TALLADEGA, Ala. – Matt Kenseth continued to say Friday he’s not ready to get nervous at the Talladega Superspeedway. But come race time on Sunday that probably will change.
As the points leader in the Chase for the Championship, Kenseth has the most to lose in the Camping World RV Sales 500. Since the probably of a multi-car crash is so high, he knows the chances of him leaving the 2.66-mile raceway atop the standings is peerless.
“Your chances of having a bad race here are probably a little bit higher than other tracks because you can get caught up in stuff,” Kenseth said before two practice sessions Friday. “You just never know what’s going to happen. You could hang around the back all day. The thing about that is, you’ve got to eventual go to the front. Last year, the wreck happened coming to the checkered [flag]. You couldn’t still be really hanging in the back there, because if you would have made it through turn four you would have finished in the back anyway even without wrecking, so I don’t know. It’s a hard balance.”
Teams had two sessions Friday to find speed for Saturday’s qualifying session (noon ET, Fox Sports 2) and Sunday’s main event (2 p.m., ESPN).
It was difficult to know who had the advantage since some teams worked on their race day setup and others worked on qualifying. Cars running in large groups can be as much as 15 mph faster than a single car because the entire group can divide the wind resistance.
Aric Almirola led the first session with a best-lap speed of 202.000 mph. Jeff Burton was second at 201.987, while Marcos Ambrose was third at 201.876.
The second session featured more single-car runs with Jimmie Johnson running the quickest lap at 195.936 mph. Josh Wise was second at 195.884 and Denny Hamlin was third at 195.892.
Those same big packs of high-speed traffic accelerate the chances of a multi-car accident. Most drivers dread Talladega because the risk of a crash is so prevalent. But for now, Kenseth is taking a laid-back approach.
“"Well, I don’t know what good it’s going to do me to get freaked out about it right now. I think they’ve been working really hard on this car and I know TRD [Toyota Racing Development] has been working on engines, so hopefully we’ve got some speed when we get out there and draft a little bit today. If we don’t, there’s not really a lot I can do about it.”
While Kenseth hopes to come away from Talladega with the points lead – or at least close enough to still be a contender – others hope the race could turn the standings upside-down.
“Anything can happen any weekend,” said Kurt Busch, who’s seventh in the standings, down by 59 points. “This being Talladega, yes, this one has the most percentage chance of shaking up the standings.
“Anything can happen any weekend with points when there is 43 for a win and one for last place.”
DANICA’S BEST CHANCE: While the rest of the Sprint Cup Series schedule has been a challenge to rookie driver Danica Patrick, she’s shown an ability to adapt quickly to the two restrictor-plate racetracks – Talladega and the Daytona International Speedway.
That makes Sunday’s race her last best chance to win a race this year.
“There is a certain level of it that of course is a little bit of a crapshoot, but there are patterns,” she said. “I would say that one of my patterns is that they tend to be better races for me and that find a way to the front for a majority of the race. Hopefully this will be another one of those and I know that Stewart-Haas builds great speedway cars. I know I feel very comfortable and confident on these tracks.”
Patrick said Friday one of her secrets to success at Talladega and Daytona has been a positive attitude. While everyone else fears a crash, she looks for opportunities to move up front.
“Having a good attitude always helps,” she said. “As I have said before IndyCar racing on mile-and-a-halves was much like this kind of racing. Flat out, close quarters and just trying to do whatever it took to keep the momentum up. I feel like visually it’s very familiar racing to me.”
PIT STOP: As expected, Martin Truex Jr. will announce next week he will drive the No. 78 Chevrolet at Furniture Row Racing next year. He will take over for Kurt Busch, who’s leaving the Chase team for a new ride at Stewart-Haas Racing. Truex was forced out at Michael Waltrip Racing after that team lost primary sponsorship from NAPA after it was caught trying to manipulate the outcome of the Sept. 7 race at the Richmond International Raceway.