A big goose egg sits next to Matt Kenseth’s name in the win column a year removed from a season when he posted a career-best seven wins on his way to a runner-up finish in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup. That’s the bad news.
The good news: Kenseth has raced well, posting eight top-five and 14 top-10 finishes in 23 starts this season.
Barring disaster, he should qualify for the Chase. Kenseth currently ranks 13th on the Chase grid, 58 points ahead of the Chase Grid bubble. Still, at this point, only a win can lock him in. Kenseth has so many points that a victory at Bristol would catapult him to the No. 8 spot in the Chase standings, ahead of all the one-win drivers. It would also give him three bonus points for the “Challenger Round” of the Chase.
“No, because you get the most points to win,” said Kenseth, when asked whether he thinks about not taking the chance to win due to his high points total. “I don’t ever know why you wouldn’t want to win. I get asked those questions all the time and people always look at me like I’m being smart, but it’s true.”
Kenseth heads to Bristol for the IRWIN Tools Night Race on Saturday (7:30 p.m. ET on ABC) with the mission of capturing that elusive victory — and a repeat win in the prestigious race. He captured the checkered flag in this event last year and has won at the half-mile track two other times.
“I always look forward to going to Bristol because I think that the racing has always been pretty good there,” Kenseth said. “The last three races at Bristol, our No. 20 team has run really well even though we got wrecked out of two of those races and won the third.”
Kasey Kahne finds himself in a similar situation as Kenseth. The No. 5 Chevrolet driver notched one of his two victories at Bristol last season, but has yet to find victory lane in 2013. Unlike Kenseth, Kahne lurks outside the Chase in 17th, trailing Biffle by nine points for the final spot. He too can control his destiny by winning, guaranteeing himself a slot in the Chase, but otherwise, he would have to hope for other fringe drivers to falter.
Kahne’s victory last season is his lone triumph at Bristol, but he does claim five top-five and 10 top-10 finishes at the high-banked short track.
“I’m really excited to go to Bristol,” Kahne said. “Every time we race at Bristol, I look forward to it. We’ve ran really well there for a while now.”
Sunoco Rookies look to continue success
Two is company, but three’s a crowd in NASCAR’s Nationwide Series.
Chris Buescher joined fellow first-year full-time drivers Chase Elliot and Ty Dillon as the third Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender to win on the circuit this season after taking the checkered flag in the Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 at Mid-Ohio. The No. 60 Ford driver snatched the lead on the 66th lap and did not look back on his way to the finish line, adding the car’s 91st win to its Nationwide record.
Quick to move on, Mid-Ohio is now in his rearview as he focuses on capturing his second win in this Friday’s Food City 300 at Bristol (7:30 p.m. on ESPN). He currently ranks seventh in the points standings, 144 behind the leader Elliot.
“Obviously last weekend was really great for this team,” he said. “We had a strong car and were able to come away with our first win. But it’s back to work this weekend at Bristol.”
Elliot and Dillon have winning plans of their own as they try to add a Bristol victory their respective rookie seasons. Dillon, fourth in the standings, currently trails Elliot by 28 points and a victory could go a long way towards closing the gap. Elliot, on the other hand, can increase his grasp on the lead as he attempts to notch his fourth consecutive top-10 finish.
“Bristol is such a neat track, definitely one of our favorites to visit because of the history and the fan support that we get,” said Dillon, who finished sixth in his March visit there. “From a racing standpoint, it’s a very technical track and we’ve been gathering a healthy notebook of information. I’ve re-watched some of the past races, spoke with Danny (Stockman, crew chief) and the team and we feel confident about this Friday night’s race.”
The 18-year-old Elliot, who placed ninth in the Nationwide’s last stop at Bristol expressed similar enthusiasm going into the race.
“Bristol is always an exciting place to go and I’m pumped to be back there this weekend. We didn’t have the run we were hoping for in the spring, but we’ve been working hard to improve upon that this go-around. Our goal is to stay in championship form and not let anything get us out of rhythm.”
Buescher’s checkered flag marked the fifth rookie first-place finish this season (Elliot 3, Dillon 1) and the third in the last five races. But can a fourth rookie join the party?
Dylan Kwasniewski, the 12th-ranked driver in the series, will look to do just that, following his eighth place finish at Mid-Ohio.
“Hopefully we can build on this and carry our momentum into Bristol next Friday night under the lights,” Kwasniewski said.