Challenges met: Kenseth overcomes problems, looks to faster future

Matt Kenseth (left) says he thinks crew chief Jason Ratcliff (right) and he are starting to hit on ways to help him go faster in his No. 20 Toyota.

Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

Matt Kenseth’s Saturday at Kentucky Speedway got off to a great start, as the former series champion announced a contract extension with Joe Gibbs Racing. Once the race started, however, the night proved to be quie a bit more challenging.

Starting 14th, Kenseth used a two-tire pit stop under the first caution of the night on Lap 30 to make his way into the top 10.

As tire failures came into play in the early stages of the race, the first of which claimed Kenseth’s teammate Denny Hamlin, Kenseth became the third victim of the night on Lap 120 while running sixth.

Unlike Hamlin and rookie Kyle Larson, Kenseth was able to save the car and keep it off the wall and out of the garage.

When the caution flew on Lap 127, Kenseth was able to take the wave-around and get back on the lead lap. Just as things were looking up for the No. 20 team, Kenseth was hit with a pit-road speeding penalty on Lap 154 and restarted the race 25th.

Hurts so good: Keselowski bloodies his hand during Kentucky victory celebration

Using a bit of strategy to make up for the mistake on pit road, Kenseth and crew chief Jason Ratcliff opted to stay out when the field hit pit road under the next caution on Lap 177.

Continually adjusting on the car, Kenseth was able to work his way to fourth by the time the checkered flag fell for race winner Brad Keselowski.

Scoring his first top-five finish since Dover, Kenseth still said he was pleased with the turn-around in the team’s performance all weekend.

"I feel like we’re gaining on it," Kenseth said. "I felt like overall it was a positive weekend. We were pretty quick (in practice on Friday) and I didn’t get a good lap qualifying, but I thought we had a pretty good car. We were pretty competitive most of the night tonight. With this aero package, it’s so hard to pass and you get behind and you really can’t go anywhere. You have about four laps after a restart and that’s pretty much all the passing you can get done. They had a great stop and got me good track position and I was able to get up two or three spots for the restart and hang onto fourth."

Still winless so far in 2014, Kenseth continues to face questions about when the No. 20 team will make it back to Victory Lane, but is headed to Daytona International Speedway, a track where he has two wins, six top-fives and 14 top-10s.