Chase Capsules: Matt Kenseth

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20-Matt Kenseth
Team: Joe Gibbs Racing
Crew Chief: Jason Ratcliff
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championships: 1 (2003)
11th Chase Appearance, Best Finish of 2nd (2006, 2013)

Regular Season Recap: After a seven-win season in 2013, observers expected Kenseth to be one of the first drivers to lock into this year’s Chase with a victory. But with JGR suffering from a lack of power compared to the dominant Hendrick Motorsports and Team Penske, Kenseth instead made the postseason by pretty much doing what got him the 2003 title and what he’s always done over the course of his career: Racking up Top-5s and Top-10s. Squeezing out solid finishes when wins aren’t in the cards is perhaps his greatest quality as a driver.

Chris’ Take: Winning is the fastest way to move through the new Chase, but failing that, you have to be able to run towards the front. We don’t have to worry about the latter with Kenseth when he avoids trouble. But while his consistency can take him through the first two rounds of the Chase, it may not be enough to get him to Homestead with a chance at his second Cup title. Toyota’s overall power deficit has Kenseth and his JGR teammates entering the postseason at a disadvantage. Because of that, I can’t help but think that the Eliminator Round is as far as Kenseth will get.

Jerry’s Take: I don’t know why, but I’ve been saying this for probably the last seven or eight weeks: Matt Kenseth is to the 2014 season that Tony Stewart was to the 2011 campaign. Stewart did not win one race in the 26-race regular season, and then went on to win a record five races in the Chase and en route to the championship. We think Kenseth is cut from the same mold. If he goes into the Chase without a win, we think he’s good for at least two or three in the playoffs. Kenseth is one of those drivers who definitely steps up his game in the Chase, and this could be the biggest step-up that he may ever face.

Tony’s Take: An odd second year for Kenseth, whose win drought has been one of the stories of the year. Always the measure of consistency, but this format doesn’t really set up for a title run. Yet if there’s anyone who could advance through this new Chase purely on consistency, Kenseth’s your guy. If he finishes high enough ahead of the other Chasers throughout the first few rounds and bags a win, he could well end up advancing through to Homestead. I wouldn’t bet on it happening, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

Matt Kenseth’s Career Statistics at Chase Tracks
Chicagoland (1.5 mile) – 1 win, 3 Top-5s, 5 Top-10s in 13 starts
New Hampshire (1 mile) – 1 win, 7 Top-5s, 15 Top-10s in 29 starts
Dover (1 mile) – 2 wins, 14 Top-5s, 20 Top-10s in 31 starts
Kansas (1.5 mile) – 2 wins, 6 Top-5s, 10 Top-10s in 17 starts
Charlotte (1.5 mile) – 2 wins, 9 Top-5s, 16 Top-10s in 30 starts
Talladega (2.66 mile) – 1 win, 5 Top-5s, 9 Top-10s in 29 starts
Martinsville (half-mile) – No wins, 4 Top-5s, 10 Top-10s in 29 starts
Texas (1.5-mile) – 2 wins, 13 Top-5s, 17 Top-10s in 24 starts
Phoenix (1 mile) – 1 win, 5 Top-5s, 9 Top-10s in 24 starts
Homestead-Miami (1.5 mile) – 1 win, 4 Top-5s, 6 Top-10s in 14 starts

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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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.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

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.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

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.

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.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

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;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–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.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).