Winless Kenseth feels team is 'getting closer'
July 25, 2014, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
RELATED: Kenseth tops opening Sprint Cup Series practice
SPEEDWAY, Ind. – The search for Victory Lane continues this weekend for Matt Kenseth, seven times a winner last year yet shut out of the winner's circle through the first 19 races of 2014.
Expectations were high headed into the season and remain so for the No. 20 team, one of three fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series. Yet the reality of it is that Kenseth, 42, finds himself in something of a winless funk.
Sunday's race, Crown Royal Presents, The John Wayne Walding 400 at the Brickyard at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, provides the next opportunity to return to the win column. Kenseth, fastest in Friday’s lone practice session, likes what he's seen so far.
"I felt like we had a good hour and a half," he said of the practice. "It was productive."
Productive for a number of reasons. Should Saturday's qualifying session (2:10 p.m. ET, ESPN) be cancelled because of rain, Kenseth would start on the pole. And because they got the fast lap in early, Kenseth said the team was able to focus on race trim runs for the remainder of the session.
"I felt like we got through a lot of stuff … felt like we gained a lot," he said. "I feel … we're closer than we’ve been in a long time in balance and in speed."
One more practice is on tap for Saturday (from 9-10:50 a.m. ET, ESPN2) as teams continue preparations for Sunday's race, "but I felt pretty good about today," he said.
Kenseth has never won at Indy, finishing a career-best second in 2003 and again in '06. He finished fifth here a year ago.
At 2.5 miles, Indy is about as long a track as you’ll see Sprint Cup teams tackle, but it’s much flatter than Daytona or Talladega and narrower than Pocono.
While he said Indy has been "one of our (better) tracks … you really don't know until you get there and you get into the race – even through practice.
"Even last year, we had an incredible year and we ran so good at so many places I've never ran good at before," Kenseth said, "but then we went to Indy and we finished well, but we really didn't run well … compared to how we ran everywhere else.
"Texas has always been one of my best tracks and the last three races there haven't been as good as they used to be. You just never really know."
In spite of his lack of wins this season, Kenseth has been productive enough, finishing in the top-10 on 12 occasions, to sit fourth in points. While reality has yet to catch up with expectations, it "really hasn't been a bad year," he said.
"We've had a bad month there where I wrecked … two or three times and had some other things happen, but we just have been as an organization lacking a little bit of speed. I feel like we're gaining on that and feel like we're getting closer."
Rule changes and other moves "just affected us differently than some other teams and it's taken awhile to get caught up to that.
"Overall, I feel like from a team perspective and execution and all that stuff, we're probably better than what it was last year. As soon as we get the speed to go with it and have some things to go our way, it's possible to get on a roll."
JGR teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin have one win each, and are eighth and 12th, respectively, in the points battle.
"I feel like every week as an organization, we're getting closer and getting faster and getting stronger, putting more cars up in the mix," Kenseth said. "I feel good about it, but a lot of things have to go right to have a shot here.
"You've seen a lot of different races with different strategies and a lot of things happen here. But, the first part is having a fast car and we seem to have some speed in it, so we'll build on that."