Matt Kenseth, Kasey Kahne head to New Hampshire with futures uncertain
Veteran NASCAR driver Matt Kenseth will climb inside his car with defined objectives for Sunday’s Cup series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Winning and advancing to the second round of the playoffs top of the agenda for Kenseth, who’s soon to be a free agent. Auditioning for a new ride in 2018 is a low priority.
“I have been doing this for a long time and I don’t feel like I have to audition for anybody,” said Kenseth. “I really don’t feel like that, and that is not what is on my mind when I’m at the race track.
“I’m focused on the task at hand.”
Kenseth, 45, and Kasey Kahne, 37, will become free agents at the end of the season after successful runs with their respective teams.
Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion, joined Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013 and was a member of the 2015 “super team” that included Cup winner Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Carl Edwards.
Kahne signed with Hendrick Motorsports in 2012 and became an accomplished teammate to seven-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.
“I think I have some things kind of set for 2018 already and I can worry about the future (later),” said Kahne. “The way that these 10 Cup races go is a part of my future and how I will do in the future.”
Hendrick Motorsports, Joe Gibbs Racing and Penske Racing are the top teams in the NASCAR hierarchy. When a driver shakeup happens at the top end it creates opportunities for younger drivers like Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon and Chase Elliot, who currently drives for Hendrick.
“It’s an opportunity and guys can’t drive forever and at some point you have to move on,” said Elliot. “Some of them have been doing it for years.”
Kenseth has been Gibbs’ most successful driver at NHMS in the last four years and he hopes to exit the final playoff race on the Magic Mile with a win. Speedway Motorsports, the owner-operators of NHMS, will move the September race to its Las Vegas venue next year, while New Hampshire retains its July NASCAR date.
Kenseth won the 2013 and 2015 September playoff races and took the checkered flag in the July race in 2016. Kenseth was runner-up last fall and placed fourth in the July races in 2014 and 2017.
“I’ve had fast race cars and (crew chief) Jason (Ratcliff) has done a good job up there giving me good cars and making good adjustments that I normally need in the race,” said Kenseth.
“I had some wins there and lost some close ones and I thought the one in the summer we should have won. But we have fast race cars and we always go up there with a lot of confidence and I look forward to getting there.”
Kahne’s record at NHMS doesn’t match Kenseth but he has enjoyed a measure of success. Kahne took the checkered flag in the summer race in 2012 in his first year with Hendricks Motorsports and has three top 10 finishes.
“New Hampshire is a tough track,” said Kahne. “It’s a flat track where the cars handle really well and strategy and track position are big keys.
“Qualifying for that track position and keeping up front is important. I like coming up to New Hampshire, I like the country up there.”
The Cup playoffs opened last Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway. Kenseth placed 10th while Kahne finished 21st, a disappointing run that had ramifications. Hendrick management sacked Kahne’s long time crew chief Keith Rodden. He was replaced by veteran Darian Grubb.