Ecstatic Kenseth also finds relief in first win with GibbsBy Kelly Crandall
It took Matt Kenseth just three races to find Victory Lane with his new Joe Gibbs Racing team, but the way he reacted on Sunday one might have thought it was the first time he had won a race in his career.
Kenseth lit up on the radio after taking the checkered flag for the third time in the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas and the 25th time in his career. The win coming by holding off the dominant Kasey Kahne, who had led 114 of the races 267 laps. For Kenseth, it was a matter of putting all the pieces in his new puzzle together as quickly as they could.
“I’m pretty proud to be driving this car. I felt a lot of pressure that I put on myself to come in here and perform,” revealed Kenseth afterwards. “I felt like coming over here and getting to know [crew chief] Jason [Ratcliff], and really everybody in the shop and the organization, it’s just a great feeling about the season.
“We’re only three weeks in, but man, all three races we had a car, if everything would have went right, that could have won, and it feels awesome to have this win here.”
The win wasn’t a surprise for Kenseth and Ratcliff, just how fast they accomplished it was. After starting off Daytona Speedweeks with racecars that were fast enough to win every race they were entered, Kenseth noted that he wasn’t even disappointed to leave Daytona with a DNF because of an engine failure. He was perhaps, or so he guesses, the most enthusiastic person in the organization because he knew that great things were ahead.
Phoenix was more of the same. Kenseth had one of the fastest cars in practice and earned a seventh place finish. Except Ratcliff said in Vegas, they could have won that race had it not been for problems on pit road. So, Sunday, they weren’t about to let it happen again as he called for just fuel only on their final spot and left it to Kenseth to hold off Kahne.
“Three weeks in, I knew this day would come, but to do it just in our third race is really special,” said Ratcliff after the win. “The hard work that these guys have put in over the winter, we’ve just got a great group here and we’ve got Matt and we’re going to win a lot of races, I think.
“He’ll probably get mad at me for saying that because he doesn’t like that. But, I knew that we would get to Victory Lane at some point, and to do it this early in the season is great and I’m looking for to rest of the season.”
Kenseth couldn’t be mad at his crew chief because it was a sentiment that he fully endorsed. After he crossed the finish line for his first win since Kansas last fall with Roush Fenway Racing, he exploded over the radio with happiness. There was the chorus of “yeses!” and “woohoo!” before praising the Lord for putting him in that position.
He even sounded choked up at one point, while telling the team that this win was just the beginning. For a driver that seems to have made a career for being the silent but deadly type, it was quite refreshing to see the raw emotion.
In 2005 he was even featured as a robot in a Nextel commercial because of his lack of emotion and pure business style, though Kenseth has shown more of his humorous side the last few seasons, letting his goofy side come out on camera. Or through social networking sites, specifically Twitter where he has grown a following of over 139,000 and never fails to let the comments fly.
But Sunday night, it was a different kind of emotion. It seemed more honest, open and thankful. There was also a lot of relief, that even though he knew he could win and would, that he did so early. That being the only goal, said Kenseth that he would set for himself entering the season.
“I was pretty comfortable where I was at. We [Roush] had cars that could win races. We had an organization that could win races,” he said about his emotional display after the race.
“Pretty comfortable and although I knew, and I still know it’s not really that much of a risk and I’m one hundred percent sure it was the right thing and all that, there’s still some pressure, there’s some unknowns. I hope to have a lot of wins and hopefully championships in front of me still.
“Before this year I can’t remember the last time I’ve ever been nervous at all inside of a racecar and every week it gets a little bit better. But you’re always a little bit nervous and you want to meet their expectations or exceed them, and you want to go do your job the best of your ability.
“I’m pretty fired up to win with these guys. I hope there’s a lot more in front of us, but just really excited to be part of the organization and part of the family. They’ve made me feel so welcome there and part of that group, and just glad that I was able to do my job today and get the win and hopefully we can keep moving forward.”