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Kenseth heads to Kentucky as defending winner

Matt Kenseth visited victory lane last year at Kentucky
Matt Kenseth visited victory lane last year at Kentucky
Getty Images: Matt Sullivan

Joe Gibbs Racing driver Matt Kenseth isn’t feeling too bad after his meeting with the tire barrier last weekend at Sonoma – but he’d feel better if he had a win under his belt.

“I feel physically fine,” said Kenseth in a recent NASCAR teleconference. “So yeah, when I got spun out there, it wasn't funny, but I was looking to the side and I was kind of sliding off and I didn't feel like I was going very fast and I'm like, what's over there, I'm kind of looking, I guess I'm just going to slide off the track. Oh, there's a tire barrier, I hope I don't hit that very hard, and it kind of grabbed a hold of the car and whipped it around. I'm sure there's a lot of cases where tire barriers are better. Unfortunately I don't think that was one of them. I think if I would have hit a cement wall it would have been a lot less damage and actually would have got the car fixed and been able to finish the race. It just grabbed a hold of it and just destroyed that car. It ripped the front frames horns right off of it. It was definitely a surprise.”

The driver of the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota Camry had seven wins last season, his first with JGR, on his way to a runner-up finish in the championship standings. With just 10 races remaining before the start of the 2014 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Kenseth is winless and starting to feel some urgency.

“I think the biggest sense of urgency probably is that we just know as an organization we need to be running better,” said Kenseth. “We're not running as good as we did last year as a group. We're not leading as many laps, sitting on as many poles, winning as many races. As a group we're not doing near as much of that or running up front as much as we were last year. So we need to get that better.”

“As far as the urgency to get a win, yeah, you want to get one,” he continued. “In this new format you really need at least a win and be up in the top 30 to really feel confident about being in the Chase. Anything can happen with different winners, so you're never sure. But if we could win every week, we would. So just to have a sense of urgency about it, it doesn't really do any good. We're already working as hard as we can and we're calling the races the way we need to call them to get ourselves in the best position. Pit stops have been great. I feel like we're doing everything we can do to do that, we've just going to keep trying to get our cars faster, keep trying to get in position to win more, and if you can put yourself in that spot enough times, sooner or later you'll get one.”

Kentucky Speedway, host of this weekend’s Quaker State 400, is billing itself as one of the “roughest” tracks on the Sprint Cup Series circuit. Kenseth is the defending race winner at Kentucky, and tends to agree with the assessment.

“I think it's kind of two different things,” explained Kenseth. “I think the tracks being wore out, the pavement losing grip so you can slide around more and tires drop off more and new tires are a big reward, that's the kind of stuff I think we all like as drivers or I think a lot of us are under the opinion that makes better racing, more passing, that type of thing. Just being bumpy doesn't necessarily do that, but they definitely are not lying. It's definitely the roughest track in NASCAR. It's really, really bumpy, but I think there's a couple lanes there you can pass. It is a unique mile-and-a-half. The Turn 4 exit is different than any other mile-and-a-half we go to. You know, it's definitely rough and it's definitely unique.”

Heading into the weekend, Kenseth is concerned about both qualifying and race trim for his Camry.

“We haven't qualified particularly well lately, and I feel like that really hurts us in the race,” said Kenseth. “I feel like we start at a deficit. We don't really get the pit stall we want to get. We're working on traffic a lot before we can start adjusting our car. So I think we need to qualify better, so that's probably the first thing on my mind is to get qualified on Friday. I guess it's kind of a backwards schedule. We've got to get the race setup right but then you've got to get qualified. So hopefully we can get something that drives good in race trim and have some speed and get qualified.”

Qualifying for the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway takes place Friday at 5:40 p.m. ET; the race goes green Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ET. Keep up with the action at

Quotes in this piece provided by NASCAR.

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