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Kenseth holds points lead as 500th start looms

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LOUDON, N.H. (AP) - Matt Kenseth starts No. 500 all alone at No. 1.

Kenseth makes his 500th career Cup race Sunday at New Hampshire as the points leader with nine races left in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

While NASCAR has been smacked with scandal, Kenseth has quietly gone under the radar doing what he does best: winning races.

Kenseth has a series-high six wins after taking the Chase opener last week at Chicagoland and holds an eight-point lead over Kyle Busch. Kenseth, the 2003 champion, became only the second No. 1 seed to win the Chase opener.

He has a bigger feat in mind. Kenseth could join Terry Labonte as the only driver to go a decade or more between his first and second championships. Labonte won his first in 1984 and second in 1996.

History could be on Kenseth's side. Since Chicagoland became the site of the first Chase race, the winner has gone on to win the championship (Tony Stewart in 2011; Brad Keselowski in 2012).

Kenseth and Busch are teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing, making that organization, and not powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports, the one to beat over the final nine.

"I don't think it matters if anybody thinks you're the favorite or if you're the underdog," Kenseth said. "At the end of Homestead, it just matters who has more points."

Kenseth starts ninth in Sunday's race. Fellow Chase driver Ryan Newman sits on the pole.

It'll be easy to spot Kenseth's No. 20 Toyota on race day. It's the car with the massive "500th Start" logo plastered on the front of the hood.

"I didn't really even know they were doing it, so that's pretty cool," he said. "I would rather count wins than starts, but it is cool. It's amazing how fast time goes by and I'm proud to have been able to be here that long."

For those counting wins, Kenseth has 30 in 499 starts, with 133 top fives and 242 top 10s. He has 10 poles and led 142,779 laps.

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