Matt Kenseth hopes law of averages soon turn in his favor

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If there’s anything to the law of averages, Matt Kenseth is next in line to win his first Sprint Cup race of 2014.

Points leader Jeff Gordon won his first race of the season two weeks ago at Kansas.

Sunday night, Jimmie Johnson won his first of the season in the longest and most grueling race on the Cup schedule, the 400-lap Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

That leaves Kenseth as the only driver in the top 7 in the Cup standings that has yet to reach victory lane in 2014, an oddity for sure given that Kenseth led the entire series with a high of seven wins in 2013.

It’s not like Kenseth didn’t try Sunday night. He was in the lead and even tried to throw a block to keep Johnson from passing him in the closing laps.

Unfortunately for Kenseth, Johnson avoided his block and sailed on to victory lane, leaving Kenseth to fall to an eventual third-place finish, right behind runner-up Kevin Harvick.

“I mean, everything kind of fell into place with us with that (final) caution, people being under fuel strategy,” Kenseth said. “Our tire problem, all that, getting off sequence. Everything fell into our lap.

“We got a good restart, got out front. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough speed to hold off Jimmie and Kevin and hang on to win.”

The biggest difference between Harvick and Kenseth is Harvick called out his team for falling short due to a loose wheel.

Kenseth was more the gentleman in his synopsis of how his run went.

“Overall for the weekend, I thought it was a step in the right direction,” Kenseth said of getting closer to his first win of the season. “I thought we were more competitive tonight.

“I didn’t think we were quick enough to win unless everything fell exactly our way. Even then I couldn’t quite hang on.

“Overall … I thought we had a top-five car all night. Great pit stops, great adjustments. Just couldn’t hang on to it at the end.”

End result, another frustrating finish of sorts, particularly considering Kenseth now has four top 5 and five other top 10 finishes thus far this season (nine top 10s overall).

Whereas Harvick blamed his crew for his runner-up finish due to a loose wheel and pit stop errors, Kenseth took a more even-handed approach in his response.

“Me personally, whenever your team does everything, everything falls the right way, they put you out in the front at the end of the race, you don’t win the race, you’re always frustrated and disappointed,” Kenseth said. “You don’t get a lot of those opportunities.

“Although I felt like I did everything I could possibly do, we just weren’t quick enough to hold ’em off. So, yeah, I’m a little frustrated we didn’t get the win tonight.”

But at the same time, Kenseth feels he indeed could join Gordon, Johnson in the winner’s club next Sunday at Dover.

“I feel like we’re gaining on it,” Kenseth said. “Certainly, we’re not where we were at this time last year, all of us there leading a bunch of laps and being in contention to win.

“Panicking has never helped anything. Like I said, I feel like we’re gaining on it. We’ve just been off a little bit all year. … We’re digging hard trying to figure it out. We’re just not quite there yet.

“I think the pressure and urgency to win is there each and every week, at least it is for me. These are all huge races. Not many of us that get to do this every week.

“…It’s a big deal to win any of these races. Always has been. I’ve never been in the front in the end and not wanted to win. You race as hard as you can for these wins. You hate it when you can’t hold on and win it. There’s no more I can do about it. We were in position. I did everything I possibly could do and got beat. It’s just the way it goes sometimes.

“You can only do your best and take your result for that day.”

And hope the law of averages is in his favor the next time.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

F1 Preview – 2018 French Grand Prix

Photo: Getty Images
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It’s hard to believe that the French Grand Prix, the oldest grand prix event on the planet, as it dates back to June of 1906, was ever removed from the Formula 1 calendar.

Alas, not since 2008 at Magny-Cours has Formula 1 held a race on French soil. Yet, that all changes this weekend, as Formula 1 visits the Circuit Paul Ricard for its first French race in a decade.

Formula 1 teams are not strangers to Paul Ricard. It has been a popular testing facility for years, as evidenced by the below photo from 2016, featuring Sebastian Vettel and Ferrari in a wet tire test.

LE CASTELLET, FRANCE – JANUARY 26: Sebastian Vettel of Germany and Scuderia Ferrari drives during wet weather tire testing at Circuit Paul Ricard on January 26, 2016 in Le Castellet, France. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

However, in terms of racing, Paul Ricard has also been absent from the calendar for quite a long time – the last time Formula 1 race at Paul Ricard was in 1990. Alain Prost won for Ferrari that day.

1990: Alain Prost of France punches the air in celebration after passing the chequered flag in his Scuderia Ferrari to win the French Grand Prix at the Paul Ricard circuit in Le Beausset, France. Mandatory Credit: Pascal Rondeau/Allsport

As such, despite being a known quantity as a testing facility, how a race weekend will shake out is anybody’s guess.

