Sometimes finishing second in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race is cause to celebrate, or at least feel satisfied.
Doing so Sunday in the second race of the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was not one of those times for Matt Kenseth.
Kenseth, who led more than a third of the 300-lap race, seemed in position to cruise to the victory when the final caution flag of the day flew following late spins by the cars of Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Reed Sorenson.
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For the ensuing restart — the final one of the day with just six laps remaining — Kenseth lined up on the outside as the leader and the control car in his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. Kevin Harvick lined up alongside him on the inside of the front row in his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet.
As they hit the restart zone, Harvick got the jump on Kenseth that enabled him to pass the No. 20 car for the lead and, ultimately, the win.
Kenseth blamed no one but himself.
"I just didn’t do a good job on that last restart and Kevin did a better job than I did there," Kenseth said. "He was laying back just a little bit, which you should do to try to get a run, and I spun the tires in the restart box a little bit. And once he got alongside of me through (Turns) 1 and 2 it was pretty much over."
Kenseth said he spent so much of his car’s resources holding off the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Toyota of Martin Truex Jr. in the laps leading up to the end that he had little left to try and catch Harvick.
"I used up pretty much everything I had holding Martin off," said Kenseth, whose 105 laps led were second on the day only to the 141 led by Truex. "I’m just disappointed we didn’t come home with it."
Kenseth was especially disappointed because he knew what was at stake. A win would have meant automatic advancement out of the first round of the Chase playoffs, which conclude with next Sunday’s race at Dover.
With the second-place finish, Kenseth is still in good shape to advance to the Round of 12 in the Chase. He sits in fourth heading to Dover with 2,078 points, 21 in front of Kyle Larson in 12th and a seemingly comfortable 26 in front of Jamie McMurray, who in 13th is the first driver on the outside of the Chase bubble looking in.
Kenseth is a smart guy. He realizes all that, and he knows the speed he and crew chief Jason Ratcliff have been able to conjure up in their car all season make him a contender for the championship. They’ve won two races this season, sweeping the spring races at New Hampshire and Dover.
But he also knows how important it is to finish off races, and how his third win of the season would have removed absolutely all possibility of anything crazy happening at Dover that could cost him advancement into the next Chase round.
"You never know what’s going to happen in these races," Kenseth said. "You never know where you’re going to finish. But certainly I feel like as a group our performance has been really, really strong all year. You know, we’ve just got to execute and get the finishes, try to finish as good as we’re running."
And in his mind, that didn’t happen Sunday at New Hampshire because he messed up on the final restart.
"I felt great about my positioning, felt good about my chances on that last restart, and I just totally didn’t get it done, which is disappointing," Kenseth said.