BRISTOL — One groove at the bottom, several different lanes or one groove at the top — it really doesn’t matter to Matt Kenseth.
Whatever the configuration of Bristol Motor Speedway, the driver of the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota is ready for Sunday’s Food City 500.
“It’s a challenging track — I always like coming here no matter what the configuration is,” said Kenseth, the most recent Cup Series winner at BMS. “It’s changed a lot over the years, since they repaved it or put new concrete on it. It’s one that I look forward to — it definitely changes a lot during the weekend. I think the track is going to be drastically different here in a little while. You always have to pay attention to that and try to get your car to work good enough to where you can pass because once the race gets going then everybody piles in the top — then it’s definitely a challenging track to pass on.”
Kenseth, the 2003 NASCAR champion, is usually up for the challenge. He led the Sprint Cup Series with seven victories last season including the IRWIN Tools Night Race last August.
That night, he held off Kasey Kahne for the victory in a clean finish. This season with new NASCAR rules placing a bigger emphasis on winning, the question is whether drivers will be more aggressive coming to the checkered flag.
Kenseth, who was series runner-up last season, isn’t sure how it will turn out. He realizes the finish with Kahne last August isn’t the way a short-track race always ends.
“If somebody is on your bumper at most of these race tracks, especially these little tracks like Martinsville, here, places like that where you can get moved out of the way and you’re holding the guy up in second and you’re leading, you’re always expecting some type of aggressive move,” he said. “I’m not sure how much that will change. These are all big races to win and everybody is out there racing hard to win. You never know — you never know what the new system with the rules and format and all that stuff is going to bring. I think we just kind of wait and see.”
Overall, Kenseth has 31 Sprint Cup Series wins including three in the Bristol night race. He’s still looking for his first win in the spring, although he was twice been a runner-up.
The 41-year-old Wisconsin native also has three Nationwide Series wins at Bristol, and plans to compete in today’s Drive to Stop Diabetes 300.
While he’s enjoyed racing all the different configurations, he said passing cars when they’re running at the top of the track requires a different strategy than when they’re all running on the bottom. Instead of the bump-and-run, more drivers are looking at a bonsai move to win the race.
“I don’t know if it’s harder to pass than when everybody was on the bottom — it’s way easier to get side-by-side and get there, it’s just hard to finish the pass,” he said. ”When it was on the bottom if you could get under somebody or you got them off the bottom and moved them a little bit, once you were under them it was over and there was no way they could challenge on the outside.
“I think the pass you probably see for the win here is more to try to get alongside of them off the corner and try to just carry so much speed you slide up in front of them. Hope you clear them and hope they don’t cross over and pass you back. That’s probably more the style of the last lap — bonsai type thing — you try to make to beat somebody more than like it was before when we were on the bottom and tried to move them up off the bottom so you can pass.”comments powered by Disqus