Play and Soundcloud

Become a Patron at www.patreon.com/thesuperspeedway