Kenseth 2 for 2 on the road to Homestead-Miami
FONTANA, Calif.—Matt Kenseth is making up for lost time—with a lot of help from his friends on pit road.
Winless in 2008, Kenseth backed up his victory in the season-opening Daytona 500 by holding off Jeff Gordon in Sunday’s Auto Club 500 Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway.
With a lightning-fast pit stop, Kenseth’s crew made sure his No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford was first off pit road for a restart on Lap 216, after Kevin Harvick slammed the Turn 1 wall to cause the fifth and final caution of the 250-lap race.
Kenseth, who won for the 18th time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, stayed in front the rest of the way and beat Gordon to the finish line by 1.463 seconds to become the fifth driver in Cup history to win the first two races of a season. The last to do so? Gordon in 1997, at Daytona and Rockingham.
Kyle Busch finished third and fell short in his bid to sweep all three races in NASCAR’s top series at the same track in the same weekend. On Saturday, Busch won both the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and the NASCAR Nationwide Series races at the 2.0-mile racetrack.
Greg Biffle recovered from a pit-road mistake to come home fourth, followed by Kurt Busch. Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards, Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers completed the top 10.
Because Gordon had caught and passed him on the previous green-flag run, Kenseth wasn’t confident he could hold him off.
“I thought he was going to pass us,” Kenseth said. “Some people call me a pessimist—I think I’m more of a realist—but when we took off the run before, we got the lead and ran some real fast laps and we left Jeff 15 or 20 car-lengths (behind), something like that.
“In the middle of that run, he ran me right down, drove by me and took off. Greg drove by me, took off. ... I don’t even know what they (the pit crew) adjusted, but they got us in front again, which is obviously a big key to it. We took off, and right away I could feel that it was better. But I didn’t think it was that much better.
“As many laps as were left, I honestly thought we were going to be too loose at the end, and he was going to catch us.”
Gordon was ambivalent about the result, which showed marked improvement over last year but left him winless since October 2007.
“I think we’re head-and-shoulders above where we were,” Gordon said. “I know we’re just a couple races in, and this is one race, but I just loved the way the car was driving. To be able to battle and go to the front like that and have solid pit stops, I’m just really excited—and also really bummed out we didn’t win the race tonight.
“I felt like we had the car. Matt was awful good in the pits as well as on the track. That last run we made one little adjustment. I didn’t mind that he got out there on us. When I started running him down, I was like, ‘We’ve got him, we’ve got him,’ and then my car started getting tighter and tighter and tighter.
“I went to every groove that I could possibly find, and the car just wouldn’t turn, and I knew that, with about 20 (laps) to go, that if he didn’t make a mistake, we weren’t going to get him.”
[story courtesy of NASCARmedia.com]