Matt Kenseth eyeing top seed for upcoming Chase

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With a series-high five wins on the season, Matt Kenseth could be heading into this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup as the top seed in the 12-driver field.

And after his latest victory last weekend at Bristol, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver feels his No. 20 team is firing on all cylinders as NASCAR’s post-season looms.

I feel pretty confident right now,” said Kenseth on Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where he’ll start sixth in Sunday’s Advocare 500. “I feel like we have a really good race team. Right now, we’re really on top of our game on pit road and with car prep and the rest of the stuff.

“I feel good about all that, but you have to perform each and every week once you get [into the Chase]. The wins are great – obviously, as long as we make the top- 10, that seeds us up toward the top. We should be at least a tie or hopefully ahead. That is good. You have to put together 10 strong, solid weeks for sure.”

Atlanta could yield a sixth win in 2013 for Kenseth, as the 1.5-mile oval has been a historically strong track for JGR. The team has earned 10 Sprint Cup wins at Atlanta, including the most recent race there last year with Denny Hamlin doing the honors.

Kenseth has admitted in the past that he felt some nervousness about joining JGR over this past off-season, and did so again on Friday. But despite some humbling moments at the beginning, he’s managed to settle in comfortably.

“I had a little bit of anxiety, especially when the secretary didn’t know who I was or what I wanted there,” he recalled. “You always have moments like that to kind of get used to it and it always humbles you. Certainly, I felt really at home there from the beginning, at least after that first 15 minutes until she realized what I was there for.

“Since then, I’ve really felt at home there and it’s a special team. We all get along really good. We work together really good. I think we understand each other, have the same goals and ideas and stuff. It’s been a lot of fun.”

Dakar Rally: Potential winners starting to come into focus after Stage 11

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Editor’s note: Check out expanded video highlights of Stage 11 Thursday at 5:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Stage 11 of the 2018 Dakar Rally is history and things are really tightening up in the overall standings.

With three stages left – Thursday, Friday and Saturday – several competitors are either pulling away or the battle for the championship is getting tighter.

For example:

* In Trucks, we are seeing the tightest battle in the standings. Argentina’s Federico Villagra leads the overall rankings, but Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev is only one minute, 7 seconds behind. Belarus’s Siarhei Vlazovich is a distant third (3:07:22 behind) and likely won’t have enough time to recover in the final three stages to make a last-ditch bid for the championship.

* In Bikes, Austria’s Matthias Walkner has a 32 minute, 00 second lead over Argentina’s Kevin Benavides. In fact, second through fourth place in the overall standings are less than an hour behind Walkner, meaning anything can happen and there could still be a major shuffling in the final three stages.

* In UTVs, Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela holds a relatively slim 44 minute, 33 second lead over France’s Patricie Garroueste, with Peru’s Juan Uribe Ramos a distant third in the overall standings at 1:53:58 behind.

MORE: Dakar Rally Stage 11 video highlights: Cars, Bikes, Trucks, Quads

Wednesday’s Stage 11 went from Belen, Argentina to Chilecito, Argentina.

Three stages remain to be completed in the 14-stage event, all in Argentina.

Stage 12 kicks off this morning from Chilecito, Argentina and ends in San Juan, Argentina

Here’s recaps of the top three classes from Wednesday’s Stage 11 – Bikes, Cars and Trucks – as well as how the Quads and UTVs look with three more stages remaining.

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BIKES

Australia’s Toby Price avenged his terrible round on Tuesday – when he lost almost an hour’s time after getting lost in a river bed – to bounce back and win Wednesday’s Stage 11.

Price, the 2016 Rally Bikes champion, finished ahead of Argentina’s Kevin Benavides and France’s Antoine Meo in the stage, and the win also allowed Price to move up to third in the overall standings.

Also of note, Spain’s Joan Barreda Bort, who came into Stage 11 ranked second in the overall rankings behind Austria’s Mathias Walkner, withdrew from the Rally. It’s unclear if the reason for Barreda Bort’s decision was mechanical or medical.

Here’s the Stage 11 results, as well as updated overall rankings:

  1. Australia’s Toby Price, KTM, 4:01:33
  2. Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, Honda, 4:03:11
  3. France’s Antoine Meo, KTM, 4:08:04
  4. S.’s Ricky Brabec, Honda, 4:09:07
  5. Austria’s Matthias Walkner, KTM, 4:12:34

AMERICAN RIDERS

4th: Ricky Brabec, Honda, 4:09:07

13th: Andrew Short, Husqvarna, 4:37:55

14th: Mark Samuels, Honda, 4:38:00

23rd: Shane Esposito, KTM, 4:58:49

68th: Bill Conger, Husqvarna, 7:25:28

OVERALL 

  1. Austria’s Matthias Walkner
  2. Argentina’s Kevin Benavides, 32:00 behind
  3. Australia’s Toby Price, 39:17 behind
  4. Spain’s Gerard Farres, 49:17 behind
  5. France’s Antoine Meo, 59:05 behind

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CARS

The Netherlands’ Bernhard ten Brinke, who has been doing some strong racing and high finishing in recent stages, was the top finisher in Stage 11.

