Kenseth still in good Chase spot, but not out of woods yet

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Most observers think that Matt Kenseth is an assured lock to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup. While his involvement in a crash last week at Michigan took a chunk out of his points cushion, he’s still firmly in the 13th Chase Grid position and 58 points up on 17th place.

But without a win, he’s not completely safe.

However, Kenseth said today at Bristol Motor Speedway that he feels no need to choose between the two extremes of going for broke to get a win or simply focusing on building a bigger points gap.

“You finish as best as you can every week and you hope that’s a win,” he said. “The days that you have cars that are good enough to be up front and to win with, you hope you have everything else that goes along with that – you don’t make a mistake on the track, you don’t get caught up in a wreck, you qualify good enough, you have good pit stops, good strategy.

“You do all of those things to have a shot to win, but you take what you have every week and make the best you can of it, and finish as high as you can every week. If you can win every week, you’d do it.”

Kenseth figures that making the Chase wouldn’t really change that stance. Additionally, he didn’t exactly agree with the theory of already-clinched Chase teams looking ahead to the start of the post-season in September.

“If guys have already won, you get more bonus points for the first round if you can win again,” Kenseth said, referring to the three bonus points that each regular season win gives drivers for the first round of the Chase.

“There’s a lot of incentives to win races, so I don’t really buy the fact that any one’s folding it in and getting ready for the Chase, saying ‘OK, we don’t care about the next three weeks, we’re just gonna get ready to go race in a few weeks at Chicago.’

“I don’t know if I buy that. Plus, at a place like this, there’s nothing you’re gonna learn here that’s gonna apply to anywhere else we go to the rest of the year.”

F1 2017 driver review: Sergio Perez

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Sergio Perez

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 11
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P4 (Spain)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 1
Points: 100
Championship Position: 7th

While failing to hit the podium as he did in both 2015 and 2016, Sergio Perez once again finished the year as Formula 1’s leading midfield team driver, but faced a greater fight from within Force India in the shape of Esteban Ocon.

Perez has long been knocking on the door of F1’s top teams should an opportunity come up, and 2017 saw him continue his solid if unspectacular form. The dominance of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari meant any finish higher than seventh was impressive, something he managed to do on five occasions.

But there were some missed opportunities along the way, most significantly in Baku. Force India had been quick all weekend, with Perez charging to sixth on the grid, and when drama struck at the front, he and teammate Ocon were eyeing a podium finish as a minimum.

Contact between the two forced Perez to retire and prompted Ocon to pit for repairs, leaving the team without the top-three finish it targeted heading into the season. With Lance Stroll taking P3 for Williams and Daniel Ricciardo winning the race, a maiden victory for Force India was not out of the realm of imagination.

Perez and Ocon came to blows on a number of occasions, with the final straw coming in Spa when they twice touched on-track, prompting Force India to introduce team orders. Perez finished the year 13 points clear of Ocon in the final standings, meeting his own pre-season target of 100 points, yet the Frenchman had arguably made the bigger impression at Force India through his first full season in F1.

Force India remains the top underdog in F1 with Perez spearheading its charge, but it is difficult to see either taking the final step to becoming true contenders at the front of the field anytime soon, as solid as their displays have been.

Season High: P4 in Spain after retirements for the ‘big three’.

Season Low: Losing a sure-fire podium, if not a win, in Baku after contact with Ocon.