Not even the news that Matt Kenseth’s race-winning No. 20 Toyota had failed post-race inspection could spoil the party for Kenseth’s Joe Gibbs Racing team Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
And why should it?
Whatever penalties NASCAR decides to assess the No. 20 team for failing to meet certain specs in the laser inspection station will be inconsequential in the big picture.
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Kenseth won’t lose his race victory. (If you’re late to this party, NASCAR never takes them away in such situations).
And even if NASCAR did, Kenseth already has another win at Dover earlier in the year to fall back on, meaning he’d still make the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs that determine the season’s champion.
With all that in mind, all that really matters for Kenseth and his team is that they continue to build on the momentum that really started to build one week before the win at Dover in mid-May, stalled for a few weeks, and then got another reboot with a strong run at Kentucky before the big win at NHMS.
The key, you see, is to carry it all the way into the 10-race Chase that will start Sept. 18 at Chicagoland Speedway.
Despite the win, Kenseth did not officially clinch his spot in the Chase on Sunday as did JGR teammates Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards. But everyone knows — ensuing penalties notwithstanding — that Kenseth will be in the mix, too. And so will the fourth JGR driver, Denny Hamlin, barring some kind of unforeseen catastrophe over the next seven regular-season races before the Chase cutoff after the Sept.10 race at Richmond.
"That’s what it’s all about. It’s a thrill for us to be in there," team owner Joe Gibbs said after Sunday’s victory. "I think the key is, as you continue to work during the year, try and keep your performance up and try and point toward the playoffs.
"When you get to the playoffs, you never know what’s going to happen because it’s a little three-race playoff. That’s what it is. You take your best shot, but what you want to do is hopefully continue to improve as the year goes along, and that’s kind of our goal."
Kenseth, for his part, insisted that he doesn’t think about the Chase too much at this point in the season. He said he just focuses on each race as it comes.
"I’ve got to be 100 percent honest with you, I haven’t spent two seconds thinking about the Chase. I just haven’t," said Kenseth, who in his last nine races has the two wins and also six finishes of eighth or better overall. "I think these are all big races. I was looking forward to coming here (to New Hampshire) because we’ve ran really well here since I’ve came to Joe Gibbs Racing. It’s been a real turnaround for me. It used to be one of my worst places and now I feel like it’s one of our better places.
"Right now I’m excited about that, and I’m thinking about (this Sunday’s race at) Indy, thinking about going and trying to figure out how to win the Brickyard."
It’s a great approach that has served the 44-year-old Kenseth well throughout a NASCAR career that has stretched across nearly two decades.
He also knows perhaps more than most how to savor victories when they come. So he’s not about to let failing a post-race inspection, and whatever penalty may result from it, spoil the mood too much.
Before he had even learned of the post-race inspection issues Sunday, Kenseth was asked about moving up to eighth in the points standings (which likely won’t hold after penalties are assessed in a day or two). Kenseth’s response was perfect and still fits.
"With this new format and stuff, it doesn’t really matter as long as you’re in that top 16 after Richmond in September," Kenseth said.