Weekend Preview: Texas may cure Kenseth’s ‘slow’ start

Matt Kenseth (Getty Images)

Matt Kenseth (Getty Images)

At first glance, it’s easy to perceive Matt Kenseth’s start to the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season as “slow.”

The No. 20 Toyota driver only has one top-10 finish in the first six races, one year after amassing five victories and 19 top-10 showings.

“The results have been disappointing, but we’ve ran pretty well,” said Kenseth, who ranks 14th in the series points standings. “We’ve been in contention in a couple races. Neither of them worked out. We had fast enough cars, if all of the stars were aligned, maybe we’d win a couple more. I think it all depends on how you want to look at it. I feel if you run well enough, over time the law of averages is going to work out, you’re going to win some races, you’re going to get some finishes. It’s just tough to go through when you’re not getting good finishes, but I’d much rather run the way we’re running, perform the way we’re performing, and not get the finishes then be a 15th-place car and luck into a ninth-place finish.”

He’ll try to get his momentum-building strong finish in Saturday’s Duck Commander 500 at Texas Motor Speedway (7:30 p.m. ET on FOX), a place where he has excelled throughout his career, despite two disappointing showings of 25th and 23rd there last season.

In 26 career starts at the 1.5-mile oval, Kenseth boasts two wins, a track-record-tying 13 top fives, 17 top 10s and an average finish of 9.5.

“Ironically, Texas is one of those places that when I was at Roush (Fenway Racing) was probably my best track,” Kenseth said. “I felt like even years we didn’t run well other places, we always finished well there, always ran well there. We were able to win twice, were in position to win a couple more times and got beat real late. Since I’ve been over (at Joe Gibbs Racing), it’s been a struggle for some reason. We haven’t ran very well the last three years there, so I’m looking forward to going back and seeing if we can make it better.”

NASCAR’s loop data – a set of advanced statistics more indicative of performance than finishing position – shows Kenseth’s results this season are bound to improve. The Wisconsin native ranks fourth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with 144 laps led and sixth on the circuit with a 97.9 driver rating and 10.4 average running position.

Kenseth reiterated his lack of early-season success is no reason to panic.

“We’ve been having good times,” he said. “Our (JGR) cars have been fast. Kyle [Busch] has a win (at Martinsville). Denny [Hamlin] won the Daytona 500. Ironically, we were in position to win both those races, but we didn’t win either one of them. At least a teammate won if we couldn’t.

“Things really aren’t that bad. I still feel pretty good about it. It’s only April. Kyle raced only half the season last year and won the championship, so I feel pretty good about where we’re at to be honest with you. We have the speed where we can go out and contend for wins and race up in the top five and six consistently if everything goes right and we all do our jobs. That’s fun and that’s encouraging. If we keep running like that, (good) finishes will eventually come.”

Suárez surging at top of NASCAR XFINITY Series standings

Don’t expect Daniel Suárez to concede his spot atop the NASCAR XFINITY Series standings any time soon.

Daniel Saurez stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International on August 7, 2015 in Watkins Glen, New York.

Daniel Saurez stands in the garage during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International on August 7, 2015 in Watkins Glen, New York.

Through his first five races, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver boasts a higher average finish (4.8) than the last five NXS driver champions through the first five contests in their respective championship-winning seasons: Ricky Stenhouse Jr., 6.2 (2012); Chris Buescher, 7.8 (2015); Stenhouse, 8.2 (2011); Chase Elliott, 8.8 (2014) and Austin Dillon, 9.8 (2013). In addition, Suárez’s 112.8 driver rating was only outpaced by Stenhouse in his 2012 title-winning season.

Suárez will attempt to continue his sizzling start in Friday’s O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 at Texas Motor Speedway (8:30 p.m. ET on FS1). The NASCAR Next and Drive for Diversity (operated by Rev Racing) alumnus made his only two starts at Texas in his rookie season last year. He improved on his 18th-place showing in the spring to finish sixth in the fall.

“I’m excited about going to Texas and getting back in my Toyota Camry this week,” Suárez said. “We were so close to the win in Fontana (finishing fourth) and all I could think about over the break was getting back on the track with my guys. I enjoy racing at Texas (Motor Speedway) and I think our mile-and-half program at JGR is really strong.”

Suárez, who owns three top fives and a top 10 in all five races, hopes to hold off standings second-place Elliott Sadler (-10 points) and third-place Justin Allgaier (-19).

“Scott and the guys worked hard over the break to get our Camry ready to go,” Suárez said. “We’ve had some good meetings this week and I think we have a solid plan in place for Friday night. I’m excited to hit the track and continuing to build on the momentum from the start of the year.”

Race Weekend Preview

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series

Race: Duck Commander 500

Place: Texas Motor Speedway

Date and Time: Saturday, April 9 at 7:30 p.m. ET

Tune-In: FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 501 miles (334 laps)

What to Watch For: Jimmie Johnson attempts to win his fourth consecutive race at Texas Motor Speedway. He has visited Victory Lane in five of the last seven races at the 1.5-mile track. … Kyle Busch goes for his second consecutive win after earning his first Martinsville clock. He has the best average finish at Texas in the last four races (3.7). … Austin Dillon leads Richard Childress Racing teammates Paul Menard and Ryan Newman to the Lone Star State after all three placed in the top 10 at Martinsville. … Brad Keselowski attempts to capture his first victory at Texas after failing to win when he set a track record by leading 312 of 334 laps there last fall. … AJ Allmendinger attempts to post three consecutive top 10s for the first time in his career.

NASCAR XFINITY Series

Race: O’Reilly Auto Parts 300

Place: Texas Motor Speedway

Date and Time: Friday, April 8 at 8:30 p.m. ET

Tune-in: FS1, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio

Distance: 300 miles (200 laps)

What to Watch For: Erik Jones attempts to defend his title as the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 winner. His victory at Texas Motor Speedway last season was the first of his NASCAR XFINITY Series career. Another win would all but lock up a spot in the NASCAR XFINITY Series Chase … Standings runner-up Elliott Sadler, who has made 16 series starts in the Lone Star State, tries to close Daniel Suárez’s 10-point lead. … Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 car hopes to extend its six-point lead over the No. 2 Richard Childress Racing team in the NASCAR XFINITY Series owner standings. Kyle Busch is scheduled to pilot the No. 18 this weekend, while Austin Dillon is set to wheel the No. 2.

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