Matt Kenseth knows how to get there and has the team behind him to do it.Ã‚Â That’s the message they seemed to deliver by putting the #17 in Victory Lane and making big gains in the points standings from 5th to 3rd and only 7 points behind the leader, his teammate Carl Edwards.Ã‚Â In a race where he was looking like an also ran, Kenseth managed to out pace Kyle Busch and take advantage of Tony Stewart’s 2 pit road mishaps when Stewart got stuck on pit road as the caution came out and had to take the wave around to get back on the lead lap.Ã‚Â By far Kenseth did not have the dominant car all day, but with crew chief Jimmy Fennig at the helm, the correct changes were made so that when it came to the end Matt had what he needed to win underneath him.
“After all the toilet jokes about my restarts, we finally got a good one today,” said Kenseth, about his final restart on Lap 323 of 334. “Thankfully, we got a good one there at the end.
“Crown Royal — it’s not too late to come back. We don’t have any sponsors for next year, so this should be a good audition. And Fluidmaster for being on this week — it was a great night for us.” added Kenseth, in reference to his lack of sponsorship for the 2012 season.
Now Kenseth already has a championship under his belt (2003)Ã‚Â and knows about dealing with the pressure of being a contender, but this Chase season is about more than wins and a trophy.Ã‚Â Matt is the only Roush driver that does not have a sponsor signed for next year.Ã‚Â He does however have the word of Jack Roush that his ride will run no matter what in the 2012 season.Ã‚Â I still find it ridiculous that a driver with his resume has to audition for sponsors for his car, especially this late in the season.Ã‚Â None of that seems to get under Kenseth’s skin however and his drive and focus when on the track is just as determined as ever when he’s racing for the win.
Being 3rd in points is a big change from the past few seasons at this point in the chase, but Kenseth takes it all in stride.Ã‚Â One of the most understated people about his emotions, Kenseth delivers his thought in his usual layed back manor.
“That’s good, but it only matters where you are in the last lap at Homestead. But it’s been a great five races, and it feels great to win.”
Kyle Busch tried every trick in his bag to catch up to Kenseth but It’s hard to catch the leader when you are racing for position behind him.Ã‚Â Busch and Edwards raced each other really hard and at one point it looked like Busch was trying to wreck Edwards, and while Edwards view of the incident was different, Busch tells his side of the deal in his own words.
“Certainly it’s a tight race and Carl got a good run through the turn and got up to my left rear quarter panel,” Busch said. “Typically that gets you a little loose, and my car got loose and it started moving out a little bit and I just held the wheel straight and it was essentially staying, steering almost downhill.
“It did not get sideways, like really loose, that I about wrecked. It just started steering and kind of freewheeling, so I just let it go. I ran [Edwards] a little tight. Essentially it made me run him a little tight out there on 2 and I just hugged on his door down the stretch to kind of side-draft him to keep him alongside of me to give me another chance at redeeming myself through 3 and 4 and getting back by him and it worked out.
“There was no malicious intent involved to cause anything or to hurt his chances at finishing second or anything. So it was just a product of what we had at the end going for everything we could and trying to come home second.”
Edwards initial reaction over the radio shows how intense the emotions are with these guys as they are out there racing for more than just a win.Ã‚Â In a points system where every point can mean the difference in position, especially when the race is the tightest chase ever, drivers are doing everything they can for position.
“I should’ve wrecked that 18 [Busch] — that wasn’t normal,” said Edwards to his spotter.Ã‚Â “Next time I’ll just wreck him.”
His post race interviews were more tempered after he spoke with Busch on Pit Road immediately after teh race.
“We should definitely be racing each other hard, it’s just that there’s a difference between racing hard and then cutting across the guy’s nose,” Edwards said. “What I told Kyle is I just wonder why coming off of Turn 2, when I got underneath him that he drove down instead of going up to the wall like we would normally do. And I just let him know that next time that happens I’ll just stay where I’m at and he can drive across my hood and wreck himself.”
