Now, if he can only figure out these green-white-checkered finishes.
After years of coming to Talladega Superspeedway with a variety of strategies and winding up stuck in the back or worse, Kenseth has the simplest of plans for Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 500.
No plan at all.
“I’ve never really had much success making too much of a plan,” Kenseth said Friday before the afternoon practice session. “It seems like you just kind of try to do what comes natural.
“Every time I’ve really sat down and tried to make a huge plan going into this race it’s never really worked work out very well for me.”
The plans for the other tracks have worked for him pretty well so far.
Last year’s race winner goes into Sunday’s race sitting atop the Sprint Cup standings, although the margin is as tight as the space between cars racing four-wide in the front stretch.
Despite seven wins and 17 top 10s – six in his last eight races, including three wins -- Kenseth leads by only four points over Jimmie Johnson and has three other drivers within 37 points. It’s far enough ahead for him to be confident as the series leader, but tight enough to realize he has the most to lose going into this whitest knuckle weekend where fortunes truly rise and fall, when one catches the Big One.
“Certainly, I realize today that we’re the point leader and pretty close to being tied with the 48 (Johnson), and if you have a bad week any week that’s going to hurt and 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,” he said. “I don’t think you want to give up any race. I don’t think you want to have a bad finish anywhere. I don’t really want to be careful and finish 15th anywhere."
Kenseth said a driver eventually has to go to the front.
“I still feel like all the fans pay a lot of money and watch on TV to see a race and I always like to go race," he said. "I don’t know what good it’s going to do me to be freaked out about it right now. Just like every week you go and try to do the best job you can do controlling the things you can control and not worrying about the things you can’t.”
He didn’t always look at it that way. There were a lot of times he came to Talladega when he thought of just surviving the wreck. Then his speedway car had gotten strong enough he finally could be a contender.
In the 2012 Aaron’s 499, he led the start of a green-white-checkered finish, but put too much room between himself and drafting partner Greg Biffle, which opened the door for Brad Keselowski’s win.
Last fall, he made all the right moves. He passed Tony Stewart on the final lap after a green-white-checkered restart to win the Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500. In May, he led a race-high 142 laps -- 101 of the first 125 laps -- and was at the front of another green-white-checkered finish but couldn’t defend his position and finished eighth.
“Before last year, I hadn’t really had that opportunity … to feel like we’re fast enough to do the right moves or do the right things; that probably changes your outlook a little bit,” he said. “If you go through a few plate races and have trouble and get caught up in all the wrecks I’m sure your view changes.”
Kenseth has had it pretty good around here the last two years. He has been in the top 10 each of his last three races – third, first, eighth – after 10 straight finishes no better than 14th (six of 24th or worse).
It’s similar to a run he had in 2005-06 when he had three straight top 10s – third, sixth, fourth – after only three in the previous 11 Talladega starts.
Don’t ask him if they feel the same. It might as well be ancient history.
“I can’t hardly remember the spring race,” he said. “When you go somewhere and things have been going well, it’s easy to feel good about going there and having a good attitude, and vice versa. When you go somewhere and just keep having trouble and keep getting caught in the wrecks it’s easy to come with a bad attitude.
“I think you’ve just got to come with an open mind, hope your car’s fast, hopefully you can stay up front and stay out of trouble, and if it’s not, hope circumstances work out and you get in the right place and get with the right cars to get up there and get a finish.”
Al Muskewitz is a sports writer for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3577.