The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup is only nine races away, but there's still enough time left for movement among the contenders before the field is set.
But one driver who seems practically guaranteed a Chase spot even if he falls out of the top 10 is Matt Kenseth, who scored a series-high fourth win last Sunday at Kentucky. Drivers can fall back on one of the two Wild Card Chase spots, which go to those drivers from 11th-20th in points with the most wins.
Kenseth and his Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 Husky Tools Toyota team head to Daytona International Speedway for Saturday's Coke Zero 400 Powered by Coca-Cola (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT) hoping to replicate his 2012 restrictor-plate success.
In 2012, Kenseth won the season-opening Daytona 500, the second of his career after winning in 2009, and finished third in last July's Daytona event. In the two Talladega races last season, he finished third in the spring event and followed it up with a victory in the fall race. His overall average finish in the four restrictor-plate races was an amazing 2.0. This year his average is 22.5 after the first Daytona and Talladega races, finishing 37th and eighth, respectively.
"We've got a lot of racing to do before we get to the Chase," said Kenseth, who is fifth in the standings, 82 points behind leader Jimmie Johnson. "We know we have to continue to get better. We are really, really good but you always have to continue to get better."
For all his success at restrictor-plate tracks he has never won the July race at Daytona, something he hopes to cross off his to-do list on Saturday night. In 13 summer events at the 2.5-mile superspeedway, he's found success; however, it just hasn't resulted in trips to Victory Lane. He has an average finish of 12.6, along with four top fives and eight top 10s.
Over the past 17 races at Daytona International Speedway, Kenseth holds the second highest average driver rating (93.2) among active drivers. He is also second in average running position (14.059) and laps led (285). He's completed the third most laps in the top 15 with 1,952, and run 73 of the fastest laps over the last 17 races at Daytona, good for fourth overall.
If the Chase were to begin today, Kenseth would be seeded first overall with 12 bonus points by virtue of his four wins; however, a win this weekend at Daytona could put some more ground between him and his closest rivals, Johnson, Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick, who all have multiple wins this season.
As for Kenseth, he has no plans of letting off the accelerator before the Chase begins or throughout the postseason.
"Hopefully, we'll be running how we're running, or even get better, and you know, going into the Chase, hopefully we can give them a run for their money. That's what the plan is."
FANTASY FOCUS: In July at Daytona there is always "Smoke." Smoke, aka Tony Stewart, is the king of the July Daytona race. In 14 events, Stewart has won four times and finished in the top 10 on seven different occasions. He has the third highest average driver rating (93.1) over the past 17 races at the track, and has the highest single-race driver rating at the track among active drivers (143.4). He has led the most laps (548) and has the highest percentage of laps led (17.8%). Stewart has also run the fifth-most laps in the top 15 (1,836). Jimmie Johnson is always a solid choice for any NASCAR fantasy lineup, however, this Saturday he will be extra-motivated as he looks to become only the fifth driver in NASCAR history and first since Bobby Allison in 1982 to complete the single-season sweep at Daytona, after winning the season-opening Daytona 500.
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