Kenseth Returns to Kentucky Seeking First Sprint Cup Series Victory of the Season
SPARTA, Ky. - Matt Kenseth won more NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races last season than any other driver.
As the series returns to Kentucky Speedway for Saturday's Quaker State 400 at 7:30 p.m., the defending race winner is still searching for his first victory this season.
"It was a good track for us last year for sure," Kenseth said during a NASCAR media teleconference this week. "Hopefully we'll get there this weekend and have some speed and be a factor."
The Quaker State 400 was one of seven races the 2003 series champion won in his first season driving the No. 20 Toyota fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing. He had been to victory lane three times and qualified on the pole twice by this time last year.
A 31-time winner in NASCAR's premier series, the Cambridge, Wisconsin native trails only Hendrick Motorsports drivers Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the points standings after 16 races this season.
"I think the biggest sense of urgency probably is that we just know as an organization we need to be running better," Kenseth said. "We're not running as good as we did last year as a group. We're not leading as many laps, sitting on as many poles, winning as many races."
The 42-year-old is in good shape to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup based on his points position, but a repeat performance Saturday would all but lock him into the 10-race playoff.
NASCAR amended the Chase format before this season in an effort to put a premium on winning races, eliminate points racing and guarantee a Game 7 moment at the end of the season. Four drivers will enter the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway with a shot at the title.
The Chase field is set after the 26th race of the season. At that time, the top 15 drivers with the most victories will earn a spot in the Chase if they're in the top 30 in points and have attempted to qualify for every race. The 16th and final spot would go to the points leader if that driver is winless.
There have been 10 different winners through 16 races. If there are fewer than 16 different winners, the remaining Chase spots will go to winless drivers highest in points.
Ten races remain before the cutoff.
"Sometimes things change differently than maybe you think they would have," Kenseth said. "I think that with the rules changes, the aero changes…we just haven't got a hold of it as fast as we did last year. Last year, we just came out of the box and we were really strong right away, where this year we've still be searching, honestly, just to get right where we need to be."
Kenseth has finished outside the top 10 in the past three Sprint Cup races, including his first DNF of the season on Sunday at Sonoma Raceway. His day ended when Earnhardt hit a curb and bounced into his car. The impact sent Kenseth into a tire barrier head-on and relegated him to 42nd place. On Tuesday, he said the impact did not leave him sore the next day.
Kenseth will get some added seat time before the Quaker State 400. He is driving the No. 20 JGR Toyota in the Nationwide Series' John R. Elliott HERO Campaign 300 at 7:30 p.m. Friday. It will be his first Nationwide race this season.
Kenseth has finished no worse than seventh in the three Sprint Cup races held at Kentucky Speedway and said the track is justified in marketing the roughness of its racing surface.
"It's definitely the roughest track in NASCAR," Kenseth said. "It's really, really bumpy, but I think there's a couple lanes there you can pass."
- Kentucky Speedway -