And what’s more, it marks the beginning of three consecutive race weekends – The French Grand Prix, The Austrian Grand Prix, and The British Grand Prix – which F1 teams and drivers are calling “the triple header.”

Talking points ahead of the French Grand Prix are below.

A Journey Into the Unknown?

Like all new venues, or resurrected and refurbished ones in this case, the Circuit Paul Ricard represents somewhat of an unknown, as there’s no available race data to make predictions off of.

And the 3.61-mile, 15-turn track itself represents a range of challenges. It has fast corners, like Turns 1 and 2 (S de la Verrerie), a technical section between Turns 3 and 7 (Virage de l’Hotel through the Mistral Straight Start), and a 1.1-mile straightaway in the Mistral Straight, though it is separated by a chicane (Turns 8 and 9).

Mercedes team principal Toto Wolff discussed the challenge of the circuit, highlighting the lack of data to build off of as well the tough three-race stretch ahead as especially challenging, in a preview on Formula 1’s website.

“France should be an interesting race. We don’t often get to race on a track where we have little to no historical data. It makes preparing for the weekend a bit trickier than usual, but that element of the unknown also adds to the challenge. The French Grand Prix marks the first race of the triple header, which will test all F1 teams to their limits, but also offers the chance to score a lot of points over the course of three weeks – which is precisely what we’re setting out to do,” said Wolff.

That element of the unknown makes Paul Ricard one of the biggest wildcards on the 2018 F1 calendar, and a championship shake up could be in the cards as a result.

Ferrari, Mercedes Continue Their Back and Forth

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA – MARCH 25: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF71H leads Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes WO9 on track during the Australian Formula One Grand Prix at Albert Park on March 25, 2018 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari and Mercedes have traded jabs throughout the 2018 season, with neither able to pull away from the other so far through seven races.

Sebastian Vettel enters the French Grand Prix with a one-point lead over Lewis Hamilton, and holds a slight edge in victories – three to Hamilton’s two – and comes off a thorough domination of the Canadian Grand Prix.

Vettel led every lap at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on his way to victory, while Valtteri Bottas had to carry the Mercedes flag in finishing second. Hamilton languished in fifth, a surprising and disappointing result given his previous success there.

The aforementioned Toto Wolff described it as a “wake up call,” though Mercedes will roll out a power unit upgrade this weekend – Ferrari and Renault, which also powers Red Bull Racing, rolled out upgrades of their own in Canada.

With four long straightaways present at Paul Ricard, power will certainly be at a premium, so such upgrades will be vital in giving Mercedes a chance to make amends after Canada’s disappointment.

Trio of French Drivers Look to Impress on Home Soil

It comes hardly as a surprise that the three French drivers – Romain Grosjean, Pierre Gasly, and Esteban Ocon – are keen to make an impression at their home race.

And all three could certainly use a boost. Gasly has only one finish inside the points (seventh in the Monaco Grand Prix) since his stellar fourth place effort in the Bahrain Grand Prix. Ocon is coming off back-to-back points finishes (sixth in Monaco, ninth in Canada), but he has only one other finish inside the points this year (tenth, in Bahrain). And Grosjean, despite showing the speed to finish in the points, is yet to score any in 2018.

As such, all three are hoping for big things in their home race this weekend.

“I want to get a good weekend, have some luck, get my first points of the season, and get a lot of support from the fans,” said Grosjean. “I think we should be in a nice place at Paul Ricard. I’m always looking forward to jumping back in the car. I just love driving an F1 car.”

Ocon, who has raced and won at Paul Ricard in the past, expects his prior experience could be a big help.

“I did race at Paul Ricard early in my career – it was actually where I had my first victory in single seaters in 2013 so I have some fantastic memories of the place,” Ocon described. “I hope we can add some more success this weekend. Having been there in the junior categories makes getting used to a new track in a Formula One car much easier. I think I will find my rhythm quite quickly.”

Gasly’s excitement level obviously matches that of his French compatriots, with the added bonus that the return coincides with his rookie F1 effort.

“For me it will be absolutely incredible that my first full season of Formula 1 coincides with the return of a French Grand Prix to the calendar for the first time in 10 years,” said Gasly. “That has to be a reason for me to be very happy and I’m really excited to be racing in my home country. I can tell it will be a special feeling going out on track and actually, I have spoken to Jean Alesi and Alain Prost about it and they both told me that it will feel really special and something that you really have to experience as a Frenchman racing in France.”

Qualifying for The French Grand Prix begins at 9:55 a.m. ET on Saturday, with Sunday’s race at 9:30 a.m. ET.

Follow@KyleMLavigne