Kenseth: “It’s too early to really pick favorites” for Chase

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Matt Kenseth didn’t do anything to lower the championship expectations upon him last Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway, where he opened the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup with his sixth victory of the season.

But in a NASCAR teleconference earlier this afternoon, Kenseth, the top seed in the Chase, declared that now is no time for choosing a clear-cut winner.

“I think it’s too early to really pick favorites,” said Kenseth. “I think there’s a ton of competition. When you look at the finishing positions last Sunday, 10 of the top 12 were all drivers in the Chase.

“You’re going to have to run really good every week to be able to beat that, because they’re in the Chase for a reason – because they’ve been the best-running cars all year. You’re going to try to figure out how to beat all of them and they’re all going to be really tough.”

Kenseth is looking to claim his second Sprint Cup after attaining his first title with Roush Fenway Racing (then known as, simply, Roush Racing) in 2003, which was the final year before the Chase format began.

This year, the Chase turns 10 years old, and during that span, some have credited – or blamed – Kenseth for its creation after he took the ’03 championship with lots of consistency (11 Top-5s, 25 Top-10s) but not a lot of winning (a single victory at Las Vegas).

When asked about wanting to put the grumbling to rest by winning in the “new” format, Kenseth said that earning a title is the top priority regardless of the system.

“If you come up short of that, I think it’s always somewhat disappointing, a little disappointing,” he said. “That’s always your goal no matter what the format is.

“The format, we all know what it is before the year starts. It’s the same for everybody. The rules don’t change as you go along. Sure, we’d love to win it in the new format.”

And if you’re expecting him to issue a mea culpa about his role in changing how NASCAR crowns its Sprint Cup champ, forget it.

“There’s certainly no apologies for the way we won that championship,” he said. “We had an unbelievable season [in 2003]…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.”

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”