Winless thus far in 2014, Matt Kenseth looks to repeat last year’s victory at Darlington this Saturday

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At this time last year, Matt Kenseth already had two wins in his back pocket, en route to a Sprint Cup Series-leading seven wins in the entire 2013 season.

But seven races into 2014 and Kenseth is still an oh-fer in the wins column.

He’s hoping to change that in Saturday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

And he has reason for optimism: he is the defending winner of last year’s race there, finally breaking through after 19 tries of coming up short against the fabled “track too tough to tame.”

“I always feel like the Southern 500 is one of the biggest races of the year — certainly it was right up there towards the top of my list of tracks I wanted to win at that I never won at before last year,” Kenseth said in his weekly media release. “It was a really big win. It was exciting and it didn’t look like we were going to win. Kyle (Busch) had that problem late and we were able to sneak by him there with 10 (laps) to go or something like that. It was a big week for us and it was really, really cool to be able to finally win the Southern 500, for sure.”

“(It’s) certainly one of the most historic (races). … To be able to win here in any kind of race, any kind of car, any conditions and certainly the Southern 500 is, I think, special. I think you could ask anybody and that’s one that they would tell you that.”

This year’s race was changed from what had been a relatively new tradition – on Mother’s Day weekend – to mid-April.

“It doesn’t change how you’re going to drive it at all,” Kenseth said. “Conditions are a little hard to predict just because we only come here once a year — I don’t think anybody really tests or anything.

“With the weather forecast being decent, I can’t really remember the weather last May, but it’s supposed to be pretty warm the next couple days so I think that’s good. I think that will be good for the fans and I think that will probably be good for the racing and everything too. It’s not going to be too terribly cold at night.”

Like Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and others, Kenseth is one of several of Sprint Cup’s highest-profile drivers that still hasn’t won a race in 2014.

“I can’t say I’m totally shocked,” Kenseth said when asked about how there have been seven different winners in as many races to start the Cup season. “I think whenever you throw a pretty big rules change at everybody, some people are going to pick up on it sooner than others.

“I think it always spreads the field out a little bit because some guys are going to hit it and some guys are going to miss it, and I think that always creates passing and mixes the field up and makes the racing more interesting in my mind. I think that everybody every week is probably gaining on it and the field is going to get closer together as we keep rolling through the year here.

“It’s been interesting because there’s been a lot of different winners and been some guys that have won a lot that haven’t won yet.  It’s been an interesting year for sure.”

Ironically, in a season where the revamped Chase for the Sprint Cup format is predicted on wins, the top two leaders in the standings this week are drivers who have yet to win a race this season: Gordon and Kenseth.

“You just don’t really know how it’s going to turn out,” Kenseth said. “Is there going to be 10 winners?  Is there going to be 20 winners? I don’t know, the way it’s going. How important are your points going to be? I would think, history suggests that there’s going to be a few guys added by points that didn’t win. Certainly if that’s the case and you haven’t won yet, then the point standings are very important. Come September, you don’t really know how important they’re going to be.”

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Hamilton exceeds Mercedes’ expectations with fightback to P7 in Monaco

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Lewis Hamilton was left pleased with his fightback from 13th on the grid to finish Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix in seventh place, going some way to limit the damage of Formula 1 title rival Sebastian Vettel’s victory for Ferrari.

Hamilton qualified a lowly 14th on Saturday in Monaco after struggling with setup and tire management, but gained one place on the grid following Jenson Button’s penalty.

Hamilton passed just one car in the opening stint of the race and struggled to keep up with the cars ahead, prompting Mercedes to extend the Briton’s ultra-soft run for as long as possible.

Hamilton was able to find some clear air when the cars ahead made their pit stops, giving him the chance to lay down some rapid laps that vaulted him up to seventh thanks to the overcut, where he would finish the race.

“I’m really, really happy that I was able to fight back to seventh. The strategists said P10 was probably the maximum today, so it feels great to have beaten that target,” Hamilton said.

“To score six points, considering where I was on the grid after a disastrous day on Saturday is a good recovery. Today it was impossible to overtake and I tried everything to get past Carlos [Sainz] at the end!

“I’m just grateful to have ended up in P7. I went on the radio at the end there to make sure the team know that this battle isn’t over.

“We’ll be sure to push those red cars hard next time out in Canada. We’ve got a real fight on our hands, but there are still 14 races to go.”

With Vettel’s victory, Hamilton now sits 25 points behind in the F1 drivers’ championship with 14 races remaining this season.

Raikkonen disappointed as strategy calls costs him shot at Monaco win

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Kimi Raikkonen was left disappointed following Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix after Ferrari’s strategy call cost him a shot at his first victory for the Scuderia since 2009.

Raikkonen took his first pole for almost nine years on Saturday in Monaco and led the early part of the race from teammate Sebastian Vettel.

Ferrari pitted Raikkonen just before half distance, but opted to keep Vettel out as the German put in a series of quick laps to get the overcut on his teammate.

