After winning a Sprint Cup-series best seven races last season including the IRWIN Tools Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, many expected Kenseth to storm out of the gates this year. It’s not happened so far with a pair of fourth-place runs at Fontana and Darlington his best finishes of the season.
Still, there is no reason to panic.
Kenseth, the driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, has been ranked second in the Sprint Cup points for the last seven weeks and he has eight top-10 finishes in the first 11 races.
Also, the 2003 NASCAR champion believes that nothing good comes by hitting the panic button.
“I don’t know if there is ever a good time to hit the panic button,” he said Tuesday in a special media appearance at Joe Gibbs Racing set up by Bristol Motor Speedway. “I don’t know if any good results that ever came from pushing the panic button. You just have to keep working at it every week. You can only do the best you can do each and every week. We try to do that and get the best result we can.”
It is tougher than ever for anyone to dominate NASCAR’s top series. There have been nine different winners over the first 11 races and that dosen’t include Jamie McMurray winning last Saturday night’s All-Stat race.
Kenseth attributes it to a variety of factors including NASCAR getting tighter on restrictions with the Gen-6 race car introduced last season.
“I think the competition has been coming up for a lot of years, especially when they went from the Gen-5 to the Gen-6 cars,” Kenseth said. “The cars are so much more equal and there are less people overall who control things as far as chassis builders and engine builders. All that stuff has brought the cars closer to the same speed.”
While focused on winning his second Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway this Sunday night, Kenseth looked back at his win at Bristol last August when he held off Kasey Kahne in a thrilling fight to the finish.
“The biggest thing I remember about last year, I thought we had the best car in the spring and in the fall as well,” Kenseth said. “I sped on pit road in the middle of the race and got in the back. That changed our strategy. We had to take a chance at the end and take lefts (new tires on the car’s left side) and ran the rights for a long time. We barely made it to the end and barely held on. We had a great car.”
Defending track champion Chad Finchum of Knoxville and points leader Kres VanDyke of Claypool Hill, Virginia, won twin Late Model Stock features last Friday night at Kingsport Speedway.
Finchum held off VanDyke the first quarter of the first race and then fended off another late charge for the victory.
Johnson City driver Zeke Shell finished third in the first feature, despite making contact with Justin Fontaine on the first lap.
Shell started on the pole in the second race and led the first 23 laps before VanDyke got by. Shell, who heated up his brakes in the battle for the lead, faded to sixth. VanDyke went on to record his third victory of the season.
Tyler Goodwin, a 2013 Daniel Boone graduate, wound up fourth to score his best career finish. Other local efforts included a ninth-place by Joey Trent of Gray in the first feature and a 12th place by Phil Harris of Johnson City in the nightcap.
Alan Rich of Sylva, North Carolina, led all 30 laps of the Street Stock feature, while Keith Helton outdueled Jason Ketron in a battle of Kingsport drivers to win the Pure 4 feature.
Kirby Gobble of Abingdon passed another Virginia racer Rocky Yates on lap 7 of the Mod 4 feature and stayed out front the rest of the way. Michael “Mook” Jeter of Kingsport won for the second time this season in the Rookie Pure 4 class, while another Kingsport driver, Derek Lane, won for the season time in the Legends division.
Knoxville driver Cory Hedgecock found the fast groove and led all 40 laps of last Saturday’s Steel Head Late Model feature at Volunteer Speedway.
A pair of other Knoxville drivers, Trevor Sise and Brad Lowe, engaged in a spirited battle for the runner-up spot. Bobby Mays of Jonesborough started second and posted a fourth-place finish.
Jason Welshan of Maryville dominated a 30-lap race for the Crate Late Model feature, easily outdistancing runner-up Ricky Moore. Defending track champion Tim Byrd of Jonesborough finished seventh and Tim Maupin of Johnson City wound up 11th.
Gary Blanken, a regular at Smoky Mountain Raceway, passed polesitter Dale Reed at the start of the 25-lap Modified Hobby race and led the rest of the way. Jon Cook of Jonesborough finished fourth.
Tom Cable and Tim Thomas were the big winners at this past week’s K&N Spring Fling at Bristol Dragway.
Cable totaled $40,000 for his efforts, which included beating Troy Coughlin Jr. in Saturday’s final. Thomas finished with $35,000 after his Sunday victory.
The DER Bracket Series returns to Bristol Dragway this weekend, while the Roadrunner Markets Street Fights are slated for Thursday.
Major events are quickly approaching with the NOPI Nationals scheduled for May 30 and June 1 and the NHRA Thunder Valley Nationals scheduled for June 13-15.
Elijah Buchanan of Roan Mountain doubled up last Saturday at the Hot Summer Nights Supercross Series at I-81 Raceway.
Buchanan won two classes, sweeping motos in the Unlimited B and Collegeboy 14-24 divisions.
Will Andrews of Hampton won the 65cc race for 10-11 year-olds with Parker Hughes of Elizabethton the runner-up. Chelsea Taylor of Elizabethton was another local winner, taking the Women’s 85cc race.
Matt Clark of Gray was the runner-up in the 450D race. Other second-place finishes were recorded by Joe Bowman of Johnson City (51cc Multi-Speed), Nate Martin of Jonesborough (ATV Novice) and Dakota Ashley of Roan Mountain (250D Extra).
The series will return to the Appalachian Fairgrounds for this Saturday’s action.
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