DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Matt Kenseth is beginning to figure out restrictor-plate racing.
Kenseth, who won the Daytona 500 in February, is on the pole for tonight’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway. It’s a continuation of a trend on NASCAR’s two restrictor-plate tracks that has been a pleasant revelation for the Ford-driving Kenseth.
Since winning the 500, he also finished third at Talladega in May. Friday’s pole was his first on one of NASCAR’s big tracks.
“I didn’t feel particularly good at (restrictor-plate) racing earlier in my career,” said Kenseth, who also leads the Sprint Cup standings by 11 points over Dale Earnhardt Jr. “So to come down here and win in February, then have a good race at Talladega — my confidence is high.”
Kenseth’s lap of 192.386 mph around Daytona’s 2.5-mile tri-oval puts him on the front row with Ryan Newman, who was actually third fastest in qualifying until Stewart-Hass Racing teammate Tony Stewart — who was second — had his time thrown out by NASCAR.
Stewart was found to have an open cooling hose in his cockpit, a rules violation. He’ll start from the rear of the field today.
A similar violation occurred earlier Friday in qualifying for Friday’s Nationwide Subway Jalapeno 250. Pole-winner Austin Dillon was found with the same problem and had to start that race from the rear.
Today’s race will be Kenseth’s second since news broke late last month that he is in his final season with Roush Fenway Racing. Kenseth will race elsewhere (likely with Joe Gibbs Racing) next year, a situation he is still becoming comfortable with.
“There are certain things that are a little awkward at Roush because you know you’re not going to be there next year and they know that,” said Kenseth, who has had the points lead since the Michigan race four weeks ago. “So maybe it’s a little bit different walking in and talking to (team owner) Jack (Roush) or doing some of that stuff. But I think you just work though that.
“All those decisions were based on what I felt was best for next year and beyond, not what is best for this year. I think this is best for this year. We’re not going to change any strategies.”
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Kurt Busch survived the “Big One” – a 14-car wreck — to claim the Subway Jalapeno 250 at Daytona International Speedway. The 250-mile race was relatively uneventful, with only two cautions before the wreck on Lap 65 knocked out many of the leaders.
Kenseth, who also won the Daytona 500 in 2009, has a chance to become the first driver to win both Cup races at Daytona in one season since Bobby Allison did in 1982.
“We’re the only one who has a shot at it,” said Kenseth, who is known for his dry sense of humor. “And then at next year’s Daytona 500, we’ll be the only one who has a shot at winning it (back-to-back).”