Motorsports Insider: This could be the year Matt Kenseth puts 2003 in the past

Posted Wednesday, Sep. 18, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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More information Series updates Sprint Cup Spoilers: Only 10 nonChase drivers have won a Chase race. Brian Vickers is one, and he’s a consideration to do it again, since he won at New Hampshire in the spring. Another “spoiler” candidate: Denny Hamlin, who won the fall race last year. Milestone: Mark Martin will make his 875th Cup start this weekend. He’s fifth all-time behind Richard Petty (1,185), Ricky Rudd (906), Terry Labonte (885) and Dave Marcis (883). Milestone II: Last week, Jimmie Johnson became the ninth driver all-time to lead 15,000 laps. Nationwide Standalone: The series is in Kentucky on Saturday night for its final stand-alone race of the year, meaning no Cup regulars are in the field. That leaves the favorites as the series leaders, Sam Hornish Jr. and Austin Dillon. They finished third and fourth last week at Chicago. Debut: Jeb Burton is making his series debut, driving the No. 34 Chevy for Turner Motorsports. Camping World Truck Off week: The series is off before heading to Las Vegas next Saturday night. Record race: There were 50 passes for the lead last week at Chicago, breaking the previous series record of 35. Top-10 streak: Matt Crafton’s streak of top-10s to start the season is at 16. The series record is 19. He can break it at TMS on Nov. 1. IndyCar No Baltimore: The series will not return to Baltimore in 2014. Series CEO Mark Miles said the city and series could not agree on a date, since Labor Day was not available. NHRA Rare occurrence: Defending Top Fuel champion Antron Brown failed to qualify last week in Charlotte, the first time in 110 races – since the last event of 2008 – that he did not make an event. 11 Winners in the past 11 Sprint Cup races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, including seven of this year’s Chasers.

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Matt Kenseth is not in a hurry to win another championship so he can show his one-win championship from 2003 was no fluke.

“There’s certainly no apologies for the way we won that championship,” he said.

But it would be nice.

“Sure. We’d love to win it in the new format,” he said.

The new format is the Chase format. The NASCAR Sprint Cup “playoff” system created in 2004, the year after Kenseth won the championship with a season that included only that one victory, 11 top-5s, but 25 top-10s, the season high that year.

So Kenseth walked away with the trophy, even though points runner-up Jimmie Johnson won three times. Fourth-place finisher Jeff Gordon also won three times. Sixth-place Ryan Newman won eight times. And 11th-place Kurt Busch won four times.

The response was the Chase system. It was like a “Kenseth Rule.”

Kenseth shrugged. Asked about it in a conference call with reporters this week, he didn’t take the bait.

“We had an unbelievable season that year,” said Kenseth, who leads the standings after winning Sunday at Chicago. “We didn’t have the fastest cars, lead the most laps, but we were consistently in the top five and had really, really good finishes, really good teamwork that whole entire year.”

Besides, he said, it wasn’t like he was trying not to win races.

“I’ve never been in a race before that I haven’t wanted to win,” he said. “If we could have won more races that year, been quicker, had circumstances go our way, we would have loved that to happen. It wasn’t like we weren’t trying to win more races. We had an incredible year that year, like I said. Didn’t have the wins, but had a lot of good finishes.”

For now, Kenseth is happy to think about 2013. His six victories leads the series, thank you very much.

“I’ve learned to enjoy wins more, especially after you’ve gone on a losing streak,” he said. “We had two seasons without a win one time. When you struggle some, have some things go on like that, you certainly learn to appreciate and enjoy the wins more.”

And, for Kenseth, the championship.

Massey on top

Spencer Massey is at the top of the standings in NHRA Top Fuel after a runner-up finish in Charlotte.

So the Fort Worth driver is on a high coming to his “home” race, the AAA NHRA Texas Fall Nationals this weekend at Texas Motorplex.

But being close to home doesn’t guarantee anything. Massey has not won at the Ennis track.

Qualifying is Friday and Saturday, with the finals starting at 11 a.m. Sunday.

Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407 Twitter: @calexmendez

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