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.”

Lewis Hamilton takes F1 pole in dramatic Russian GP qualifying

Russian pole Lewis Hamilton
Dan Istitene - Formula 1/Formula 1 via Getty Images
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SOCHI, Russia — Lewis Hamilton took a step closer to equaling the Formula One win record Saturday by clinching pole position at the Russian Grand Prix, after narrowly avoiding early elimination when Sebastian Vettel crashed.

Hamilton charged to a track-record time of 1 minute, 31.304 seconds, beating the Red Bull of Max Verstappen by 0.563 for his fifth straight pole position. Hamilton can achieve his 91st career win in the race on Sunday, matching the record held by Michael Schumacher.

Hamilton’s Mercedes teammate, Valtteri Bottas, was beaten into third by Verstappen’s fast run at the end of the session and was .652 off Hamilton’s time.

The long run from the grid to the first significant turn means Bottas could yet threaten to overtake Hamilton at the start Sunday using the slipstream from his teammate’s car.

“It’s nice being on pole but here is probably the worst place to be on pole,” Hamilton said.

“This year you’re seeing that our cars are more draggy and there’s more tow this year than we’ve seen in other years. So I generally expect one of (Verstappen and Bottas) to come flying by at some point. I think I’m just going to focus on my race and run the fastest race I can.”

Bottas earned his first win at the 2017 race in Russia after starting third and overtaking the two Ferraris ahead of him at the start.

Verstappen and Bottas both start the race on medium tires, which could give them an edge in terms of pit strategy over Hamilton, who is on soft tires, which wear much faster.

“I’m just going to have to nurse those tires for as far as I can. These guys, if they get by, they’re going to be pulling away,” Hamilton said.

Verstappen said he was delighted to start second.

“I wasn’t expecting that and of course it’s great for us. If we can get a good start tomorrow you never know what can happen,” he said.

Vettel lost control of his car over the kerb on the inside of the 90-degree, right-hand turn four and spun into the wall, before the Ferrari bounced back onto the track. Teammate Charles Leclerc was following closely behind and narrowly missed the wrecked car, driving over its discarded front wing.

“Oh my God, that was very, very close,” Leclerc told his team over the radio. Leclerc qualified 11th and Vettel 15th as Ferrari failed to reach the top-10 shootout with either car for the third time in four races.

Vettel’s crash meant the red flag was waved while Hamilton was trying to set his first valid lap time to make the third session – after his first attempt was earlier ruled out for going off the track.

After the track was cleared and the session restarted, Hamilton had to rush his out-lap to make it over the line in time for another flying lap with just a second to spare.

“It was horrible,” Hamilton said. “Heart in the mouth.”

Hamilton was also asked to report to race stewards over another incident in which he went off the track in the first part of qualifying. No further action was taken. It was found Hamilton didn’t gain an advantage because the lap time wasn’t counted.

Hamilton is the runaway championship leader with a 55-point advantage over second-place Bottas and 80 over Verstappen. If he can earn four more pole positions in the last seven races, he would be the first driver to 100 in F1 history.

Earlier in the third and final practice Saturday morning, Hamilton set the pace with a time of 1 minute, 33.279 seconds that was 0.776 better than his Mercedes teammate Bottas, who had been quickest in the first two sessions.