With a series-high five wins on the season, Matt Kenseth could be heading into this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup as the top seed in the 12-driver field.
And after his latest victory last weekend at Bristol, the Joe Gibbs Racing driver feels his No. 20 team is firing on all cylinders as NASCAR’s post-season looms.
I feel pretty confident right now,” said Kenseth on Friday at Atlanta Motor Speedway, where he’ll start sixth in Sunday’s Advocare 500. “I feel like we have a really good race team. Right now, we’re really on top of our game on pit road and with car prep and the rest of the stuff.
“I feel good about all that, but you have to perform each and every week once you get [into the Chase]. The wins are great – obviously, as long as we make the top- 10, that seeds us up toward the top. We should be at least a tie or hopefully ahead. That is good. You have to put together 10 strong, solid weeks for sure.”
Atlanta could yield a sixth win in 2013 for Kenseth, as the 1.5-mile oval has been a historically strong track for JGR. The team has earned 10 Sprint Cup wins at Atlanta, including the most recent race there last year with Denny Hamlin doing the honors.
Kenseth has admitted in the past that he felt some nervousness about joining JGR over this past off-season, and did so again on Friday. But despite some humbling moments at the beginning, he’s managed to settle in comfortably.
“I had a little bit of anxiety, especially when the secretary didn’t know who I was or what I wanted there,” he recalled. “You always have moments like that to kind of get used to it and it always humbles you. Certainly, I felt really at home there from the beginning, at least after that first 15 minutes until she realized what I was there for.
“Since then, I’ve really felt at home there and it’s a special team. We all get along really good. We work together really good. I think we understand each other, have the same goals and ideas and stuff. It’s been a lot of fun.”
Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.
If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.
“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”
The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.
Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.
But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.
“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.
“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”
Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.
If #F1 wants to start looking around for an American driver, Colton Herta has a suggestion for where that search should start. https://t.co/71PVeu6aBj
Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.
A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.
“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.
“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”
During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:
–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;
–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;
–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”
–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.
“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”