It was ten Brinke’s second career stage win in the Rally, having done so the first time in 2016.

France’s Cyril Despres finished second, followed by Spain’s Carlos Sainz in third.

Here’s the Stage 11 results, as well as updated overall rankings:

  1. The Netherlands’ Bernhard ten Brinke, Toyota, 4:10:54
  2. France’s Cyril Despres, Peugeot, 4:15:29
  3. Spain’s Carlos Sainz, Peugeot, 4:15:34
  4. France’s Stephane Peterhansel, Peugeot, 4:15:44
  5. Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, Toyota, 4:16:50

OVERALL 

  1. Spain’s Carlos Sainz
  2. France’s Stephane Peterhansel, 1:00:45 behind
  3. Qatar’s Nasser Al-Attiyah, 1:24:02 behind
  4. The Netherlands’ Bernhard ten Brinke, 1:27:35 behind
  5. South Africa’s Giniel de Villiers, 1:40:05 behind

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TRUCKS

Belarus’s Siarhei Vlazovich won his first career stage in the Rally, and maintained his third-place ranking in overall standings with three more stages to go.

Argentina’s Federico Villagra finished second while Russia’s Dmitry Sotnikov was third.

But perhaps the biggest news in the class is the overall rankings, with Argentina’s Federico Villagra holding the lead, but Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev is just one minute, seven seconds behind.

Here’s the Stage 11 results, as well as updated overall rankings:

  1. Belarus’s Siarhei Vlazovich, Maz, 5:14:10
  2. Argentina’s Federico Villagra, Iveco, 5:15:34
  3. Russia’s Dmitry Sotnikov, Kamaz, 5:43:01
  4. Czech Republic’s Martin Kolomy, Tatra, 5:44:34
  5. Netherlands’ Gert Huznik, Renault, 5:48:23

OVERALL 

  1. Argentina’s Federico Villagra
  2. Russia’s Eduard Nikolaev, 0:01:07 behind
  3. Belarus’s Siarhei Vlazovich, 3:07:22 behind
  4. Russia’s Airat Mardeev, 4:40:00 behind
  5. Kazakhstan’s Artur Ardavichus, 5:28:39 behind

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QUADS

  1. Argentina’s Nicolas Cavigliasso, Yamaha, 5:20:45
  2. Chile’s Ignacia Casale, Yamaha, 5:35:59
  3. Kazakhstan’s Dmitry Shilov, Yamaha, 5:55:34
  4. Argentina’s Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli, Yamaha, 5:57:40
  5. France’s Alex Dutrie, Yamaha, 5:28:24

OVERALL

  1. Chile’s Ignacio Casale
  2. Argentina’s Nicolas Cavigliasso, 1:34:13 behind
  3. Argentina’s Jeremias Gonzalez Ferioli, 2:09:15 behind
  4. France’s Alex Dutrie, 3:56:48 behind
  5. Brazil’s Marcelo Medeiros, 4:22:22 behind

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SxS UTV

  1. France’s Patricie Garrouste, Polaris, 6:02:44
  2. Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela, Can-Am, 6:06:23
  3. Argentina’s Leonel Larrauri, Can-Am, 6:13:54
  4. France’s Claude Fournier, Polaris, 6:52:15
  5. Spain’s Jose Pena Campos, Polaris, 6:54:13

OVERALL 

  1. Brazil’s Reinaldo Varela
  2. France’s Patricie Garroueste, 44:33 behind
  3. Peru’s Juan Uribe Ramos, 1:53:58 behind
  4. Spain’s Jose Pena Campos, 8:46:25 behind
  5. France’s Claude Fournier, 8:56:52 behind

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THURSDAY’S SCHEDULE:

Stage 12 takes place Thursday, going from Chilecito, Argentina to San Juan, Argentina

After Thursday, only two stages remain in the 2018 Rally on Friday and Saturday.

MORE: Dakar Rally daily stages schedule, NBCSN broadcast schedule, list of all competitors.

MORE: Stage 10 wrapup

MORE: Stage 9 cancelled due to weather, impassible course conditions

MORE: Stage 8 wrapup

MORE: Stage 7 wrapup

MORE: Stage 6 wrapup

MORE: Stage 5 wrapup

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MORE: Stage 3 wrapup

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MORE: Stage 1 wrapup