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.”