NASCAR: Matt Kenseth hopes recent success at New Hampshire continues

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Prior to last season, Matt Kenseth and New Hampshire Motor Speedway didn’t get along too well.

From 2008 to 2012, Kenseth was only able to earn one Top-10 finish in 10 starts at the Magic Mile.

But in 2013, Kenseth finally appeared to get a handle on NHMS with Joe Gibbs Racing. He finished ninth that July, and when the Sprint Cup series returned to Loudon for Chase Race No. 2 that September, Kenseth won in his 500th career Cup start.

Kenseth is still winless this year, but at fifth in the championship standings, his chances of making the Chase on points alone look decent with eight regular season races to go.

Surely though, he’d like to remove all doubt by taking another win this weekend at Loudon.

“Last year, I thought we ran pretty well in both of our races there and of course we were able to win the fall race where I thought our car handled pretty good overall,” Kenseth said recently.

“It’s just one of those tracks where you have to turn good in the corner and still be able to get off the corner. It’s about keeping up your middle of the corner momentum the best you can, which is typical of any flat or short track.”

Whereas Kenseth thrived on 1.5-mile tracks last year (four of his seven 2013 wins were on those intermediate ovals), the 2003 Cup champion has appeared to be the strongest this year on shorter tracks such as Loudon.

In the five races staged so far this year on tracks of one mile or smaller, Kenseth has earned an average finish of 7.8 with his best result in those races being a third at Dover in early June.

That has Kenseth’s crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, feeling confident about the No. 20 team’s chances this weekend.

“I think that our short-track program has been a little better this season than our intermediate stuff so far, even though last year that program seemed to be our bread and butter,” he said.

“I thought we had a good run at Bristol.  Martinsville, we had a decent finish and Richmond, I thought we had a shot of winning that thing at the end. I anticipate a good weekend at Loudon and know that we’ll have another strong Dollar General Toyota, so I’m ready to head up there.”

Toro Rosso at crossroads after Kvyat’s point, Hartley’s strong debut

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In a weekend with something to prove at Circuit of The Americas, Daniil Kvyat rose to the occasion with what he called “his best race of the season for sure” at the United States Grand Prix.

But it may not be enough for the Russian to have saved his seat at Scuderia Toro Rosso for the three final races this year.

Meanwhile, New Zealander Brendon Hartley capped off his roller-coaster debut weekend in Formula 1 with a solid 13th place finish after starting from the rear of the grid, learning as the race went on and bringing home his Toro Rosso chassis to the flag.

Toro Rosso faces a dilemma of three drivers available but only two seats to fill for the final three Grands Prix, with the Mexican Grand Prix coming up just next week.

Frenchman Pierre Gasly will be back after missing Austin due to his Super Formula commitments at Suzuka in Japan, but ultimately that went for naught as the races were canceled due to a typhoon.

Kvyat qualified 12th, was promoted to 11th by way of grid penalties and ended 10th, scoring a point for only the third race this year and first time since coming ninth in the Spanish Grand Prix back in May.

It was a weekend where he would have been expected to outdo Hartley, and did so, but not by a massive margin. And he was already coming in with a track time disadvantage, losing out in FP1 as Indonesian Formula 2 driver Sean Gelael ran in his chassis.

As it was, he rated his weekend performance highly and didn’t do his chances of staying in the car any harm.

Speaking to NBCSN after the race, Kvyat said, “Yeah, it was a perfect race. I did everything well. Brought the points home. It was close with (Felipe) Massa.

“We had some energy release issues on the engine. But it was a massive weekend. It was great. I really enjoyed myself. It was a good job by the team to keep it together with very limited running.

Hartley built up confidence throughout the weekend as he learned the car, the Pirelli tires and how an F1 race races versus an endurance race that he’d been used to doing for several years.

Having coming into the weekend with no expectations and just taking the race session-by-session, he felt good at the end of it.

“There’s so many little things to reflect on,” he told NBCSN. “I’ll put the eyes at rest and process it all. I did the standing start and it wasn’t the best… it’s been a long time.

“But yeah, (you’re learning) in terms of following in traffic, what 20 laps on these tires means, how much you can push it. I’m pretty satisfied. The pace was pretty strong. I made the mistake of getting passed by (Lance) Stroll. I couldn’t pass him back. Lots of challenges. I hope I can get another shot at it.

“Up until this moment… I didn’t want to know. I just wanted to do the job. I’m really relaxed. Now there might be some conversations.”

Toro Rosso figures to reveal its Mexican Grand Prix driver lineup early this week.