Even in good times, Kenseth maintains “sense of urgency”

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This much is obvious: With four wins to his credit (including one last weekend at Kentucky), Matt Kenseth’s decision to jump to Joe Gibbs Racing over the off-season has been great so far.

But even though any bit of trepidation about the move should have evaporated by now, the former Sprint Cup champion said earlier this week at Daytona International Speedway – site of tonight’s Coke Zero 400 – that he still feels pressure every week to perform well for his new team.

“I don’t know that it ever totally goes away,” said Kenseth, who will start on the front row tonight alongside JGR teammate Kyle Busch. “I think that in this sport in general, you always have to have that sense of urgency and I don’t think you could ever get too comfortable. Everybody can be replaced and you have to perform each and every week. It’s a really ‘what have you done for me lately’ sport, obviously.

“I don’t know that you ever get 100 percent comfortable in what you’re doing. I think you have to stay hungry and always be focused on what’s in front of you and not necessarily what’s behind you.”

But Kenseth also feels a high sense of confidence going into tonight’s 400-miler, as he should. The Wisconsin native has become one of the drivers to beat whenever the Cup circus visits a restrictor plate track, collecting two wins and leading 473 total laps across the last six plate races at both Daytona and Talladega Superspeedway.

“I feel real good about it,” said Kenseth of his chances. “I’ve been really spoiled honestly the last year and a half –  the last six plate races. Our cars have just been unbelievable.”

As for what he expects to see tonight, Kenseth feels that the race may play out as a cross between the season-opening Daytona 500 and the race at Talladega back in May. Those events were decidedly different, with the former marked by long stretches of single-file racing and the latter seeing lots of pack racing.

“Probably more like Talladega – I’m not sure why,” he said. “I’m not sure why Talladega would’ve been different other than just people learn more about the [Gen 6] cars – getting the cars better – figure out how to put them in different positions in situations to make more passing and more side-by-side. I’m not sure.

“You know in February [at Daytona], the groove was right around the top and you couldn’t really do much different than that and [at] Talladega, it wasn’t at all. It was actually – it didn’t seem like you wanted to be way up there. So, we’ll kind of have to wait and see.”

Ferrari teammates Vettel and Raikkonen fastest in rainy final practice at Australian GP

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Kimi Raikkonen went one-two in the final practice session ahead of qualifying at the water-logged Australian Grand Prix on Saturday.

Vettel set a best-lap time of 1 minute, 26.067 seconds, more than 2.4 seconds faster than his teammate in second.

Both Ferrari drivers switched from their intermediate tires to the super-fast, ultra-soft tires for the final few laps of the session, testing conditions on the track after a day-long downpour left it slick and filled with small puddles.

Mercedes drivers Valtteri Bottas and Lewis Hamilton did not opt to try out their soft tires, sticking to the intermediates for the entire session. They had the seventh- and eighth-fastest times, after topping the leaderboard in practice in dry conditions on Friday.

The heavy rains subsided by early afternoon, allowing the track to rapidly dry during the third practice session and making conditions safe for drivers to test their soft tires.

Still, only a few drivers completed a timed lap with the softer compounds, with Mercedes, Red Bull and most of the others staying with their intermediates.

Sauber’s Marcus Ericsson had the third-fastest time of the session on ultrasoft tires, followed by Red Bull’s Max Verstappen on intermediates.

Hamilton remains the favorite to capture his fifth straight pole position at the Australian Grand Prix in qualifying later Saturday. He had the fastest laps on ultrasoft tires in the two practice sessions on Friday, though Verstappen was right behind him.

Verstappen and Vettel both slid on the slick track early in the third practice session, but maintained control and completed their runs without incident.

Verstappen’s teammate, Daniel Ricciardo, had the sixth-fastest time of the session. The Australian’s chances of winning his fifth career Grand Prix on his home track in Melbourne took a hit late Friday when he was assessed a three-place grid penalty for Sunday’s race.

The Australian driver was penalized for driving too fast under red-flag conditions during Friday’s second practice session because of debris on the track.