October 28, 2011
... And then there were four
Four races left, four drivers left standing.
Oh, it may appear that Kyle Busch, at 40 points back, still should be counted among the living in the 2011 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship, but it says here that only points leader Carl Edwards, Matt Kenseth at 14 points back, Brad Keselowski at 18 back and Tony Stewart at 19 back have a shot at the silverware.
And after three hours on Sunday in the Tums Fast Relief 500 at the half-mile paper clip known as Martinsville Speedway, that number could well be cut in two.
If it comes to that, don’t bet against it being the Fords of Edwards and Kenseth.
Edwards has been in the mix all season long in the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford while Kenseth, his teammate in the No. 17 RFR Ford, has been something of a late arrival in this Chase.
But that doesn’t mean he should be discounted.
In fact Kenseth’s consistency so far this season might just be the one factor that makes him the one most likely to emerge with the Sprint Cup after Homestead in a month’s time.
He himself predicted on Friday, after rain washed out practice, that if it comes down to just him and Edwards, it’s going to be a heck of a battle in spite of them being teammates.
“If it stays one-two through this stretch there’s gonna be a big fight at Homestead,” he said.
The teammates thing, he said, hasn’t really entered into the equation just yet, with four races left on the schedule. Kenseth said that, right now, everybody on all of the RFR teams are getting along fine.
“There’s so much racing to do that I haven’t even thought about that,” he said. “All of the teams are working together the same.
“All of the drivers are getting along the same and working together and doing all of that, so I don’t foresee anything ever happening to change that.”
Well, it might just change if on the final few laps on Sunday Edwards is in front of Kenseth and the Wisconsin native wants to make a pass.
It is not likely that he will sit back and let his championship rival go unchallenged to widen the points gap, teammate or no teammate.
“I know that we’re in a fairly good spot right now, but yet I think we’ve got to out-run him every week,” Kenseth said. “I don’t race him or think about him any different than any other cars out there. You want to beat all of those guys to get the maximum amount of points you can.”
Out-running Edwards hasn’t been easy, since the No. 99 team has been able to get pretty decent results in the Chase races so far.
“It seems like they’ve been able to get the finishes,” Kenseth said. “Even on their bad days, they’ve been able to get all good finishes.”
What Kenseth thinks he has going in his favour is that he has some of his best tracks ahead of him in the remaining month.
He won the spring race at Texas Motor Speedway and will go to Phoenix even with everyone as that track was repaved and re-shaped this past summer.
Kenseth is also a past winner at Homestead.
“I feel like, just on performance, we’ve actually run better than (Edwards) at most tracks,” he said. “So I just feel like we’ve got to get the finishes.”
Kenseth, known as one of the most even-keeled of all the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers, won’t resort to unsavoury means to get his second championship. It’s just not part of the 39-year-old’s nature.
“All I know is every week we go out with the idea of trying to win, trying to do the best we can,” he said. “You race as hard as you can for wins every week.
“For me and our team, I don’t think that would change whether we were 25th in points or first in points ... we don’t really change our mindset or our mentality.
“I think you do everything you can do in the car, on pit road, the whole thing, for performance and no more.”