Matt Kenseth looking for “career highlight” win this weekend at Martinsville

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For all eight remaining Chasers, a victory this Sunday at Martinsville Speedway would mean a chance to compete in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship Race.

And for one of them, Matt Kenseth, it would also mean one of the biggest triumphs of his career.

He is winless on NASCAR’s shortest oval and had not been particularly strong there prior to his jump to Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013. Obviously, he’d love to conquer a track that hasn’t always treated him well.

“Honestly, if I was handed a menu before the season started, winning a race at Martinsville would be in my top two or three wishes for sure,” Kenseth said this morning before the first Sprint Cup practice of the weekend.

“So that would certainly be a career highlight. I haven’t been real close to winning here, except for last fall. We had a pretty good shot, we just had a little too long of a run to the end there and Jeff [Gordon] got by me. But certainly, that’s something I want to do.”

Kenseth figures that Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 will play out more like it did last fall as opposed to this year’s spring race at Martinsville (won by Kurt Busch), which he said was a more unique situation due to the tires on hand and how they made positioning on restarts so important.

“That tire [this spring], we had so many problems with it,” he said. “It didn’t stick any rubber to the track and the outside was full of marbles, so it really depended where you restarted. The spring race was really different than what I think you’ll see this time around.”

But no matter the time, Martinsville’s tight confines can lead to battered race cars and short tempers. It also could be a prime place for payback following the multiple incidents that occurred two weekends ago at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Kenseth was drawn into them when he was side-swiped by Brad Keselowski on pit road at the end of that race, which eventually led to the 2003 Cup champion attacking Keselowski from behind in between a pair of haulers. Prior to both of those events, Keselowski and Denny Hamlin had tangled on the cool-down lap in a disagreement over how they raced one another at the end.

However, Kenseth felt that there wasn’t a greater or a lesser chance for retaliation this weekend than at any other time at Martinsville.

“It seems typically, the fall [Martinsville] race seems like it has more cautions, more stuff going on,” he said. “I think it’s one of those tracks that you start the race and I don’t think, at least I don’t think, anybody really has that intention.

“But it is a track where it’s certainly easy to let your temper get the best of you or not be as patient as you should, especially if things aren’t going your way, your car’s not driving good, and somebody runs into you…I think this track always lends itself to that, no matter what the situation is.”

Starting lineup grid for IMSA Petit Le Mans: Tom Blomqvist puts MSR on pole position

Petit Le Mans lineup
IMSA
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IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar championship contender Tom Blomqvist put the Meyer Shank Racing Acura at the front of the starting lineup for the Motul Petit Le Mans at Michelin Road Atlanta.

Blomqvist turned a 1-minute, 8.55-second lap on the 2.54-mile circuit Friday to capture his third pole position for MSR this season. Earl Bamber qualified second in the No. 02 Cadillac for Chip Ganassi Racing.

Ricky Taylor was third in the No. 10 Acura of Wayne Taylor Racing, which enters Saturday’s season finale with a 19-point lead over the No. 60 of Blomqvist and Oliver Jarvis (who will be joined by Helio Castroneves) for the 10-hour race.

PETIT LE MANS STARTING GRID: Click here for the starting lineup l Lineup by car number

PETIT LE MANS: Info on how to watch

With the pole, MSR sliced the deficit to 14 points behind WTR, which will field the trio of Taylor, Filipe Albuquerque and Brendon Hartley in Saturday’s race.

“We really needed to put the car in this kind of position,” Blomqvist said. “It makes our life a little less stressful tomorrow. It would have given the No. 10 a bit more breathing space. It’s going to be a proper dogfight tomorrow. The guys gave me such a great car. It’s been fantastic this week so far, and it really came alive. I’m hugely thankful to the boys and girls at MSR for giving me the wagon today to execute my job.

“That was a big effort from me. I knew how important it was. It’s just awesome for the guys to give them some sort of reward as well. It’s always nice to be quick. If you do the pole, you know you’ve got a quick car.”

Though WTR has a series-leading four victories with the No. 10, MSR won the Rolex 24 at Daytona and has five runner-up finishes along with its three poles.

The strong performances of the ARX-05s ensure that an Acura will win the final championship in IMSA’s premier Daytona Prototype international (DPi) division, which is being rebranded as Grand Touring Prototype in the move to LMDh cars next season.

Taylor qualified third despite sliding into the Turn 5 gravel during the closing minutes of qualifying while pushing to gain points.

“Qualifying was important for points,” Taylor said. “Going into it, if we outqualified the No. 60 Meyer Shank Acura, they had a lot to lose in terms of championship points. So, we were trying to increase the gap over 20 points which would’ve made a big difference for tomorrow. We would have loved to get the pole and qualify ahead of the No. 60, but in the scheme of the points, it didn’t change a whole lot. I’m feeling good since it’s such a long race, and the No. 10 Konica Minolta Acura team does such a good job strategizing and putting us in a good position.

“I’m very confident in our lineup and our team compared to them over the course of 10 hours. I’d put my two teammates up against those guys any day. I think we are all feeling optimistic and strong for tomorrow.”

In other divisions, PR1 Mathiasen Motorsports (LMP2), Riley Motorsports (LMP3), VasserSullivan (GTD Pro) and Paul Miller Racing (GTD) captured pole positions.

The broadcast of the 10-hour race will begin Saturday at 12:10 p.m. ET on NBC, moving at 3 p.m. to USA Network.


QUALIFYING

Results

Results by class

Fastest lap by driver

Fastest lap by driver after qualifying

Fastest lap by driver and class after qualifying

Fastest lap sequence in qualifying

Best sector times in qualifying

Time cards in qualifying

PRACTICE RESULTS: Session I l Session II l Session III