Matt Kenseth is having a career year.
With eight races left in the season, he leads the standings by 14 points over teammate Kyle Busch and already has a personal-high seven wins, including victories in the first two races of this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
A victory Sunday in the AAA 400 (2 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Dover International Speedway would make him the first driver in the history of the Chase format to win the first three races of NASCAR’s postseason. Greg Biffle (2008) and Tony Stewart (2011) were the only drivers previously to win the first two races of the Chase.
Although it’s easy to get caught up with the points standings and the championship hunt, Kenseth’s currently only focused on Sunday’s race at Dover.
“I know it’s kind of cliché, but it really is one week at a time, especially right now,” said Kenseth, who moved over to the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota during the most recent offseason after piloting the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford for 13 full seasons. “If you get down toward the end and you’re lucky enough to have a lead or something, maybe you start looking at that more or thinking about it more, but man, two whole months and eight weeks of racing is a lot of racing.”
In 2003 — the year prior to the Chase — Kenseth captured his only title in NASCAR’s premier series on the strength of one win and a lot of consistent top-10 finishes. Needless to say, he’s attacking the battle for the title a little differently this year.
When asked whether winning a championship, if he does win the title in 2013, after winning seven or more races is vindication for only winning once during his other championship season, Kenseth responded: “If you’re fortunate enough to win a championship or another championship or whatever, I don’t think there’s a bad way to win it.”
Unlike New Hampshire, where Kenseth felt like had always struggled, the 41-year-old Wisconsin driver has done well at Dover. In 29 races at the Monster Mile, he’s visited Victory Lane twice and compiled 13 top fives, 18 top 10s and one pole. During a nine-race stretch — spring 2008 through spring 2012 — he racked up eight top-five finishes. He’s led four of the past five races and has more laps (775) at the one-mile oval than at any other track not named “Bristol.”
His two victories came in June 2006 and May 2011. He’s struggled in his last two visits to the track. In last September’s race, Kenseth was involved in a one-car accident with 82 laps to go. He managed to finish the race, albeit a disappointing 35th. When the series returned in early June, engine issues relegated him to a 40th-place finish, although he feels they had a good car prior to their bad luck.
“Anything can happen anywhere. You can be at your best track and have whatever happen and get a bad finish,” Kenseth said. “But certainly have a lot of confidence in the next three tracks coming up for sure. In the past they’ve been good tracks for us. I felt like we were real strong at Dover in the spring and I know I had a mechanical problem, but I thought we were pretty strong when we ran there.”
FOURTH AND 11 FOR LOGANO
No, Joey Logano has not traded in his fire suit and steering wheel for a football helmet and cleats.
When the NASCAR Nationwide Series drivers line up for the start of the 5-Hour Energy 200 Benefiting Living Beyond Breast Cancer (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN) at Dover International Speedway, Logano will be looking to make history.
If the driver of the No. 22 Penske Racing Ford for Saturday’s race captures the checkered flag it will be the fourth consecutive time he’s celebrated in Victory Lane in the series at Dover.
“That’s the goal for the weekend,” Logano replied when asked about how great it would be to win a fourth-straight NASCAR Nationwide race at Dover. “Every weekend, we want to go out there and win the race. And I think we have a great shot to do it at Dover.”
No other driver has ever won three consecutive NASCAR Nationwide events at the one-mile oval. Only eight drivers have won back-to-back races in the series at Dover, which has been on the schedule since the series’ inaugural season in 1982: Darrell Waltrip (May 1985, May 1986); Robert Pressley (1992 sweep); Todd Bodine (1993 sweep); Randy LaJoie (1996 sweep); Martin Truex Jr. (September 2004, June 2005); Denny Hamlin (September 2007, May 2008); Kyle Busch (2010 sweep) and Carl Edwards (2011 sweep).
In nine starts at Dover, Logano has three wins, five top fives, six top 10s, two poles and an average finishing position of 5.9. He’s led more laps (531) at the concrete track than at any other track on the schedule.
“To think that you can win three-straight and even four-straight races at a track is pretty freaking cool,” Logano said. “I really want to go out there and make it happen this weekend.”
If Logano does end the day celebrating in Victory Lane, it will be the 11th time this season the No. 22 has found pay dirt. Logano and three other drivers — Brad Keselowski, AJ Allmendinger and Ryan Blaney — have all wheeled the Ford past the start-finish line first a combined 10 times. Penske Racing and the No. 22 hold a 23-point advantage over Joe Gibbs Racing and the No. 54 Toyota in the owners’ points battle.
“I’ve heard a lot of people trying to downplay (the owners’ championship) and say it isn’t that important. But, there are 100-plus guys back at the Penske Racing shop that feel it’s pretty important,” Logano said when asked about the importance of the owners’ title.
CRAFTON LOOKING FOR ELUSIVE VEGAS WIN
Matt Crafton has rolled the dice before at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, but he’s never been the driver left holding the winning hand.
He’s quietly put together a stretch of five top-five finishes at the 1.5-mile track, which includes three runner-up finishes and an average finish of 2.8 over that span. This Saturday during the Smith’s 350 (8:30 p.m. ET, FOX Sports 1), however, he’ll be looking to capture his first checkered flag in Vegas.
Last season, in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series’ most recent trip to the track, Crafton was leading with one lap to go when Nelson Piquet Jr. passed him to steal away the victory. That missed opportunity was difficult for Crafton.
“We had a really, really good truck last year and I led the last 14 laps, but I got passed on the last lap by Nelson,” Crafton said. “That’s been one of the hardest losses to swallow of my entire career — our truck was that good.”
In 12 career starts at Vegas in the series, Crafton has compiled five top fives and six top 10s. In the past eight races, he leads the series with 371 green-flag passes and 304 quality passes, and is second in laps running in the top 15. His driver rating at the 1.5-mile is a respectable 95.5.
With 16 races already in the books in 2013 Crafton has finished in the top 10 in all of the races. If he finishes in the top 10 Saturday and in the next two races (at Talladega and Martinsville), he’ll tie Ron Hornaday Jr.’s 2006 record streak of top-10 finishes to start a season.
“Hopefully we can keep doing what we’re doing and carry it through to the end of the year,” said Crafton, who leads the standings by 41 points over reigning champion James Buescher. “That would really be special to finish this thing out.”
NASCAR this weekend.