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.”

Ricciardo set to see Dale Jr.’s final Texas ride in two weeks (VIDEO)

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We’ve written before about Daniel Ricciardo’s love of Dale Earnhardt and his love of the No. 3, which Ricciardo has selected as his permanent number for the duration of his Formula 1 career. And additionally, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has offered up the opportunity that one day Ricciardo could race a JR Motorsports car in NASCAR Xfinity Series competition, and Ricciardo has said he’d be up for it.

And although Earnhardt Jr. has only used the No. 3 on a handful of occasions in his career in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, Ricciardo knows how much the number means to the NASCAR veteran as he prepares for his final few starts in the Cup Series the tail-end of this year.

After the Mexican Grand Prix next week, Ricciardo is set to stay in North America for the off-week between the Mexican and Brazilian Grands Prix.

In that break, he said he’ll see Earnhardt Jr. in person at the Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway (Sunday, Nov. 5, 2 p.m. ET, NBCSN) to ensure he gets to see him before he retires from full-time competition.

Ricciardo explained his planning during Thursday’s pre-race edition of the NBC Sports Group original digital series Paddock Pass, speaking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton at the United States Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas in Austin.

“Well I’ll see him for the first time in Dallas. I’m gonna go to the NASCAR race in two weeks time at Texas Motor Speedway,” Ricciardo told NBCSN.

“Yeah, so, I gotta see him race before he hangs up the helmet.

“The Earnhardt family is a huge name in motorsport, not only in America but all over the world. Yeah I wish him well.”

Ricciardo is also optimistic he’ll get the chance to do a helmet swap with Earnhardt Jr. at the event.

“Hopefully I get to see him perform well in Texas. I’m gonna try to do a helmet swap with him. We’ll see how we go.”

Stay tuned for more on this over the coming weeks.