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Weekend Preview: Kenseth ready for PIR, hopes history won't repeat

March 02, 2012, NASCAR Wire Service,

Weekend Preview: Sadler goes into Phoenix as points leader in Nationwide

When Matt Kenseth won his first Daytona 500 in 2009, he followed it with the best encore possible -- a victory the next week in Fontana, Calif.

But there would be no more curtain calls for the No. 17 team that year as Kenseth went 0-for-34 for the rest of the season, matching a career-worst 14th-place finish in the Sprint Cup standings. The losing streak stretched into 2011, when Kenseth finally broke the drought at 76 races.

Good tidings?

Matt Kenseth's victory in the Daytona 500 could be the first step toward his second Cup championship. But will it be?

This year's Daytona 500 champ certainly wouldn't mind a triumphant double to kick-start the 2012 campaign as the tour rolls into Phoenix International Raceway for Sunday's Subway FreshFit 500. Repeating the two-year skid is a different matter.

"It was crazy to start off the year with two wins. It seemed like we were destined for a wonderful season," Kenseth said. "Then we had a lot of different things go wrong that season. We went to Vegas and blew an engine on I think Lap 2 and finished dead last the third race of the year. We had two wins and a last-place finish in the first three weeks. We had little problems here and there that held us back that kept us out of the Chase."

Once Kenseth concludes his tour of Daytona 500 media appearances, he'll find a Phoenix track that remains a question mark. The mile-long track was reconfigured before the penultimate race of last season, adding both new pavement and a new backstretch wrinkle to one of the series more unique layouts.

"I think there's a little wondering when you get out there of what the surface is going to be like, how long we're going to have to run to get it burned in, if it's going to be ready, all that kind of stuff," Kenseth said. "That's one thing you think of right away."

One facet of Phoenix's re-design was the addition of a backstretch shortcut where drivers could opt to routinely cut across the apron in an attempt to straighten out the dogleg outside of Turn 2. Jeff Gordon, the race's defending champion and last winner on Phoenix's old configuration, says the new layout has taken some getting used to.

"I think that had they to do over again, they wouldn't have done quite what they did back there," Gordon said, "but each time we go back there, we'll learn a little bit more. You race however you can to win, so we'll deal with that when we get there."

Sadler's solid start in Nationwide

Elliott Sadler's bid for redemption in the Nationwide Series got a significant boost after the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway.

Sadler finished third, but finds himself atop the series standings. Race winner James Buescher made the preseason choice to compete for the championship in the Camping World Truck Series and runner-up Brad Keselowski has his efforts focused on the Sprint Cup title.

Those decisions helped give Sadler a tenuous early grasp on the Nationwide points race, just two points ahead of rookie Cole Whitt and three ahead of fellow first-year driver Austin Dillon, last year's Truck champion.

Last season at Phoenix, Sadler's hopes for his first Nationwide crown fell apart in a late-race crash. Sadler's 27th-place finish gave an insurmountable points lead to Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who cashed in the following week for his first series title.

Sadler had just completed a shortcut across the apron on Phoenix's backstretch dogleg before his wreck. He blended back into traffic after making a three-wide pass, but was nudged from behind by Jason Leffler, triggering a multi-car accident.

"If I had to do it all over again, I would still do the same move," Sadler said earlier this week. "I don't feel like I was too aggressive, and I don't feel like I ran those guys up the track. I actually feel like I did it the cleanest possible way that I could. We saw it in the Sprint Cup Series race that Sunday, people were passing each other on the apron the day after I was wrecked. I promise you, you are going to see it again this spring at Phoenix."