June 25, 2014 at 6:05 pm

Matt Kenseth, defending champ at Kentucky, senses urgency to get a win

Matt Kenseth: 'In this new format you really need at least a win and be up in the top 30 to really feel confident about being in the Chase.' (Will Schneekloth / Getty Images)

Matt Kenseth wanted to put a road-course wreck behind him and focus on chasing his first win.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.? He hoped there were no hard feelings for the accident before the Sprint Cup series shifted this weekend to Kentucky Speedway.

Earnhardt blamed himself for an incident that wrecked Kenseth at Sonoma and apologized on the radio. The longtime friends and on-track rivals appeared to smooth any lingering ill feelings about the incident with a chat Tuesday.

Earnhardt, who finished third on the road course, jumped a curb and sent Kenseth’s car into a tire barrier. Kenseth’s race was spoiled and he earned his first DNF of the season.

“I’m sure it was just a mistake,” Kenseth said. “I mean, part of the thing is the way the racing is today, it’s much more entertaining to watch, especially road courses. You’re running side by side with those two-wide restarts, and you run two wide at a track that’s really made to run single file, it’s very small, and there’s really only one good lane through there.”

Kenseth said earlier this week he was surprised he had not heard from Earnhardt following the race. Earnhardt used Twitter to note he finally did chat with Kenseth.

Coming off a seven-win season, Kenseth is winless and is fourth in the points standings, knowing he needs at least one victory to bolster his bid for a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship field. Kenseth is the defending race winner at Kentucky Speedway.

“As far as the urgency to get a win, yeah, you want to get one,” Kenseth said. “In this new format you really need at least a win and be up in the top 30 to really feel confident about being in the Chase.”

Another chance for Castroneves

IndyCar ends a three-week hiatus with a doubleheader weekend at the Grand Prix of Houston.

Last year, a bump on turn one turned the event and points standings upside down. Points leader Helio Castroneves bottomed out in the second race on that turn, destroying his gearbox and ending a weekend that saw his 49-point lead vanish.

Once the bump in the asphalt was discovered, IndyCar was forced to delay track activity and erect a chicane of tires that drivers had to go around during two practice sessions. That worked until Josef Newgarden hit the chicane, knocking it into the path of Castroneves.

Track officials spent all night grinding the bump, but it never solved the problem. And in the second race, three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Dario Franchitti was hurt in a career-ending crash that also injured 13 fans and an IndyCar Series official.

“We surveyed the area in February and established the perimeter of where the bumps were and totally demolished that part of the track and repaved with new concrete,” director of operations Martyn Thake said.

Castroneves returns ready to battle the heat during the new summer date on the schedule and make a run for redemption that can keep him in the hunt for his first championship.

“Last year, I lost the championship because of a doubleheader,” Castroneves said. “Some of it was out of our control. Some of it, I think, couldn’t be avoided. To have that kind of scenario was very frustrating. The series made some adjustments on the racetrack with the big bump that caused some controversy. If anything happens, I hope it’s better than last year.”

Short field

SHORT FIELD: The No. 77 car owned by Randy Humphrey will sit out this weekend’s NASCAR race at Kentucky, leaving the entry list at 42, one car shy of a full field.

This would mark the first time since the November 2001 race at New Hampshire that NASCAR ran a Sprint Cup race without the full 43-car field. Dave Blaney made four starts in the No. 77 this season.