AVONDALE, Ariz.— The Champions Tour, for golfers age 50 and over, has been called the biggest mulligan in professional sports, but Matt Kenseth thinks he’s found the NASCAR equivalent.
Though he’s still looking for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory this season, Kenseth has used the new Chase format to his advantage in staying alive in the quest for a second series title.
Interestingly, Kenseth’s 2003 championship season, accomplished with a single victory, is generally credited as the impetus for the Chase, a 10-race playoff where winning typically has been of paramount importance.
And though Kenseth has survived the first two rounds of the Chase without a victory, he understands that he may well have to win Sunday at Phoenix to advance past the Eliminator Round. Kenseth currently is tied with Carl Edwards for fifth in the Chase standings, 13 points out of first place and one point behind Jeff Gordon in fourth.
To Kenseth, this year’s Chase, under a new elimination format, has a substantially different feel from last year’s. In 2013 Kenseth won seven times in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing and fought eventual champion Jimmie Johnson for the title.
“It’s a night-and-day difference to be honest with you,” Kenseth said. “Last year, I felt like we were maybe not the favorite—I always felt Jimmie was kind of the favorite—but yet we had the most wins, the most laps led. We had a 10-week championship race where you kind of fret over every point and every position. It was a lot more stressful.
“This year, it has a really different feeling. I feel like we’ve been knocked down on the mat every round at some point or another. I think every round we’ve got in a wreck or had a terrible finish or something. We’ve been able to advance. This one (the Eliminator Round) is obviously tougher, but even running sixth (at Martinsville) and 25th last week (at Texas)—I don’t know how we managed that and still being close to the top four is surprising.
“It feels a lot different. It feels like we’ve had some mulligans.”
Without a victory on Sunday, however, Kenseth may find he’s exhausted his supply of second chances.