Kenseth counting on Daytona success in Coke Zero 400
By: NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
For all the uncertainty swirling around Matt Kenseth's future, the one sure thing for him this season has been his performance on restrictor-plate tracks. Now the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points leader is poised for a rare Daytona sweep.
Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT) is the next challenge for Kenseth, who outlasted fire, rain and the field to win a marathon Daytona 500 back in February. He's now in position to score a season sweep of Daytona International Speedway's two Sprint Cup events, a feat last achieved by Bobby Allison in 1982.
In the months that followed his second Daytona 500 victory, Kenseth has been a constant at or near the top of the standings, but his announcement last week that he'll leave Roush Fenway Racing at season's end has thrown a variable into the mix. Despite his lame-duck status, Kenseth said he's still eager to check off more goals in 2012, especially after his show of strength earlier this season at Daytona and Talladega, the only two tracks where horsepower is restricted.
"I looked forward to going to Talladega more so than any plate race I have ever looked forward to in my career with as well as we ran at Daytona and how fast our cars were in February," said Kenseth, who holds an 11-point lead in the Sprint Cup standings over Dale Earnhardt Jr. "I feel the same way about Daytona this weekend and I am looking forward to getting down there."
Kenseth was in prime position for a Talladega win in May, leading a race-high 73 of 194 laps in the Aaron's 499 but a late-race jumble of cars separated him from teammate Greg Biffle, allowing Brad Keselowski to pull away and leaving Kenseth third in the final shuffle.
"At Talladega, I felt we had the fastest car in the race and dominated the race as much as you can, but I felt like I messed that up at the end when Greg and I somehow got separated," Kenseth said. "I have been agonizing over that since Talladega, but I am looking forward to getting some redemption this weekend."
Keselowski virtually assured himself of a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup by notching his series-best third win of the season last weekend at Kentucky Speedway. He currently clings to 10th place in the standings, but is on solid ground in the wild-card race should he fall from the ranks of the top 10 qualifiers for NASCAR's postseason.
Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne currently hold the two available wild-card spots with nine races to go before the 10-race playoff, but both drivers are far from locks for the Chase with just one win each in 2012. Kahne sits 14th in the standings, but is in a three-way tie with Ryan Newman and Joey Logano, who also have one win this season.
DILLON DIALED IN
Austin Dillon sported a new streamlined look last weekend at Kentucky Speedway. Even if it was difficult to tell underneath his trademark cowboy hat, it still drew some lighthearted jabs from his crew.
The joke ended up being on the crew after his first NASCAR Nationwide Series victory.
"I got a buzzcut last week and the whole team was making fun of it so I bet my engineer (Ryan Sparks) that if we won the race I could shave his hair," Dillon said. "My engineer loves his hair and always has, but now he has about the same amount of hair that I do, which isn’t much. I think he would take that bet again if we could win every week, though."
Dillon carries plenty of momentum into Friday night's Subway Jalapeno 250 (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Daytona International Speedway, even if a post-race infraction at Kentucky took some of the glow off his Nationwide breakthrough. The Kentucky win had propelled Dillon to the top spot in the standings, but a six-point penalty earlier this week dropped him to four points behind teammate Elliott Sadler.
Still, Dillon remains within striking distance for two historic firsts. No driver has won championships in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and Nationwide series back-to-back, and no rookie driver has ever clinched the Nationwide crown.
As if he needed more incentive, Dillon is also vying for position in the Nationwide Series Dash 4 Cash program, which kicks off with Friday's qualifying race at Daytona. By placing himself in the top four finishers among Nationwide title contenders at Daytona, he'll be eligible for a six-figure bonus next week in New Hampshire.
"I've been waiting for these Dash 4 Cash races," Dillon said. "I just want to get our team in a qualifying position. It's going to be a wild one at Daytona and anybody can put themselves in a position for $100,000 going into New Hampshire."
The points race transformed into a four-car breakaway after Kentucky, with Sadler and Dillon at the top of the list. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the defending series champ and a three-time Nationwide winner this year, ranks third -- 21 points back after a recent slide.
Sam Hornish Jr. remains in fourth place, 31 points off Sadler's lead. Behind Hornish, it's another 40 points back to fifth-place Justin Allgaier.
Sprint Cup driver Denny Hamlin was scheduled to enter Friday's 250-miler, but was a late scratch because of back soreness. Joe Gibbs Racing will instead deploy Clint Bowyer -- the 2008 series champ -- for his first Nationwide start of the season as a teammate to Joey Logano, a five-time Nationwide winner this year.