INDIANAPOLIS — Everyone seems to be concerned Matt Kenseth hasn’t won a race thus far in 2014 – everyone, that is, except Kenseth himself.
Sure, he led the Sprint Cup Series with seven wins last season, but Kenseth has yet to reach victory lane in the first 19 races of this season.
But given where he’s at in the Sprint Cup points (fourth), Kenseth is pretty much a lock to make the expanded 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup field when it’s finalized seven races from now after the Richmond event.
If you go by the alternative pre-Chase rankings that are based solely on wins, Kenseth is 12th, the highest-ranked driver without any wins. With seven races left to qualify for the Chase, it’s unlikely we’ll see seven more drivers earn their first win of 2014, leaving Kenseth fairly safe to make the Chase.
But at the same time, Kenseth isn’t going to rely on possibilities and hypotheticals. He’s hoping to kill two birds with one stone on Sunday: win his first race of 2014 and his first win in the Brickyard 400.
“Well, all of the above, I guess,” Kenseth said during a press conference after being fastest in the only practice session held on Friday.
Kenseth has a decent record at Indy: In 14 career starts, while he hasn’t won yet, he does have six top-five and two other top-10 finishes. His best finish to date has been second (in both 2003 and 2006).
Kenseth also is coming off a strong fifth-place run at Indy in last year’s Brickyard.
“I’ve always felt like (Indy) has been one of our race tracks, but you really don’t know until you get there and you get into the race, even through practice,” Kenseth said. “Even last year, we had an incredible year and we ran so good at so many places I’ve never ran good at before, but then we went to Indy and we finished well, but we really didn’t run well last year compared to how we ran everywhere else.
“… Obviously expectations are high and when you’re sitting here almost in August and don’t have a win yet, you always get asked about that, especially with this new system and all that. The year really hasn’t been a bad year, we’ve had a bad month there where I wrecked it two or three times and had some other things happen, but we just have been as an organization lacking a little bit of speed. I feel like we’re gaining on that and feel like we’re getting closer.
“Overall, I feel like from a team perspective and execution and all that stuff, we’re probably better than what it was last year. As soon as we get the speed to go with it and have some things to go our way, it’s possible to get on a roll.”
The two-day Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy Test concluded on Sunday at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Combined times after the two days of running are below, with Nico Jamin (Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires) and Oliver Askew (Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires) remaining on top from Saturday to Sunday, and Darren Keane (Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda) supplanting Andres Gutierrez at the head of that field.
Previous notebooks are linked here (Friday, Saturday), with additional Sunday notes to follow.
Several drivers pulled double duty between series, namely Parker Thompson (Exclusive Autosport in Pro Mazda and USF2000), Carlos Cunha (Juncos Racing in Indy Lights and Pro Mazda) and Aaron Telitz (Team Pelfrey in Pro Mazda, RJB Motorsports in USF2000). Telitz (above) added a run in Pro Mazda in Team Pelfrey’s No. 82 car; the Wisconsinite has done a lot of the series’ testing for the new Pro Mazda Tatuus PM-18, and had hoped to run all three series. We’ll have more meanwhile on Thompson and Exclusive’s double in the days to come; the Michael Duncalfe-led team out of Saskatoon, Saskatchewan was one of three new Pro Mazda teams adding those cars to USF2000 efforts (Pabst Racing, BN Racing) this week.
There were a handful of drivers that changed cars or teams for Sunday’s second day of the test, primarily in USF2000. While Keane ran both days at Newman Wachs, the Brian Halahan-managed team ran David Osborne and Oscar DeLuzuriaga in the Nos. 37 and 38 cars, taking over from Jake Craig and Max Peichel. Osborne switched from Team Pelfrey, where he ran Saturday, and where Jacob Loomis ran Sunday. Justin Gordon ran a second Exclusive Autosport chassis, switching to the No. 90 on Sunday after running the No. 92 Saturday.
The PM-18 best lap set by Askew is more than three seconds faster than the series’ official track record (Pato O’Ward in 2016, at 1:22.8800, 105.941 mph). Askew’s best time of 1:19.8142 averages 110.010 mph around the 2.439-mile circuit. Neither the Indy Lights nor USF2000 cars eclipsed the existing lap records in those categories.
Drivers largely extolled the PM-18’s outright pace and potential with the horsepower upgrade, in what is a significant step forward for the series. “Following prototype testing of the new PM-18, I believed that we had a special race car and this weekend’s testing confirms that,” said Dan Andersen, Owner and CEO of Andersen Promotions. “Based on team and driver comments, this is a fantastic race car and I am very pleased with what Tatuus, Elite Engines and my team have assembled. It fits perfectly in between the USF-17 and the IL-15 in terms of lap times and, more importantly, it takes what a driver learns in the first step and introduces higher HP, higher grip and higher aero. This will be a great training car for years to come, and seeing our program now with three excellent and well-designed cars is very satisfying to me.”
Keane, one of the few veterans (relatively speaking) within USF2000 was plugged in this weekend as the only driver outside Pabst Racing to threaten the top of the timesheets. “It’s a good boost in confidence for me heading into next year. I am really happy with how everything is going with the team. They are a great group of guys and it’s just really good to see us improving and being where we want to be,” he said.
Rinus Veekay hailed the Indy Lights Dallara IL-15 Mazda this weekend in his first test there, although the talented Dutch teenager may well focus on Pro Mazda next season and shoot to win that championship, and continue his battle with Askew established in USF2000. “The car is very nice, quick,” noted VeeKay. “You can really feel the downforce and it was a pleasure to drive.”
The MRTI is done with official running for the year, but the $200,000 MRTI Scholarship Shootout remains in December at Wild Horse Pass Motorsports Park, the former Firebird Raceway, outside Phoenix. The winner of that will get a ticket into USF2000 for the 2018 season.
Full MRTI spring training will take place at Homestead-Miami Speedway in February 2018, with undoubtedly a bevy of driver and team announcements to come over the following months.