Kenseth proves he's still a winner
Matt Kenseth schooled the Sprint Cup field at Texas Motor Speedway.
“That was a clinic,” Kenseth’s spotter Mike Calinoff said after his boss took the checkered flag.
Kenseth’s second victory at Texas — his 19th career Sprint Cup Series win — ended a 76-race losing streak dating back more than two years.
And his immediate response was gracious.
“Thank you guys, thank you so much,” Kenseth said over the radio. “That’s the best we’ll ever be able to do.”
Saturday’s win wasn’t necessarily flashy, but it was smooth — just like the cat behind the wheel.
Kenseth dominated the race by leading 169 of 334 laps — 61 more circuits than he led all of last year combined. While the No. 17 pit crew executed solid stops which allowed Kenseth to stay up front throughout the evening, the driver provided solid direction and feedback from the cockpit as the track changed dramatically from a 90-degree day into a cool night.
On the final circuit of the race, Kenseth extended his lead over Clint Bowyer by a remarkable 8.3 seconds with just 12 cars remaining on the same lap. Not only did the performance help bolster Kenseth’s confidence, the win enabled him to vault six positions to third in the championship standings.
“I felt better the last six months, and things have been looking up,” Kenseth said. “The previous 12 months before that were frustrating for me and as you get older and aren’t putting up the results — and it had been two years since we won — you can’t help but think if this is the way it is going to go. Are we going to keep trickling backwards? You keep working at it, and hopefully you have more chances to win.
“This gives us a lot of confidence, and it is a big relief. It has been a long time, and we have been having fun at the race track the last couple months of last year and this year. It feels like we are back in contending form.”
As expected, the Roush Fenway Racing organization brought hotrods to the Lone Star State. With David Ragan winning the pole, three of the four Fords qualifying in the top four and Greg Biffle starting ninth, chances were strong one of Jack Roush’s cars would be in Victory Lane.
Carl Edwards and Biffle finished third and fourth, respectively, and Ragan (seventh) had his second consecutive top-10 showing. It was a banner performance by Ford with sixth-place Marcos Ambrose accounting for the fifth Ford among the top seven finishers.
Jack Roush said he’s “really proud” of the organization’s accomplishments this season, particularly that of the No. 17 team.
“We tuned up our engine with Ford’s help over the winter and got a new Ford nose. Everybody got a new nose this year, but our new nose is better than our old nose and we have our FR9 engine up to speed,” Roush said. “All of that is going well. I can’t say how proud I am to be here with Matt, realizing he has not gotten the success that his effort has deserved.
“Jimmie Fennig is a great success story. He is our oldest crew chief. He has been with us longer than anybody else and has worked with a lot of different drivers. He and Matt are as good a combo that I have experienced in my 24 years here.”
At 39, Kenseth is a long way from the moniker “Matt the Brat” he acquired as he kicked veteran tail on short tracks around the Midwest. Maybe now we should refer to the former Cup champ as “The Professor.”
Clint Bowyer led 44 laps Saturday night, but it was a miraculous save on Lap 248 of 334 that enabled him to content for a second-place finish.
Bowyer was leading the race when he hit traffic — both figuratively and literally, in the case of the lapped car of Brian Vickers. He described the incident with the No. 83 car as simply “big.”
“I had a run and it was important to get around those guys (lapped cars) as soon as you got to them,” Bowyer said. “They just slowed you down so much. It took me a couple of laps and I slowed down five-tenths (of a second). (Kenseth) was starting to catch me. I just forced the issue a little too much, got loose underneath, having got into him and almost ruined the night.
“Did you see that? It was dirt tracking at its best in the middle of the straightaway. Not supposed to do that.”
Bowyer collected his car and remained in striking distance to finish second, his first top-five finish of 2011. With an average finish of sixth in the last three races, he’s elevated his position from 24th to 12th in the point standings.
Up in smoke?
Tony Stewart’s misfortunes continued in Texas following a miserable showing at Martinsville Speedway.
Just 10 laps into Saturday night’s Samsung Mobile 500, Stewart had a pit road mishap with Dave Blaney, damaging the front end of his vehicle.
The No.14 crew did its job, getting the car in good enough shape that Stewart could keep pace with the leaders, which combined with sound pit strategy, let him lead 12 laps and put him in contention to win with the laps winding down.
Then the wheels fell off.
During his last pit stop on Lap 276, he was penalized for speeding entering pit road, dropping him to 16th. Again he battled back and came close to finishing third overall, only to run out of gas on the final lap of the race.
Stewart salvaged a 12th-place showing, managed to remain on the lead lap and moved up one position to 10th in the point standings.
669 — Matt Kenseth’s career laps led total at Texas Motor Speedway, the most of any Sprint Cup competitor.
6 — Different winners in seven Sprint Cup races this season.
5 — Top-10 finishes by Carl Edwards, Kyle Busch and Kurt Busch.