Kenseth looks to break through for first summer Daytona win
By: Staff Report, NASCAR Wire Service, Superior Telegram
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is only nine races away, but there’s still enough time left for movement among the contenders before the field is set.
But one driver who seems practically guaranteed a Chase spot even if he falls out of the top 10 is Matt Kenseth, who scored a series-high fourth win last Sunday at Kentucky. Drivers can fall back on one of the two Wild Card Chase spots, which go to those drivers from 11th-20th in points with the most wins.
Kenseth and his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Husky Tools Toyota team head to Daytona International Speedway for Saturday’s Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT) hoping to replicate his 2012 restrictor-plate success.
In 2012, Kenseth won the season-opening Daytona 500, the second of his career after winning in 2009, and finished third in last July’s Daytona event. In the two Talladega races last season, he finished third in the spring event and followed it up with a victory in the fall race. His overall average finish in the four restrictor-plate races was an amazing 2.0. This year his average is 22.5 after the first Daytona and Talladega races, finishing 37th and eighth, respectively.
“We’ve got a lot of racing to do before we get to the Chase,” said Kenseth, who is fifth in the standings, 82 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. “We know we have to continue to get better. We are really, really good but you always have to continue to get better.”
For all his success at restrictor-plate tracks he has never won the July race at Daytona, something he hopes to cross off his to-do list on Saturday night. In 13 summer events at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, he’s found success; however, it just hasn’t resulted in trips to Victory Lane. He has an average finish of 12.6, along with four top fives and eight top 10s.
Over the past 17 races at Daytona International Speedway, Kenseth holds the second highest average driver rating (93.2) among active drivers. He is also second in average running position (14.059) and laps led (285). He’s completed the third most laps in the top 15 with 1,952, and run 73 of the fastest laps over the last 17 races at Daytona, good for fourth overall.
If the Chase were to begin today, Kenseth would be seeded first overall with 12 bonus points by virtue of his four wins; however, a win this weekend at Daytona could put some more ground between him and his closest rivals, Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, who all have multiple wins this season.
As for Kenseth, he has no plans of letting off the accelerator before the Chase begins or throughout the postseason.
“Hopefully, we’ll be running how we’re running, or even get better, and you know, going into the Chase, hopefully we can give them a run for their money. That’s what the plan is.”
FANTASY FOCUS: In July at Daytona there is always “Smoke.” Smoke, aka Tony Stewart, is the king of the July Daytona race. In 14 events, Stewart has won four times and finished in the top 10 on seven different occasions. He has the third highest average driver rating (93.1) over the past 17 races at the track, and has the highest single-race driver rating at the track among active drivers (143.4). He has led the most laps (548) and has the highest percentage of laps led (17.8%). Stewart has also run the fifth-most laps in the top 15 (1,836). Jimmie Johnson is always a solid choice for any NASCAR fantasy lineup, however, this Saturday he will be extra-motivated as he looks to become only the fifth driver in NASCAR history and first since Bobby Allison in 1982 to complete the single-season sweep at Daytona, after winning the season-opening Daytona 500.
FOUR FOR $100,000
Four championship points-eligible drivers in the NASCAR Nationwide Series will have more incentive to fight for the win during Friday night’s Subway Firecracker 250 Powered by Coca-Cola (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Daytona International Speedway.
That’s because four drivers – Elliott Sadler, Brian Vickers, Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson – qualified for the first leg of Nationwide’s popular Dash 4 Cash program where they are eligible to compete for the $100,000 bonus awarded to the highest finishing driver among them. They qualified for the first of four legs by finishing second, fourth, sixth and seventh, respectively, last Friday at Kentucky.
“Who can complain about leaving Kentucky Speedway knowing we are qualified for the Nationwide Insurance Dash 4 Cash bonus at Daytona International Speedway next weekend,” said Dillon, shortly after the Kentucky race. “That’s pretty cool to have a chance to win a $100,000 bonus. It’s a really great program that Nationwide Insurance has put together.”
Of the four eligible drivers, the highest finisher in the Daytona race will win the bonus and automatically qualify for the next event at New Hampshire. The three other highest finishing championship points-eligible NASCAR Nationwide drivers at Daytona will also qualify for the event. The format will remain the same for the Chicagoland and Indianapolis races, the last two legs of the program.
In eight NASCAR Nationwide races at Daytona, Sadler has one top-five finish (third in 2012) and three top 10s. Vickers, the 2003 series champion, has never won at Daytona but finished second in the summer 2006 event to go along with three top fives and six top 10s in 12 trips to the track. Dillon has finishes of fifth, fourth and 21st in his three Daytona races. In his only NASCAR Nationwide race at Daytona, coming in February of this year, Larson finished 13th.
“I’m really looking forward to getting back to Daytona,” Larson said. “I feel like I was so close to winning in both of the races I ran there earlier this year, so now I have the chance to go back there and get the Clorox Chevy into Victory Lane.”
If one of these four drivers goes on to win the first three legs of the Dash 4 Cash and then wins the Indianapolis race outright, Nationwide Insurance will award the driver an additional $600,000, which equates to a total of $1 million in bonus prize money.