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Kenseth Exits Test With Tires, Jimmie On His Mind

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 23 2013

Matt Kenseth fell behind Jimmie Johnson – in the race and in the point standings – at Talladega last weekend. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Alan Marler)

FORT WORTH, Texas – Matt Kenseth’s participation in Day 2 of a three-day NASCAR Sprint Cup Series open test at Texas Motor Speedway ended abruptly Tuesday in the Turn 1 wall, which will require a fresh coat of white paint before the AAA Texas 500 on Nov. 3.

“I have mixed feelings, I guess, on testing,” Kenseth deadpanned during a late-afternoon media opportunity before exiting the high-banked, 1.5-mile quadoval. “Well, it (the test) was up-and-down. The down – we just had a tire problem and crashed, so we’re done for the test. I feel like we learned a few things; I didn’t think it went great.”

Kenseth, of Joe Gibbs Racing, said a blown right front tire sent him into the outside wall at speed. “When you run nine laps and one (tire) blows apart for no reason, that’s always a cause for concern, for sure,” said Kenseth, who was uninjured in the incident.

Kenseth added he was not driving the No. 20 Dollar General/Home Depot Toyota Camry he plans to wheel at TMS in Race No. 8 of the Chase for the Championship later this month.“No, she’s at home safe, ready to get to the track,” said Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion. “We’re good.”

Kenseth confirmed that he was not hot-lapping here on the multi-zone Goodyear radial tire that made its competitive debut at the 1.5-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway on Sept. 1. That tire, which features two different rubber compounds, was also run on the right side of Cup cars at Kansas Speedway on Oct. 6.

“We weren’t testing tires; we ran the same tire we ran here last time,” said Kenseth, referring to the NRA 500 on April 13 – an event won by JGR teammate Kyle Busch. “This isn’t a tire test. It’s a team test so they already had the tires picked out for what they’re going to run here. Thankfully, we’re not running the tire we ran at Kansas.”

Matt Kenseth had a tough time at the Sprint Cup open test at Texas Motor Speedway on Tuesday. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

Tuesday’s crash capped a deflating 48-hour period for Kenseth, who fell out of the Chase point lead following a 20th-place finish at Talladega Superspeedway Sunday afternoon. Kenseth, who began the season’s final restrictor plate race with a four-point lead over Jimmie Johnson, now trails the five-time champion by four points heading into the half-mile Martinsville Speedway this weekend.

“You’re going really fast around here, so blowing a right front tire is not a good thing,” Johnson said when informed of Kenseth’s crash. In the debut of NASCAR’s Gen-6 Chevrolets, Fords and Toyotas here in April, Kyle Busch qualified his No. 18 Interstate Batteries Camry on-pole with a Cup track record of 196.299 mph. No lap speeds were made available Tuesday.

Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS fielded by Hendrick Motorsports, finished 13th Sunday at Talladega. But JJ has eight career victories at Martinsville, and Kenseth said he certainly is aware of the Chase history compiled by Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus.

“Well, yeah. I mean, I think anybody is,” Kenseth said. “He (Johnson) can win at each and every track. I realized when we started the Chase, and I realized when we started the season, and I realized it for years that if you’re going to have a shot at the championship you’ve got to beat the No. 48. If they don’t have any kind of problems, he’s capable of winning each and every week. You’ve got to go out and win races and figure out how to beat him head-to-head. If nobody has problems, that’s the only way you’re going to win a championship. It’s been that way for seven or eight years.”

Johnson has logged a pair of wins at TMS, including last November’s AAA Texas 500 in a green/white/checkered flag finish over eventual Cup champion Brad Keselowski of Penske Racing. The margin of victory was 0.808-seconds.

Johnson and HMS teammate Jeff Gordon, a four-time Cup champion, were among drivers turning test laps into the night. Also testing were fourth-place Chaser Kevin Harvick of Richard Childress Racing and 10th-place Carl Edwards of Roush Fenway Racing as well as Martin Truex Jr. of Michael Waltrip Racing.

Kenseth’s first season with JGR and crew chief Jason Ratcliff has produced a career-best seven victories, including consecutive wins at Chicagoland Speedway and New Hampshire Motor Speedway to start the 10-race Chase.

Kenseth dominated the opening two stints on the high-banked, 2.66-mile Talladega layout but dealt with handling issues during the second half of the race. “It was really bizarre,” Kenseth said. “Typically handling is a non-issue but I just got so loose I couldn’t even hang on to it. I pretty much had to run in the back for two runs, which was disappointing. We finally got it fixed on that last run but we only had 20 laps to get back up there. I really needed to be up there like we were early.

“I felt OK about Talladega before we got there, too. I thought a lot about the spring race, how we dominated the race and finished eighth. Was super disappointed and this one was almost worse. But there’s so many things out of your control. I thought we had one of the faster cars but if everybody’s going to ride up in a line and you can’t get enough cars to go down and try to make a move, you can’t do anything by yourself. You can’t do anything with three or four cars, you need at least five or six. That (plate) racing’s always been frustrating. But it could be worse. We’re still close, we’re still in it. We’ve got four weeks to go racing.”

Dating to the start of his fulltime Cup career with Roush Fenway Racing in 2000, Kenseth, 41, has fared well at TMS. In 22 previous starts here, he has two wins and 12 top-five finishes. Kenseth currently holds the record for most Cup laps-led at TMS with 772 and is first among drivers with an average finish of 8.5.

“As disappointed as I am about Talladega it’s important to get it behind you and look at what’s in front of you,” said Kenseth, winner of the last title before the Chase format was adopted for the 2004 season. “If you go into the last race or last couple of races or even to where now you’re still close and all that it’s more difficult not to think about it. For me anyway, it’s hard not to fret over any lost points no matter which week it is because they all count toward your total. But yeah, if we’re fortunate to still be toward at the top and have a real good, legitimate shot you can’t help but to think about it a little bit more.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, October 23 2013
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