Matt Kenseth goes from knocking on the door to kicking it down in TexasBy Kelly Crandall
Kenseth’s victory again ends a drought, a two-year one that goes back to February of 2009 at California when he won the first two races of the season. It was his first of the 2011 season and it came in dominating fashion after leading 169 of 334 laps. He delivers the second win of the season for Roush-Fenway Racing who won with Carl Edwards at Las Vegas early last month. RFR also sweeps Texas with Edwards’ victory Friday night in the Nationwide race and Kenseth’s Cup victory.
For Kenseth the win joins what has already been a great start of a new season. In early February his hometown team, the Green Bay Packers won the Super Bowl. Then a day after the season-opening Daytona 500 wife Katie gave birth to their second daughter, his third child. Now his 76-race streak is history as he moves to third in points.
“Feels good to get back to victory lane for sure,” said Kenseth afterwards. “It’s been a long time. You talk about the second place finishes [four of them] here, and I got beat at the end of a lot of these races. It’s great to finish second if you can’t win. But another way is like getting kicked in the gut. You have to come back. Like last fall you look at Jimmie, and you come back and look at the guys and you’re leading with two to go, three to go, five to go, and you don’t win, it’s always disappointing. So it feels good to have a night like we had tonight with a dominant car and to be able to get the win.”
The win has been in the making. RRF went to work after what can only be described as a rough start to the 2010 season. For drivers like Kenseth it was hard going from a contender to wondering if you were ever going to win a race again. But results started coming. Both Greg Biffle and Edwards found victory lane by seasons end. At the start of the 2011 season Kenseth was right there with them, ready, waiting and working toward his shot.
After a fourth place finish two weeks ago in California crew chief Jimmy Fennig said the 17 team was knocking on the door and would win soon. A week ago in Martinsville they showed their strength by battling back from a lap one penalty after Kenseth was caught changing lanes before the start/finish line. They finished sixth and headed to Texas where Kenseth won in 2002 and finished second last fall.
His qualifying position, fourth, was the first tale Kenseth had a car to keep an eye on. By lap 44 he was leading and wasn’t looking back as five caution flags and different fuel strategies couldn’t keep the Crown Royal team from victory lane and their 19th career win. Kenseth also becomes the all-time lap leader at Texas Motor Speedway and team owner Jack Roush was pleased to sing his praises.
“I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to do in 2011,” said Roush. “You know, we tuned up our engineering program with Ford’s help over the winter and we got a new Ford nose. Everybody got a new nose this year, but our new nose was better than our old nose, I think. And we’ve had our FR9 engine really up to speed. So all of that is going well. I can’t say how proud I am to be here with Matt, realizing that he’s not gotten the success that his effort has deserved in recent past.”
Even with a dominating car Kenseth admitted he was worried because as he knows sometimes the fastest car doesn’t win. With teams like Tony Stewart’s hoping that they could go the distance on fuel mileage it shook up the running order the remaining 100 laps. The strategies of Stewart and Kurt Busch, who led a portion of the race by being on a different pit cycle, might have been the only way Kenseth’s team was derailed as the clean air and starting position led to a convincing victory.
“The car was really good, but starting there made a big difference,” Kenseth said. “If we had started 20th or 24th where I used to qualify all the time, we wouldn’t have led all the laps, obviously. It would have taken us a lot longer to get to the front. Hopefully we would have still gotten to the front. So that was a big advantage. Qualifying is really important with cars, and Jimmy [Fennig] has really turned me into a better qualifier more times than not. We’ve been doing better the last six months than what I used to do.”
Kenseth also noted his starting positions have been improving, which he says is important in the current days of the sport. Normally he’s a driver that would start near the rear of the field but be at the front when the pay window opened. He was the original closer before Kevin Harvick. It’s rare to see a night like Kenseth had in Texas where he could hardly be caught and passed unless on green flag pit stops.
“We’ve had a couple like this, but not a lot,” he said. “Vegas is one that comes to mind, and that was a long time ago. It was, I think ’03, where we felt like we were straightaway ahead all night, and the car was just about perfect. But yeah, you don’t get a lot of days in today’s competition level where you can lead that many laps and dominate a race and get a win.”