Matt Kenseth: “I have put almost zero thought into the Chase”

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There’s no doubt that winning has taken on a whole new sense of importance this year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, as claiming a regular season win now virtually ensures your place in the Chase.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick have just about locked themselves into the post-season and their teams are now free to go ahead with different race strategies without having to worry too much.

But there is one driver that apparently isn’t feeling the need to punch his Chase ticket ASAP, and that’s Matt Kenseth.

Returning to Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend as the defending champion of the Kobalt Tools 400, Kenseth said this morning that the post-season has been the farthest thing from his mind so far.

“Man, we’re talking about the Chase already,” the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said. “It’s the first week in March. I have put almost zero thought into the Chase. It’s so early in the season I’ve really been focused on the new procedures for qualifying, the new no ride height rule – try to get a feel for that. Try to get a feel for changes – the new aero rules.

“Honestly, at this point in the year, I could care less about the Chase. I would really like to win a race so you feel like you’re qualified and then I think we got six months of racing to do before we got to worry about that. I think it’s probably a little bit early. For me, I haven’t thought about it. Maybe other people have, I just haven’t.”

As for where Kenseth’s mind is focused, the Wisconsin native said it was hard to tell where JGR’s intermediate track program was at this point with the new rules package.

Kenseth was the fastest of the three JGR drivers in yesterday’s test session at Vegas, in which he was 10th on the time sheets. But he figures that by the time the series leaves Auto Club Speedway later this month, he’ll have a better gauge on where his team stands.

“I feel like when you get back from California, you kind of have a pretty good idea where you stack up compared to your competition cause you’ve been on a superspeedway [Daytona], you’ve been on a flat mile [Phoenix], and you’ve been at an intermediate like this [Vegas]. Bristol’s a short track and then, a real wore-out pavement type track like California,” he said.

“You kind of get an idea where you are and where you need to improve.”

UPDATED: INDYCAR Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama under red-flag race stoppage due to rain

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UPDATE: The INDYCAR Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is under a red-flag race stoppage after 19 laps due to rain and puddling on the racing surface at Barber Motorsports Park.

Cleaners and dryers are on the track to try and get some of the water off the racing surface. The low spots on the track, as well as the front stretch, have been particularly troublesome and led to several spinouts and at least two wrecks (Charlie Kimball and outside front pole sitter Will Power).

Power’s day is done after suffering irreparable damage to the left side of his car after hydroplaning on the front straight and running into the inside retaining wall.

ORIGINAL STORY FOLLOWS:

Although rain has been falling for nearly an hour and the Barber Motorsports Park 2.3-mile permanent road course is drenched, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is underway on NBCSN.

The start of the race was moved up from 3:38 p.m. ET to take the green flag at 3:08 p.m. ET.

Josef Newgarden is the defending winner of this race and also will start from the pole for today’s race.

While the race is scheduled for 90 laps, there’s a possibility that if the weather worsens or if lightning appears, it could potentially be shortened to just two hours.

As can be expected, all cars are on rain tires to maximize grip.

Catch the race live on NBCSN.