Seven races remain until the chase begins on Sunday September 14th at Chicagoland Speedway.
For some drivers on the NSCS tour, the next seven races will serve as a valuable primer to solidify positioning for a potential title run. Whereas other drivers on the tour will approach the next seven races as a last ditch effort to ensure their place in the ten race chase for the sprint cup title.
Astonishingly, some of the sports elite drivers have yet to visit victory lane this late into the season; among them are former NSCS champions Tony Stewart and Matt Kenseth. Also included on this list are usually consistent drivers the likes of Greg Biffle, Kasey Kahne, Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman. With such a great number of high profile drivers jockeying for position, claiming victory in the next seven races is imperative to avoid being left on the outside looking in.
Thanks to the new Chase format, we cannot underestimate some of the underdogs on the scene. A victory by a driver competing for a small market team can easily punch their ticket for the chase should they remain inside the top 30 in points prior to the cut-off race at Richmond.
As part of this week’s hot topic, I will examine a group of winless drivers in three separate categories (Favorites, Underdogs, and Longshots) and break down their overall chances of punching their ticket for the Chase once we get to Chicagoland Speedway in September.
Matt Kenseth- Cambridge Wisconsin’s favorite son Matt Kenseth finds himself in a precarious position after the first 19 races of the 2014 NSCS season. Known for his consistent nature, Kenseth has yet to visit victory lane in 2014, and with seven races remaining before the Chase begins, it’s vital for the former champion to score a win in the next seven weeks. Regardless of how the rest of Kenseth’s season plays out, 2014 has to be considered a disappointment for a driver who rolled off seven victories in his first season with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Kenseth has finished no better than third this season (Charlotte, Dover). The entire Joe Gibbs Racing organization is on the upswing in recent weeks with all three cars running better. Both Kenseth and teammate Kyle Busch have scored top five finishes in the last three races.
Where he’s headed:
Indianapolis – Kenseth is a likely candidate to pull off what has to be considered an upset victory, given how inconsistent this team has run for much of the season. Kenseth earned a runner up finish at Indy back in 2003. Since then, he’s found his way back to the front following years of less than stellar runs. Kenseth has finished inside the top five in two of the last three races at the Brickyard. There’s a chance on Sunday the Kenseth could kiss the bricks for the first time in his illustrious career.
Pocono – Kenseth probably would rather skip this place all together. His best finish at the tricky triangle is 3rd in June of 2003 – Cross this one off the list
Watkins Glen- Cutting his teeth on short tracks before he made his presence known on the NSCS tour, it’s unlikely Kenseth will be a factor once we get to upstate New York in August. Kenseth’s best finish at The Glen is 8th on two separate occasions (2003, 2012) Forget this one as well.
Michigan- As a former Roush Fenway driver it should come as no surprise that Matt Kenseth has experienced his share of success at Michigan. Kenseth, a former two time Michigan winner, has to like his chances of scoring a third win once he hits the track. This is a place to keep an eye out for the #20 car.
Bristol- Matt Kenseth can’t deny he loves Saturday night racing on the high banks of Bristol. A former three time winner of the Bristol August night race (2005, 2006,2013) Kenseth knows this could be his best opportunity to score a win to kick start his march toward a second NSCS title. Easily this could come down to his race to lose.
Atlanta – Despite having a great deal of success on other mile and a half tracks Kenseth historically hasn’t fared too well at Atlanta Motor speedway. His career best finish down in Dixie was a 3rd place run in March of 2007.
Richmond- If you crave high octane drama, then Richmond could be the place that sees Matt Kenseth dramatically race his way into the Chase. The 2002 September Richmond winner has put together quite an impressive streak there as of late. Currently, Kenseth is working on four consecutive top 10 finishes in the last four races, two of which are solid top five runs. He’s sure to get it done here if he cannot end his winless drought before the lights go down on the 2014 version of the regular season.
Final verdict- Kenseth wins at least one of the seven remaining races before the chase cut-off. In what’s been a wasted season.
Expect him to get knocked out of title contention somewhere between the fourth to fifth chase race.
Photo courtesy of Jasen Vinlove – USA Today Sports