Kenseth goes for 3rd consecutive New Hampshire victory
LOUDON, N.H. (AP) Carl Edwards had another hard race to the finish against Matt Kenseth. The Joe Gibbs Racing teammates had skipped the track for the bike path, and what Edwards thought would be a leisurely ride between colleagues turned into a competitive duel on two wheels.
''It was a pretty hard ride,'' said Edwards, laughing.
The 44-year-old Kenseth flashed the kind of speed that made Edwards wonder how he continued to turn back the clock on all modes of transport.
''He's somehow figured out how to age backward now,'' said the 37-year-old Edwards. ''He's getting faster, he's getting stronger, he's figured something out here for sure and it gives guys like me hope, you know?''
Kenseth has certainly figured out New Hampshire Motor Speedway since making the move in 2013 to Joe Gibbs Racing. Winless in 26 career starts at the track driving for Jack Roush, Kenseth has three wins at New Hampshire since `13 and has won the last two races here.
He had a bit of luck to win the fall 2015 race when leader Kevin Harvick's gamble to stretch his fuel backfired and Kenseth took the lead to clinch his spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. His first New Hampshire win of this season came under similar circumstances. Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch each led more than 120 laps before faltering over the final 75 laps, paving the way for Kenseth to stretch his Magic Mile win streak.
''I think a lot of it has to do with, obviously the equipment and the people working on it, and all that stuff, but it's hard to figure out sometimes,'' Kenseth said. ''This used to be probably one of my worst tracks on the circuit, honestly, and now it seems like it's been one of our best. That doesn't mean it's going to be this week, but it has been in recent past.''
Edwards joked before Friday's qualifying session that he'd like to steal some tips from Kenseth and crew chief Jason Ratcliff and try and earn his own win at the track.
''I can lean on that and look at that and understand what he does,'' Edwards said.
Edwards then turned the fastest lap and won the pole; Kenseth starts eighth. Edwards won the pole for the third time in the last four New Hampshire races, his sixth pole of the season, but has failed to end the race the same way he started - in first.
Kenseth, the 2003 NASCAR champion, had a season more solid than spectacular with two wins, but just four top-five finishes. He had 12 top-fives and five wins last season. Martin Truex Jr. earned a spot in the next round of the Chase with a win in the playoff opener last week at Chicagoland Speedway.
The 16-driver Chase field will be cut to 12 after next week's race at Dover International Speedway. Kenseth is seventh in the standings after one race and has the kind of resume that would suggest he can survive to the next round even without a victory over the next two races.
But last season's stunning knockout of Jimmie Johnson at Dover is a reminder that win-and-in beats hoping for the best. Johnson entered Dover fifth in the standings and, with 10 career wins at Dover, seemed a lock to advance. His No. 48 Chevrolet was forced off the track for 36 laps with a torn rear axle seal and he was eliminated from contention.
Kenseth, with 38 career wins, knows time is of the essence for another title shot. Kenseth said he had no immediate plans to follow fellow 40-something NASCAR champions Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart into retirement.
''I haven't put a ton of thought into it,'' Kenseth said. ''I realize there are more years of racing behind me then there are in front of me. But I feel great, I feel like we're running good. I'm having a lot of fun. I don't have any plans to quit in the near future.''
Here are other items of note from Saturday at New Hampshire:
FAST PRACTICE: Kyle Larson turned the fastest laps in his No. 42 Chevrolet in each of the two Sprint Cup practices. He topped the second session with a lap of 132.577 mph and posted the fastest laps in practice for all sessions heading into Sunday's race.
Larson topped the morning session with 132.186.
Larson should hope that translates into success in Sunday's race. He finished 18th in the Chase opener and Chicagoland and is 15th in the standings.
''Our short run speed is really good,'' Larson said.
Edwards had the best consecutive 10-lap average in the second session, with an average speed of 131.663.
Chase drivers took the top seven spots on the speed chart over a 10-lap average and 13 of 15 spots overall. Chevrolet drivers took six of the top 12 spots.