Matt Kenseth: “I have put almost zero thought into the Chase”

Leave a comment

There’s no doubt that winning has taken on a whole new sense of importance this year in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, as claiming a regular season win now virtually ensures your place in the Chase.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kevin Harvick have just about locked themselves into the post-season and their teams are now free to go ahead with different race strategies without having to worry too much.

But there is one driver that apparently isn’t feeling the need to punch his Chase ticket ASAP, and that’s Matt Kenseth.

Returning to Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend as the defending champion of the Kobalt Tools 400, Kenseth said this morning that the post-season has been the farthest thing from his mind so far.

“Man, we’re talking about the Chase already,” the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said. “It’s the first week in March. I have put almost zero thought into the Chase. It’s so early in the season I’ve really been focused on the new procedures for qualifying, the new no ride height rule – try to get a feel for that. Try to get a feel for changes – the new aero rules.

“Honestly, at this point in the year, I could care less about the Chase. I would really like to win a race so you feel like you’re qualified and then I think we got six months of racing to do before we got to worry about that. I think it’s probably a little bit early. For me, I haven’t thought about it. Maybe other people have, I just haven’t.”

As for where Kenseth’s mind is focused, the Wisconsin native said it was hard to tell where JGR’s intermediate track program was at this point with the new rules package.

Kenseth was the fastest of the three JGR drivers in yesterday’s test session at Vegas, in which he was 10th on the time sheets. But he figures that by the time the series leaves Auto Club Speedway later this month, he’ll have a better gauge on where his team stands.

“I feel like when you get back from California, you kind of have a pretty good idea where you stack up compared to your competition cause you’ve been on a superspeedway [Daytona], you’ve been on a flat mile [Phoenix], and you’ve been at an intermediate like this [Vegas]. Bristol’s a short track and then, a real wore-out pavement type track like California,” he said.

“You kind of get an idea where you are and where you need to improve.”

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

Leave a comment

While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter