Kenseth Dig It: Former Cup Champ Returns to Victory Lane At Texas
Seventy-six races ago, a native of Cambridge, WI pulled into Victory Lane for what sure looked like a promising season for his No. 17 Roush-Fenway Racing team.
After all, Matt Kenseth was shaping up for a dominant season with a Daytona 500 win and a victory at the Auto Club Speedway in February of 2009.
That's when the wheels came off the Kenseth Express and until Saturday night's Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas, some folks had to wonder (and perhaps Kenseth himself):
"Does Matt Kenseth still have it to win races in NASCAR?"
Well, any doubts about the 39-year-old racer were put to rest, as Kenseth put on a clinic in stock car racing at Texas Motor Speedway.
Leading 169 of 334 laps, the No. 17 Crown Royal Black Ford Fusion was the class of the field, almost untouchable throughout the race from dusk to nighttime conditions.
Even with the fuel mileage gambles by Tony Stewart and Kurt Busch, whose chances at victory were best with such gambling strategy, the race belonged to Kenseth and crew chief Jimmy Fennig.
Reflecting on his 19th career Cup win, the 2003 Cup champion appreciated the moment, realizing his long journey back to Victory Lane.
"As you start to get a little older and start looking up at the results, it's been over two years since we won," Kenseth said per AP Sports Writer Stephen Hawkings' article. "You can't help but think, is (this) the way it's going to go? Are we going to keep trickling backwards?
"It has been a long time."
Indeed, it had been a while since he won a race, and his victory on Saturday night was pronounced loud and clear, beating Clint Bowyer to the stripe by 8.315 seconds.
Considering it was Texas' first night Cup race, it was fitting that the Jack Roush, the car owner who captured the first Cup race run at this facility in 1997, saw another of his racers celebrate a Lone Star State-sized win in the Fort Worth-Dallas area.
Making it even sweeter was Kenseth's teammate, Carl Edwards, taking the points lead by virtue of his third place finish.
Perhaps what wasn't so sweet was Edwards' stomach or his words after the race, directed towards...his mother.
"I was a little sick this morning," Edwards said. "I though I was alright. But my stomach messed up about 50 laps in. My mom made a dish and I think one of the ingredients was bad. "
While it may be some time before Edwards' mother cooks him a meal (or perhaps welcomes him home...kidding!), it was a stellar weekend for the driver of the No. 99 Aflac/Scotts Ford, as he won Friday night's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300.
In fact, all of Roush-Fenway Racing's Fords captured a top-10 finish, with Greg Biffle placing fourth while David Ragan, who captured the pole for the race, taking a seventh place finish.
A year ago, the Ford teams couldn't buy a break, as their FR9 power plant had reliability issues, unable to keep up with their Chevy, Toyota, and Dodge counterparts.
However, the Ford Fusion collective has suddenly found themselves as the ones to beat, especially at the intermediates.
Finally working around a solid engine program and with improved aerodynamics, the likes of Kenseth, Edwards, Biffle, and Ragan may be commonplace at the 1.5-mile speedways all season long.
Equally as notable as Kenseth's victory was the solid sixth place finish of Marcos Ambrose, who led a lap in his No. 9 Stanley Tools Ford.
Snapping his two-race slump of placing 28th or worse, the former V8 Supercars standout gave motorsports fans down under something to cheer about.
Also logging in terrific finishes on Saturday night were Paul Menard (fifth) and Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who placed ninth.
Jimmie Johnson, five-time Sprint Cup champion and fall 2007 Texas race winner, took home an eighth place finish while Kurt Busch's fuel gamble netted him the 10th spot.
About the only drama that Kenseth and his team would encounter would be the fuel mileage gambles of Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart, whose shot at victory hung on the hopes of rolling the dice.
For Busch, it salvaged what was a somewhat forgettable night for he and his No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge team, who said, "We want to compete for top-fives and wins and we're only getting top-10s right now."
Probably wanting a top-10 finish was Stewart, who cost himself a shot at stealing a win when he sped entering pit road late in the race. Couple that with his car running out of fuel on the last lap, the No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet placed 12th.
Other notable racers who placed outside the top-10 included Jeff Burton (11th), Juan Pablo Montoya (13th), defending race winner Denny Hamlin (15th), Kyle Busch (16th), 2011 Daytona 500 champ Trevor Bayne (17th), Kevin Harvick (20th), and Jeff Gordon (23rd).
Hamlin, Harvick, and Gordon simply missed the setup for the race, unable to hold their own or gain additional ground as they were mired in traffic throughout the night.
For Harvick, it snapped a two-race winning streak, which dropped him four spots in the standings.
As a result of winning the Samsung Mobile 500, Matt Kenseth finds himself tied for third in the points standings with Jimmie Johnson, trailing Carl Edwards for the lead by 13 points.
Kyle Busch, who experienced vibration problems late in the going, falls back to second position, nine markers behind.
Rounding out the top 10 in the points chase are Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Ryan Newman, Juan Pablo Montoya, Kevin Harvick, and Tony Stewart.
Next Sunday (Live 1 PM ET on FOX), the Talladega Superspeedway plays host to the Sprint Cup drivers and teams for the always exciting and frantic Aaron's 499, where Harvick and his No. 29 team look to defend their victory from last season.
Until then, Kenseth and his Crown Royal teammates can revel and celebrate a win that was two years in the making.
Their next win may not take as long, especially with all the right ingredients in place for a championship run this season.