Kenseth: The California Kid
April 24, 2001 | 10:00 A.M. EST
It may not be where he got his first and only NASCAR Winston Cup Series victory, but it’s a place where Kenseth has certainly found the right combination. He led for several laps in last year’s NAPA Auto Parts 500 before eventually finishing third, that after taking the checkered flag in the NASCAR Busch Series event at the 2-mile paved oval the previous day.
In one Winston Cup and four Busch Series starts at California, Kenseth has won twice and has never finished worse than third.
“This is a track we always looking forward to coming to,” Kenseth said. “We’ve won there the past two years and we were third two years before that, so we’ve really had good luck there and really run well.
“It’s a track I really look forward to going to because I enjoy it, but we can’t take any of that for granted. We’ve got to go back and work as hard as we can and, hopefully, put ourselves back in that position again.”
With 30 laps remaining, Kenseth was in prime position to win last year’s NAPA Auto Parts 500. He had a four-second lead with 60 miles to go, but a caution flag forced a final round of pit stops.
Kenseth and crew chief Robbie Reiser opted for four tires, while some of the other leaders, such as eventual winner Jeremy Mayfield, took on only two. Kenseth lost several spots in the order prior to the restart and had to make his way back through the field to finish third.
“It would have been silly not to have taken four tires because we had been leading all day doing that,” Kenseth said. “If we would have done anything else it would have been a bad call. But it was a great run for us. We led the most laps (97 of 250) and seemed to have the best car most of the day.
“We got shuffled back there at the end, but it was a good day for all of us to learn a lot and have some good pit stops. It was also good to learn what it was like to run up front in a Winston Cup race. That built a lot of confidence in all the guys and gave us a little momentum during that time of year.”
Four weeks later, Kenseth garnered his initial Winston Cup victory in the longest race of the season, the Coca-Cola 600 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway.
“Running the way we did at California, I believe, helped a lot, especially throughout the next month or so,” Kenseth said. “We ran really, really well after that and then fell off later in the year for some reason. After California we obviously ran really well at Charlotte and Dover, and even our first time at Pocono we did OK, so it seemed like that month or month-and-a-half period we performed really well.”
California could certainly be the medicine the DeWalt team needs to pump up its season. After a 19th-place finish at Talladega last Sunday, Kenseth is 18th in the Winston Cup points race. That’s tops among any of the four Roush Racing teams.
Despite the fact Kenseth has only one top-10 finish in nine races so far this season, he isn’t unhappy with his or the team’s performance.
“The team has done a great job,” Kenseth said. “We’ve got beautiful cars and I feel like our pit stops are as good as anybody on pit road right now. The preparation of the cars has been good, but other things have been holding us back a little bit. We just have to figure out what those things are and have better luck by not wrecking cars and try to do just a little better job all the way around.”