The Inside Line: Kenseth puts winless streak behind him
(SportsNetwork.com) - Prior to Sunday's Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway, it had been a while since Matt Kenseth was in victory lane for a points race in the Sprint Cup Series.
Despite several rain delays and an extra 11 laps in this scheduled 500-lap race, Kenseth took the checkered flag under the lights at this 0.533-mile, high-banked oval, beating second-place finisher Jimmie Johnson to the line by just 0.287 seconds following a green-white-checkered finish.
This race concluded more than nine hours after its scheduled start time of 1 p.m. ET.
When the 43-year-old Kenseth got out of his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota in victory lane, he looked relieved. His 51-race winless drought had come to an end.
"Now it's zero starting next week," Kenseth said. "I'm proud of that. I was getting tired of that stat of not winning."
Kenseth had longer winless streaks prior to this one. He had been without a victory for 76 races in the series from February 2009 to April 2011 and 59 races from May 2000 to February 2002.
He drove for Roush Fenway Racing in Sprint Cup from 2000-12, winning the series championship with the team in 2003.
In his first season with JGR in 2013, Kenseth won seven races, the most in the series that year, and he finished second to Johnson in the championship point standings.
"We had such a good 2013 and came a little short of the ultimate prize there (Sprint Cup championship), but last year, there were some races where we had a chance to win and things just wouldn't line up for us," Kenseth said. "We just couldn't get it to happen."
At Bristol, Kenseth scored his 32nd career Sprint Cup win but his first since September 2013 at New Hampshire.
He's now won four times at Bristol, which is the most victories he has at any track on the Sprint Cup schedule. His first three wins there occurred in the August night race.
"I do enjoy this track," he said. "I've always enjoyed this type of racing, even though sometimes it's frustrating when you get caught up in a wreck. You have those things happen."
Kenseth was not involved in any one of the numerous multi-car crashes that occurred at Bristol, including three accidents happening within the last 40 laps.
Carl Edwards, who is Kenseth's new teammate at JGR, and Kurt Busch wrecked on the backstretch on lap 495, which forced the 11th and final caution and therefore set up the overtime finish. But the green-white-checkered attempt was in doubt when rain began falling on the track during the caution.
With the race already past its scheduled distance of 500 laps and a band of heavy showers quickly moving toward the area, NASCAR had a tough decision to make in how to end the race.
Kenseth was the leader at the time. He had grabbed the top spot for the final time on lap 478 when then-leader Busch pitted during a caution.
"I've got to be honest with you, at least 90 percent of the time or more, I'd be all about, 'Man, call that thing because anything can go wrong'," Kenseth said. "I felt pretty good about where we were. I felt like unless I really, really messed it up, I was going to be clear getting into (turn) 1 (after the last restart). I felt like our car was good enough to hold on for two laps."
Kenseth thought NASCAR made the right decision to conclude the race with the overtime finish.
"At the end of the day, especially if you end up winning, you want to finish all the laps," he said. "You'd rather win on the racetrack, obviously, than win under yellow. I think if it would have downpoured and the racetrack was totally lost then I'm sure (NASCAR) would have called it. I thought overall it was a good decision."
With the win, Kenseth became the next driver to virtually guarantee himself a spot in this year's Chase for Sprint Cup championship. Since NASCAR instituted a playoff format for its top series in 2004, Kenseth has been in the Chase each year except 2009, when he finished 14th in points.
On Saturday night, Sprint Cup will race at Richmond, where Kenseth has one victory (September 2002).