Kenseth eyes repeat of 2013 Darlington success
April 10, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Matt Kenseth understands and appreciates the history behind the Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Its significance, he said, made last year's victory here that much more enjoyable.
"I always feel like the Southern 500 is one of the biggest races of the year -- certainly it was right up there towards the top of my list of track I wanted to win at that I had never won before last year," Kenseth said Thursday.
A three-time NASCAR Nationwide Series winner on the oddly shaped 1.366-mile track located in the Sandhills of South Carolina, Kenseth won seven times in the Sprint Cup Series last year. In addition to his Darlington victory, his other wins came at Las Vegas, Kansas, Kentucky, Bristol, Chicago and Loudon. He finished second in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, his best result since 2006, in what was his debut season with Joe Gibbs Racing.
"It was a really big win," the 42-year-old said of the Darlington experience. "It was exciting and it didn’t look like we were going to win and Kyle (Busch) had that problem late and we were able to sneak by him there with 10 (laps) to go or something like that.
"It was a big week for us and it was really, really cool to be able to finally win the Southern 500."
The track is one of the oldest on the Cup series' schedule -- NASCAR has competed here annually since 1950 -- and one of the most difficult. The abrasive surface makes tire management a critical factor while variations in the two ends of the speedway make finding a comfortable, and fast, setup a challenge.
"It was always on the top of my list to try to win the 500 on Labor Day back before they paved (the track), when it was so slick and the race was so long and the conditions were always horrible," Kenseth said. "It was always just really, really hot. To be able to win here in any kind of race, any kind of car, any conditions and certainly the Southern 500 is I think special. I think you could ask anybody and that’s one that they would tell you that.
"In my mind that's one of the biggest races of the year and you always want to come here and try to run good."
Kenseth enters Saturday night's race second in the standings, trailing leader Jeff Gordon by four points. Both he and Gordon, a seven-time winner at Darlington, are still searching for their first Cup win of the season.
Carl Edwards, Joey Logano and Busch are third through fifth, respectively, and three of this year’s seven race winners.
Kenseth will also compete in Friday night's VFW Sport Clips Help a Hero 200 at Darlington. Running in Nationwide Series events, he said, is more beneficial at tracks where the Cup series only runs once each season.
"I always find it nice to be able to get the extra track time," he said. "You're on the same tire and can kind of see the changes that the track will go through racing at night; learn a little bit about the tire combination and what it’s going to do in the longer run and that type of thing. I don't think it hurts."