Kenseth soaring into Chase after Bristol victory
Matt Kenseth had old tires, a sputtering gas tank and Kasey
Kahne in his rearview mirror in the closing laps of a race for the
third time this season.
The result was the same as it was in Las Vegas, same as it was
Kenseth won again.
He held off Kahne on Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway –
the third time this season the two have gone 1-2 – to reclaim some
of the momentum that had escaped Kenseth of late. A strong start to
the season had given Kenseth three wins in his first 11 races with
Joe Gibbs Racing, and win number four came six weeks later. But
he’d been in a slump of sorts heading into Bristol, with four
finishes in the last six weeks of 15th or worse.
The strong start followed by a mini-slump has made the year feel
very choppy for Kenseth, who now has a Sprint Cup Series best five
”I think if you look at the beginning of the season, I think it
was better than I ever could have dreamed of,” Kenseth said. ”We
were qualifying up front every week, we were leading tons of laps
in position to win races. Sitting here in August, it feels like the
year has been two years long with all the different things we’ve
had happen to our race team.
”The last month and a half, two months has been, I hate to say
reality check because I hope this is reality all the time, but
we’ve struggled just a little bit more, haven’t quite had the
speed. It’s been a little bit more of a struggle.”
It didn’t seem like a struggle Saturday night as Kenseth led a
race-high 149 laps then held off Kahne over a white-knuckled push
to the checkered flag.
Kahne first chased down Juan Pablo Montoya for second place,
passing him with 17 laps to go before setting his sights on
Kenseth. Although Kahne, winner of the spring race at Bristol, has
two wins on the season, his place in the 12-driver Chase for the
Sprint Cup championship field isn’t a lock and a win Saturday night
would have cemented his berth.
So he stalked Kenseth, who inadvertently wrecked him at Watkins
Glen earlier this month to send Kahne over the edge. It was the
fourth time this season a JGR driver had wrecked Kahne – Kyle Busch
was the villain three previous times – and Kahne posted on Twitter
he was headed to JGR headquarters to speak to whomever would come
Now with a chance to right all those wrongs in front of him, he
stalked Kenseth for at least a dozen laps around Bristol.
Whatever happened was out of Kenseth’s control.
”It was all about the windshield. I never even looked back,”
he said. ”The thing is, you can’t race any different. If someone
decides to run into the back of you or whatever, it’s going to
happen. There wasn’t really anything I could do differently to
guard against anything or change my line or take his away because
there was only one lane where my car ran good, so I just really had
to look out the windshield and try to hit the marks the best I
”There wasn’t a lot of extra room there, it was an intense
race. Kasey has got a great reputation. He’s a really hard racer,
really talented, and he’s also a really fair racer, as well. I was
expecting it to be about like it was, but I really thought he was
going to pass me. I thought he had a good enough car to get around
me there and we had just enough to hang on.”
In the end, Kahne raced by the book, did nothing dirty and wound
up second. He wasn’t very happy with himself, either.
”I was trying to get there,” said Kahne. ”I would have
wrecked probably both of us. It would have just been a wreck. I
just tried to pass him as clean as I could, and race him as hard as
I could. I thought I had him at one point. I had a good run. I
tried to slide across him, but he just kept position. We were
rubbing all the way down turn four. I just didn’t clear him. I just
didn’t get it done and I’m upset with myself for not figuring out
how to win because I clearly had a better car at the end of the
It was Kenseth who got the win, plus the bonus points for Chase
seeding, and as it stands now he’d be the top seed over five-time
champion Jimmie Johnson when the Chase begins Sept. 15 at Chicago.
Even if Kahne had pulled out the win, Kenseth still would have felt
pretty good about his championship chances based on his Bristol
”I’m not always a huge believer in momentum as far as just
looking at paper and looking at finishes, but I am a believer in
momentum as far as performance,” he said. ”I think this weekend
was huge for us. Even if we would have ran second and got beat at
the end, I think it would have been a very encouraging weekend. It
would have been a shot in our arm, like man, we had all our speed
back. We led some laps. The next 12 weeks are the most important 12
weeks of the season.”