Vettel emerged from his stop ahead of Raikkonen on-track and retained his advantage to the checkered flag, clinching Ferrari’s first win in Monaco since 2001.

While P2 marked Raikkonen’s best result of the season so far, the Finn was careful with his words in the post-race podium interviews, his disappointment clear to see.

“Hard to say really,” Raikkonen said when asked how he was feeling.

“Obviously… you know it’s still second place, but it doesn’t feel awful good. This is how it goes sometimes.

“We go for the next race and try to do better. One of those days that you wish you had a bit more.”

Vettel calls Monaco win ‘very intense’, surprised by mid-race pace

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Sebastian Vettel admitted that he surprised himself with his mid-race pace during Sunday’s Monaco Grand Prix that proved instrumental in securing his third win of the 2017 Formula 1 season.

Vettel started second in Monaco and spent the first stint of the race trailing Ferrari teammate Kimi Raikkonen, with the gap hovering at around one second before the pit stop phase.

Raikkonen was brought in earlier than Vettel by Ferrari, freeing the German to put in a sequence of quick laps in clean air while his teammate toiled with traffic.

Vettel was able to pit a few laps later and emerge ahead of Raikkonen, having overturned the deficit before pushing on to create a gap of almost 10 seconds.

“I think it was a very, very intense race. I was hoping at the start to have a bit of a better launch, but Kimi had a good start, I had nowhere to go,” Vettel said.

“I had to be patient. There was a phase in the first stint where it was really tricky, the tires started to slide, I think you remember how it feels. It was quite uncomfortable. I think Valtteri [Bottas] and the pack was catching up a bit, we were facing some traffic.

“But then I had I don’t know, like a second attempt, a second set of tires. I had some laps where the car was really, really good. I pushed everything I had because I knew if there is a chance to win, then that’s it. So I was able to use that window and came out ahead.”

Vettel’s lead was wiped away by a late safety car, but the four-time world champion kept cool at the front on the restart to record his second Monaco victory, following his maiden success in 2011.

“After the restart it was really tricky with the cold tires, I think every one of us was struggling. Daniel [Ricciardo] said he brushed the wall on Turn 1 on the first lap,” Vettel said.

“So it was really, really difficult, but after a couple of laps I was able to get into control the gap behind.

“Fantastic job, the team has done really well. Great thanks to them and a fantastic weekend for Ferrari.”

Bourdais upbeat about recovery from Indy 500 qualifying injuries

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Sebastien Bourdais returned to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, just over one week following a savage crash in qualifying that saw him suffer multiple fractures to his pelvis and a fracture to his right hip.

In a press conference with members of the media, Bourdais expressed confidence about his recovery. “I’m doing good enough to be here. So that’s great!” he quipped. “It’s great to be out of the hospital environment. I’ve never really faced that before. It’s great to feel normal right now and to be able to walk around and see some familiar faces and see a lot of friends.”

Bourdais explained that his rehab process is still in its early stages, and that a lot of it is down to pain management. But, he does hope to be racing again before the season ends.

“It’s just going to be a long process. I can’t put any weight on my right leg for another five weeks. So it’s just going to be a game of patience and trying to make sure I’m ready when it matters. I’m shooting for the end of the season in Sonoma,” he explained.

Returning to the race track, particularly for Sunday’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, was also a critical aspect of rehabilitation, especially when it comes to overcoming mental and emotional hurdles. “For me, it’s just important to make sure that I stay in good spirits. Physically I’m doing well, and I have no intention to let this incident stop my career or anything,” he asserted.

The crash itself was one of the most frightening anyone has seen in quite some time, as he impacted the wall at a 45 degree angle while still traveling at well over 200 mph. And while safety is a constantly moving target, Bourdais was very complimentary of the current Dallara DW12 chassis, which prevented the injuries from being much more serious.

“The car did a really good job head-on,” he explained. “I don’t have any injuries on my feet or anything like that. But if we could avoid pelvis and hip fractures like that, that would be great. But I don’t think there are a lot of people who can say they have survived a head-on crash at 227. I don’t know that everybody knows, but I was still full throttle when I hit the wall. It’s a pretty good testament.”

In terms of the team’s future, owner Dale Coyne detailed that he has been in contact with several drivers about next week’s Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix doubleheader, but no decision has been made. “We’ve probably had 25 drivers contact (us) for Detroit and on. Some usual names, and ones you may be surprised at. We’ll make that decision Monday or Tuesday,” Coyne said of the team’s future.

Bourdais, meanwhile, is anxious to get back as soon as he can, as he believes Dale Coyne Racing is building something special. “We’re building something at Dale Coyne Racing thanks to Dale and Gail and all the engineers and everybody who is hard at work, the mechanics and all. I think we have a great launching pad for the future, and I want to be part of that. That’s why I want to come back as soon as possible.”

 

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