Phillips on ballot
By Randy Covitz
The Kansas City Star
Larry Phillips, a legendary Midwest champion race car driver, was one of 20 finalists nominated Friday for the NASCAR Hall of Fame’s Class of 2015.
Phillips, of Springfield, Mo., was the only five-time NASCAR Whelen All-American Series national champion. From 1989 to 2001, he won 220 of 289 NASCAR-sanctioned events and 13 track championships in three states.
Phillips, a mentor to the likes of former Sprint Cup champion and Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace and 40-race winner Mark Martin, died in 2004. This is the second time he’s been nominated.
Five inductees will be chosen in May. The finalists include Terry Labonte, Bill Elliott, Buddy Baker, Benny Parsons, Rick Hendrick, Robert Yates, Fred Lorenzen, Richard Childress and Wendell Scott.
Rookie wins pole
Rookie Dylan Kwasaniewski led a 1-2-3 lineup of Turner Scott Motorsports Chevrolets in a rain-abbreviated Friday qualifying session for Saturday’s Nationwide Series race.
Kwasniewski, 18, turned a top lap of 189.569 mph in his Nationwide debut followed by Larson (189.538 mph) and Danica Patrick (189.406 mph).
This was to be the debut of NASCAR’s new, three-round, knockout qualifying format, but it was called for rain after the first 25-minute session in which 24 drivers were to advance to a second round. The top 12 would have advanced to a final round.
“To be a part of this historical qualifying effort … it’s crazy,” said Kwasniewski, who in 2013 became the first driver to win both the NASCAR K&N East and K&N West developmental series. “ I have no idea how to feel.”
Asked her impression of the new qualifying format, in which every car takes the track for the first of three rounds, Patrick said: “There are going to be some times that it’s going to be a total disaster … like when we go to short tracks, I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like.
“Here, there’s plenty of room, people can go wherever, but when you go places like Bristol and Martinsville, even Phoenix, it’s going to be a challenge. You’ve got the mile-and-a-half tracks (like Kansas), where you’re going a lot faster… you’re going to find a lot of drivers really mad at each other or spotters mad at spotters …
“If NASCAR was looking at making it interesting for the fans, they’ve done it.”
Win, and you’re in
Not only is the Daytona 500 the most prestigious race of the NASCAR season, but the winner will all but lock up a spot in the new Chase for the Sprint Cup format.
“You think about it, this is huge, but now it’s extra-special because you win the Daytona 500 and you’re in the Chase,” said Greg Biffle. “That’s a pretty incredible way to start the season. It’s the same with all of our other races. You win at Phoenix, you win at Vegas and you’re in the Chase.
“It changes the complexion of our sport and it’s certainly an added benefit to winning, but this is a huge event and we’ve got a great car. Unfortunately, we’re not starting where we want, but I went from the front to the back in that (Budweiser Duel) 150 twice, so we feel like we’ve got a good (car).”
Cassill’s a casualty
Landon Cassill sported a gash and shiner to his right eye, but it had nothing to do with any accidents on the track. Cassill, who will start 17th in the Daytona 500, was hit by a motorist last Saturday while riding his bicycle in Daytona.
“It’s actually healed pretty well,” said Cassill, who was treated at a hospital and checked out by NASCAR before he was allowed to race in Sunday’s pole qualifying. “I’m really lucky. Got some road rash on my arms and legs … inside of my knees were bruised up pretty badly. But my face took most of the fall.”
Casill, of Fairfax, Iowa, said the motorist was at fault.
“I blame myself a lot for the position I put myself in,” said Cassill, 24. “I was in the bike lane and had the right of way. I could have gotten really hurt. But, yeah, I was in a bike lane. The woman was trying to cross the road from a side street and cleared herself to the right, kind of rolled the stop sign, I believe, T-boned me really. Destroyed my bike. Face plant, blood. But I made the Daytona 500, and she doesn’t know that.”
Jinx? What jinx?
Matt Kenseth, who finished second in the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup, isn’t worried about the jinx that has doomed runner-ups since the Chase was introduced. In six of the past seven years, the second-place finisher has either failed to win a race or make the Chase — or both — the following year.
“I think every season is a little different,” said Kenseth, who won the first Budweiser Duel on Thursday night. “I’m not a huge believer in momentum in either direction or curses or jinx or you did this and you can’t do that. …
“Everybody is working hard to try to get better, including me. I know I need to be better. … It’s a new year. What happened last year really doesn’t matter once they drop the green on Sunday.”
When Kenseth, the 2003 Sprint Cup champion, finished second in 2006, he had a strong 2007, winning two races and finishing fourth in the Chase.
| Randy Covitz, firstname.lastname@example.org