Kenseth Endures to Finish Second

Matt Kenseth

After not pitting with many others one time, Matt Kenseth then hit pit road several times in the middle of Sunday's race, a strategy that helped him finish second. (Photo: Getty Images)

MARTINSVILLE, Va. - Matt Kenseth often is talkative on the radio during a race, but Sunday his comments reflected a wider range of emotions on the way to a second-place finish that gives him the points lead based on a tiebreaker.

Kenseth entered Sunday’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 four points behind Jimmie Johnson. Although Kenseth ran well in the spring at Martinsville Speedway, many expected Johnson to at least maintain, if not build, his lead on Kenseth because of Johnson’s dominance at this track.

Instead, Kenseth finished ahead of Johnson at Martinsville for only the fourth time since 2002.

It wasn’t easy even though Kenseth led a race-high 202 laps.

His race changed when he didn’t pit on Lap 229 while Jimmie Johnson and others did.

“Matt was trying to tell me what the car was doing, and I think I just misunderstood him or I wasn’t listening,’’ crew chief Jason Ratcliff said. “We needed to pit that one time and didn’t. It almost cost us.’’

Kenseth said he should have done a better job communicating with Ratcliff during the caution.

Kenseth’s car became ill handling with the older tires. He complained about the car being “way too loose’’ about 30 laps later as he slid out of the top 10.

Kenseth asked Ratcliff on Lap 275 how many more laps until they could pit. Told it was 45 laps, Kenseth replied, “this is really bad.’’

A caution soon waved, allowing Kenseth to pit.

“I knew we should have pitted the last time, I knew it,’’ Kenseth radioed Ratcliff.

He entered pit road 17th and exited 18th.

“Come on guys,’’ Kenseth radioed his crew. “I really need you here. Come on, let’s get back in this thing.’’

Although frustrated with the stop, Kenseth played cheerleader on the radio.

“We’re not out of it,’’ he said. “Just a minor hiccup. Let’s all stay focused and put it to them. You’re the best out there.’’

Kensetn’s mood changed as the race progressed. Five cautions in the next 45 laps kept Kenseth from gaining ground because he had a car, at the time, that was better on long runs. Also, he had to restart on the outside line a couple of times, which slowed his progress.

Kenseth pitted during those cautions, getting fresher tires. With being outside the top 15, it was his best option. He came so often in that short period that he asked Ratcliff, “we aren’t going to run out of tires, are we?’’ No, was Ratcliff’s reply.

As the cautions mounted, Kenseth’s frustration grew.

“I’m trying not to blow a gasket, but I’ve never been so aggravated in my life,’’ he radioed Ratcliff.

Kenseth moved up as others pitted and the cautions subsided, allowing him to move closer to the front and lead late. He couldn’t do enough to keep Jeff Gordon from passing him for the lead with 21 laps to go.

Kenseth said he was hesitant to change lanes even as Gordon chased him.

“I think that, at the end of the day, hurt me,’’ Kenseth said.

While losing the lead to Gordon cost him a few points, Kenseth and Johnson have the same number of points. Kenseth is considered the points leader because he owns the tiebreaker of having more wins this season.

While some might have been surprised by Kenseth’s run Sunday, Johnson wasn’t.

“We saw it here in the spring race and we’ve seen it in general with Matt in that Gibbs equipment, he’s tough,’’ Johnson said. “Those cars are great. He’s doing an awesome job and bonding with his crew chief. He’s doing what I would expect.

“When it comes down to the championship at the end of the year, you’ve got to expect the best out of people and they’re certainly doing an awesome job.’’ 

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