Matt Kenseth admits he has mixed feelings about testing.
He likes it and doesn’t like it.
But because all — or almost all — of the top teams in the NASCAR are testing at Texas Motor Speedway this week, he is, too.
Although, after crashing because of a blown tire nine laps into his test session Tuesday, he sure didn’t like it.
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“It wasn’t great,” he said.
Neither was his mood. But then, considering his test accident, plus his 20th-place finish last week at Talladega, which caused him to lose his points lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, why should it be?
“As disappointed as I am about Talladega, it’s important to get it behind you and look at what’s in front of you,” he said. “But certainly, it’s hard not to, for me anyway, fret over any lost points no matter what week it is, because they all count toward your total at the end of the year.”
Kenseth’s finish left him four points behind new leader Jimmie Johnson, who pulled out a 13th-place finish from the unpredictability that is Talladega, as the series heads to Martinsville this week before coming to TMS next week.
“[Kenseth is] probably looking at Martinsville as not his best track,” said Jeff Gordon, who was also testing. “He’s going to have to step up because the 48 and ourselves and a couple other guys are going to step up there. Especially, the way he attacked it at Talladega by leading a lot of laps and being up front and then fading, I’m sure it was discouraging.”
Kenseth knows the work that is ahead of him now. He will have to outperform the five-time champion Johnson over the next four weeks.
“I realized when we started the Chase, and I realized it when we started the season, and I’ve realized it for years, if you’re going to have a chance at the championship, you’ve got to beat the 48 if he’s not going to have any problems,” Kenseth said. “You’ve got to figure out a way to beat him head to head. If nobody has problems, you’ve got to beat him head to head.”
But Kenseth has beaten plenty of people head to head this year. His seven wins are more than anyone else, and two more than the next-closest, Johnson’s five.
“With Matt, I don’t know if there’s a lot of significance in it,” Johnson said of the new championship standings. “He’s been doing this too long. He’s won a championship. He knows what it’s like to experience the pressure. … I think Matt has a lot of confidence moving forward for these next four events, as do we. His maturity, his mindset, I don’t think I can do much there. He’s pretty rock-solid in that department.”
The short oval at Martinsville might not be his best track, but he has not always run there in Joe Gibbs Racing equipment. If he can get past Martinsville in contention, he’ll come to a track far more friendly to him.
Kenseth has won twice at TMS, most recently in April 2011, and he’s led more laps at TMS than any other driver.
“I feel decent about all the races coming up,” Kenseth said. “I felt OK about Talladega before we got out of there. You never know what’s going to happen. Every week is different. Every track is unique. … Always love coming here. Look forward to coming here next week.”