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Kenseth aiming to bounce back at New Hampshire

September 21, 2012, Seth Livingstone, Special to NASCAR.COM, NASCAR.com



Kenseth aiming to bounce back at New Hampshire
Success in Loudon has been hard to find for No. 17 team over the years

LOUDON, N.H. -- Taking a points hit in the first race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup was bad enough for Matt Kenseth.

But it's the aftershock that has him concerned this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The initial shock was just that -- a broken shock, that relegated Kenseth to an 18th-place finish last week at Chicagoland.

Video: Kenseth loses a shock, has to make repairs under caution

Now, sitting 11th in points among the 12 Chase drivers, he finds himself at a track that's haunted him throughout his career. Without a strong performance, Kenseth's hopes as title contender could slide from tenuous to near-terminal.

"We'll just do the best we can this weekend. It's been a track that has not been real good for us as far as performance."

--MATT KENSETH

"We'll just do the best we can this weekend," said Kenseth, shrugging off his winless history at New Hampshire at his hauler Friday morning. "It's been a track that has not been real good for us as far as performance."

Beyond failing to win a Cup race in 25 starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Kenseth's average finish in the last 15 races at NHMS is a 15.7. He was 13th in the July race and his sixth in the Sylvania 300 a year ago is his only top 10 in his last nine starts in New England.

"It just seems we struggle a lot to get the front end of our car to turn and still have any kind of real grip," said Kenseth, further noting that qualifying well is important because of New Hampshire's relatively narrow layout and the difficulty in passing.

That puts at least part of the onus on crew chief Jimmy Fennig.

"We know this is one of our worst tracks," Fennig said earlier in the week. "Hopefully we'll qualify better this weekend because we're going to look at some different set-ups. In the spring we may not have finished where we wanted but I felt like our car raced well at Loudon."

Although Kenseth will drive the same car he finished fifth with at Richmond two weeks ago, he says that's little comfort.

"I don't have any special cars right now that I feel are a lot better than any other ones," Kenseth said. "So, it doesn't really mean a lot to me."

Eight of the 12 Chase drivers have a Cup victory under the belts at New Hampshire, which has produced 12 different winners in the last 13 races. Tony Stewart used a New Hampshire victory to help launch his title-winning effort last year. Denny Hamlin owns the best average finish (8.46) in the last 15 races at NHMS. Kasey Kahne won here in July and Jeff Gordon is the all-time leader with 15 top fives and 20 top-10s here.

But Kenseth isn't the only driver to struggle in New England.

Notably, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is winless in 26 starts.

"This is a track I feel like owes me one," says Earnhardt, whose fourth-place finish in July came when he started in the top 10 for the first time in seven races at NHMS.

"We've had some good cars here, cars capable of winning races. We just haven't been ablt to finish the job. I really love running here so much. It's fun to race here -- challenging to pass. You work so hard trying to get that to happen. I kind of enjoy short-track racing and the corners and speeds here sort of lend itself to that style."

But sitting seventh in points after his eighth-place finish at Chicagoland, Earnhardt is really looking for a track that lends itself to success.

"It's kind of a little bit frustrating that I haven't won here," Earnhardt said.

The only driver to win twice in the last 13 Cup races at Loudon is Clint Bowyer, tied for fourth in points after his 10th-place finish at Chicagoland.

"Two wins and a run-out-of-gas [at New Hampshire]," Bowyer says. "This just fits my driving style. I love this place -- always have."

Kenseth and Earnhardt can only hope they find a way to share the love.