Matt Kenseth feels as good in a car at 43 as he has at any time in his career
BRISTOL, Tenn. – Matt Kenseth is just a year younger than Jeff Gordon, who has already said he'll retire at the end of this season.
The 43-year-old former champion won't use Gordon's exit as a reason to consider his own future in NASCAR. He's got no plans to get out of the race car anytime soon and hopes his pole-winning run at Bristol Motor Speedway will lead to the end of a 51-race winless streak.
Asked if Gordon's decision has led him to ponder retirement, Kenseth said he hasn't given the subject any thought.
"I feel as good as I did 10 years ago, and I'd like to say that I do as good or better job behind the wheel than I did then," said Kenseth, who starts first Sunday. "Jeff got to that point where he knew that it was time to go do something else, and it doesn't seem like he has any doubts about that.
"The fortunate few who can keep jobs and keep running, and don't just fade out because they can't get a competitive job anymore, can decide when that happens. I hope I'm fortunate enough to be one of those guys."
Kenseth, a two-time Daytona 500 winner and the 2003 Cup champion, had a resurgence with his 2013 move to Joe Gibbs Racing. He won seven races that year and took Jimmie Johnson down to the wire before losing the championship race.
He went winless last year, but he has been inching toward victory lane this season. Kenseth was likely headed to a win last month at California until a late debris caution ruined his day.
But qualifying has been much improved, and his pole-winning run at Bristol marked the fourth time in eight races that Kenseth has qualified ninth or better. He was discouraged by an off day last weekend at Texas but is hoping he can earn his fourth career Bristol victory Sunday.
Kenseth should be buoyed by the speed from Joe Gibbs Racing, which advanced all four of its cars into the final round of qualifying for the first time Friday.
Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin will all start inside the top five, while David Ragan, the replacement driver for Kyle Busch, will start 11th.
Some other things going on at Bristol:
LAMBERT RETURNS: Luke Lambert was back at the track Saturday as crew chief for Ryan Newman. He's allowed to work because Richard Childress Racing is asking NASCAR's final appeals officer to take another look at penalties levied against the team for allegedly bleeding tires last month at California.
Among the sanctions the team received were six-week suspensions for Lambert and two other crew members, but with Friday's decision to go to final appeal, the suspensions have been deferred. Lambert arrived at the track after missing one practice session and qualifying.
Newman qualified 18th with interim crew chief Todd Parrott. He was 20th in Saturday's first practice, and 14th in the final session.
FINAL PRACTICE: Kurt Busch prevented Kasey Kahne from closing out all three Bristol practice sessions as the fastest driver. Busch ran 100 laps in Saturday's final practice and topped the leaderboard with a lap at 127.554 mph early in the session. No one bumped him during the practice session.
Since returning from a three-race suspension a month ago, Busch has been consistently good. He won two poles, grabbed two top fives, hasn't finished lower than 14th in his four races back and has led 131 laps. A five-time Bristol winner, he's tied with Jeff Gordon and brother Kyle for most wins among active drivers. But Busch's last victory at Bristol was in 2006.
QUICK KAHNE: Kahne will try for his first win of the season Sunday when he starts eighth at Bristol. The Hendrick Motorsports driver has been consistently fast all weekend and led two of the three practice sessions. He wound up second to Kurt Busch on the leaderboard in Saturday's final practice.
Kahne, who won this race in 2013, led his first laps of the season in the last two races and has not finished lower than 17th this year.