Matt Kenseth quietly is in pursuit of Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup™ history.
Okay – maybe not so quietly. Winning the opening two races of the 2013 Chase qualifies as making some noise; a lot of noise.
A victory in Sunday’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway (2 p.m. ET ESPN, MRN Radio, SiriusXM Satellite Radio) will give Kenseth title to the Chase’s first opening “triple.”
Others have tried and failed: Greg Biffle in 2008 and Tony Stewart in 2011. Biffle’s streak ended in Kansas, where he finished third. Stewart, despite finishing 25th at Dover, went on to win his third championship.
Kenseth twice has won at the “Monster Mile,” most recently in the spring of 2011. He’s led four of the past five races and logged eight top-five finishes from 2008 through spring of 2012.
That was then – with Roush Fenway Racing, in whose Fords Kenseth won the 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion – and this is now. Kenseth’s first trip to Dover in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was a tease. He qualified fourth and led 29 laps before being relegated to a 40th-place finish by engine failure.
Kenseth’s New Hampshire victory was his seventh of the season extending a record campaign. His previous best season was 2002 in which Kenseth won five times. JGR teammate Denny Hamlin is the most recent NASCAR Sprint Cup driver to win eight times in a season (2010).
To reach that number Kenseth will have to keep the pressure on JGR partner Kyle Busch, who just as easily could be the driver on the long end of a two-race Chase winning streak. Busch chased Kenseth to the checkered flag at Chicagoland and again in New Hampshire and stands second in the standings, 14 points off the lead.
Busch obviously has the fire power to end his teammate’s streak – especially at Dover, where he likewise has won twice, finished fourth in June and led 302 laps of last September’s AAA 400.
Right now, second place is just fine with Busch, who has more than made up for failing to qualify for last year’s Chase with his best-ever postseason start.
“I’ve said it for years, if I could finish second in every single Chase race, I’d take it and win a championship – than to win just one Chase race,” he said. “It’s all about the prize at the end, and I think this team is really focused on that.”