DW: Kenseth earned win at Dover the hard way
A number of years ago the FOX NASCAR portion of the broadcast season would end for us in Dover in late May or early June. The catch-phrase you would always hear us use was "It's over in Dover." After last Sunday's race, I think Matt Kenseth is saying that same thing to himself. For him it was finally over in Dover and I mean that in a real positive way.
Matt finally seemed to get what had to feel like an 800-pound gorilla off his back. He's had the car to beat on a number of occasions but something would always happen to keep him from winning. Up until Sunday his finishing positions really weren't a reflection of how well that No. 20 car has been running.
It seemed like maybe things were finally starting two weeks ago with his top 5 at Kansas. Then he led the last forty-seven laps to win at Dover on Sunday. Trust me though, it wasn't easy. In fact, crew chief Jason Ratcliff summed it up the best when he radioed Matt and said "You definitely earned that one, brother!".
Now I have been going to Dover for a lot of years and Sunday's race was probably the wildest one I have ever witnessed there. We literally saw everything. We had all kinds of bizarre things happen that you don't normally see happen at a one-mile race track. Who would ever expect the "Big One" at Dover? Well we saw it happen. The finish of the race though was simply the cherry on top to a great day.
To watch Matt Kenseth, on old tires, hold off those two youngsters Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott who were on fresher tires was one for the ages. Lap after lap it went on and the thing I really respected was the fact they didn't have to wreck each other to decide the winner. I was holding my breath because at times Kyle was under Matt, he was all over him but he raced Matt clean and didn't stick him in the fence to win like we've seen others do.
Kyle said after the race "I didn't want to do anything dirt. I respect Matt Kenseth a lot. He's definitely in my eyes the cleanest racer out there. He always races me with respect. I try to do the same with him." I think that says a lot about Kyle Larson.
I've always liked that kid Larson. We all know he has a boatload of talent and continually wonder when he is going to win his first race. Well it could easy have happened Sunday if he had wanted to punt Matt out of the way, but he didn't race him like that. The kid had a lot of options to move Matt, but he respected the leader and raced Matt clean.
Kyle actually led the second most laps of any driver Sunday with 85. I've been hearing for the last couple weeks that crew chief Chad Johnston has finally been able to get cars built the way he wants them and I think Sunday we saw the dividends starting to pay off. Sunday was only Kyle's 2nd top 5 and 3rd top 10 finish of the season, but something tells me that No. 42 has turned a corner and I expect to see them continue to improve and maybe finally that kid will get the first NASCAR Sprint Cup win of his career.
We all know Matt Kenseth is calm, cool and collected for the most part. Only occasionally will you see him loose control. I think what happened last year between he and Joey Logano, then the two race suspension and then this feud with Joey which has carried over to a certain point into this season, might have played a bigger role in Matt's struggles in 2016 than people want to admit.
As a driver when things start going against you it starts to play on your mind. Matt has said he and Joey talked a couple weeks ago and buried their differences. I find it ironic that after that talk, Matt got a top 5 finish and Kansas and then Sunday found him in Victory Lane for the first time in quite a while.
Last Sunday marked Matt's 3rd win at Dover and the thirty-seventh of his Sprint Cup career. He moved up two spots to twelfth in the points but even more importantly he has locked himself into the 2016 Chase. The other thing that Matt really has to feel good about is that he finally has joined his 3 other teammates in the win column. Matt becomes the 7th different winner this year but here's the truly amazing part. In the twelve races this year, Matt along with his teammates Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin have won seven of them.
Last week I talked about the Toyota dominance and it continued Sunday. Matt will be the first to tell you he didn't have the best car at Dover, but when it came down to it, the veteran on old tires was able to hold off the two young kids on new tires. Kevin Harvick actually was the one to beat. He led one hundred and seventeen of five hundred laps, but once again had issues in the pits. That seems to be a continuing problem with the No. 4 car so I'm curious to see what Kevin and crew chief Rodney Childers do to rectify that.
So now we are here at Charlotte for the next two weekends. Saturday night will be our All- Star Race. There's some tweaks to the format which should make for some very exciting racing. I think it's going to be wild and crazy especially when we get to that last thirteen lap segment with some drivers on old tires starting up front and a number of drivers on new tires starting in the rear. You'll see these teams bring the best of their best to the track these next two weekends. Not only is there a million dollars up for grabs for the winner Saturday night, but this is basically two weeks of racing at your home track and there's a lot to be said about bragging rights.
These drivers and teams get to sleep in their own beds for two weeks. They get to bring their family and friends to the track where normally they don't have that luxury on the road. The guys in the shop who rarely get to attend a race finally get to be there, so it's a really big deal to all these teams. Trust me, you want to go in there and kick everybody's butt these next two weekends.
I know I am jumping ahead a bit but next weekend is the greatest racing of the year by far in my book. It's Memorial Day weekend when we honor all those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to keep us free and on Sunday May 29th we have racing like no other. It all starts with the F1 race in Monaco, followed by the Indianapolis 500 and the day is capped off with NASCAR's longest race of the year, the Coca Cola 600. As I like to always say, we have breakfast in Monaco, lunch at Indy and dinner at Charlotte. They call it the "Ten Days of Thunder in Charlotte" and I guarantee you it's going to rattle some cages.