“It just surprised me. Now, he told me that he didn’t mean to do it, and so I got to believe that. But I don’t know what else there is to say about it. It’s just racing, and we didn’t wreck and we are going to race hard like that. That’s just how I saw it.”
Edwards certainly has not counted out Johnson, even after a huge points loss day after Johnson hit the wall hard late in the race.
“Well, it can happen to any of us, so obviously the more points we can get on the guys in the Chase, the better,” Edwards said. “So [Johnson] could go on a tear and be leading the points in three or four weeks. And that could happen, too, so I don’t count him out.”
The biggest loser in the race was Johnson, who was running near the front for most of the second half of the race but ended with a 34th place finish after his crash.Ã‚Â The wreck dropped him from 3rd to 8th in the standings.
“That one stung for sure,” Johnson said after he was released from the infield care center. “I’m just thankful to have safe race cars, safe walls, softer walls. Everything did its job. It was a pretty big impact.
“It’s unfortunate that we wrecked. We got into Turn 1 and the 39 [of Newman] was real tight on my outside and pulled me around. From there, I was just hanging on.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. had another run of bad luck.Ã‚Â Running in a car that had been at least a top 10 car all day, an early pit stop spelled out disaster as Jr was caught in the pits when Trevor Bayne ran out of gas and brought out a caution, trapping Earnhardt Jr. on pit road and dropping him down 2 laps.
“We were sitting out there racing those guys that finished around 10th and pitted early, trying to gain a little ground on the leader that was coming to lap us. And the caution came out and trapped us down a couple laps,” he said. “We got a couple wave-arounds and then had a loose wheel that cost us another lap. We just have to correct some of those mistakes. I can’t fault Steve for trying to pit early, and do what he thought was right with the strategy. I thought that was a good call, just un-lucky that the No. 21 ran out of gas or whatever happened to him [to bring out the caution].”
Earnhardt managed to achieve the best finish out of all the HMS (Hendrick Motor Sport) cars but it was not a flawless run for the pit crew.
“The loose-wheel stuff we just need to work on. I have a lot of faith in my guys. They will get it right; I believe in them. Not everybody is perfect and we will get that sorted out. I’m sure they will fight back next week and have a good week. We just had a couple of little circumstances like that, and that cost us a shot at finishing in the top 10.”
“You want to finish as high as you can in the points, no matter where that is,” said Earnhardt, who remained ninth in the Chase standings but fell from 43 points off the lead to 60. “You want to do as best as you can. We’re not doing the best we can and it’s just disappointing and frustrating. But I don’t think we need to make any changes on the team. I believe in these guys and every time I come down pit road I’m excited about the group that’s going to put some tires on my car. We just made a mistake and I’m sure [crew chief Steve Letarte] won’t let that happen again.”
“Everybody knows how critical it is in this sport and there’s a guy right behind you that is ready to take your spot who is waiting on you to make that mistake. You can’t make it too many times before somebody will come in there and fill your place. That’s really all Steve’s call and decision and how he’ll handle it. I understand that everyone is human, but I’m pretty upset that we’re just not capitalizing on opportunities. We should finish in the top 10 every single week. We’re either beating ourselves or making mistakes or circumstances just aren’t happening for us. We can’t seem to really put together a clean race.”
Tony Stewart suffered the worst heartache having started from the pole and leading throughout the first half of the race, but getting caught on pit road in the same fashion as Dale Earnhardt Jr. did left him in the mid field unable to pass.Ã‚Â He managed to get back on the lead lap with a wave around and worked his way towards the front but could only manage an 8th place finish.Ã‚Â His finish was good enough however to allow him to gain 2 spots in the standings.Ã‚Â Here’s how the points shake out after the race.
|1 .||—||Carl Edwards||2203||Leader|
|9.||—||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||2143||-60|