Kenseth Loses Ground in Chase
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on November 3, 2013 | 8:02 P.M. EST
Matt Kenseth didn’t help himself with a pit road speeding penalty. Despite that, he likely wouldn’t have won. Jimmie Johnson, who led a race-high 255 laps, was too good. (Photo: Getty Images)
In this see-saw championship race with Jimmie Johnson, Kenseth slipped back Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, falling seven points behind Johnson with two races to go.
Kenseth lost the points lead at Talladega two weeks ago, reclaimed it (via a tiebreaker) by outrunning Johnson at Martinsville last week and lost it Sunday on a type of track he’s been strong all season. Four of Kenseth’s seven wins this season have come on 1.5-mile tracks. Johnson had not won on such a track this season his Texas triumph.
Kenseth didn’t help himself with a pit road speeding penalty. Despite that, he likely wouldn’t have won. Johnson, who led a race-high 255 laps, was too good.
“Honestly, (Johnson) had us from the time they unloaded to the time they put it back in the truck,’’ Kenseth said after finishing fourth. “We just honestly never had the car to run with (Johnson). Just could never get the balance and it driving like we hoped.’’
Kenseth remains confident in the final two races. Johnson’s car owner, Rick Hendrick, also isn’t discounting Kenseth.
“We know that team is not going to make that many mistakes,’’ Hendrick said.
With Johnson having the stronger car, Kenseth knew he had to be better elsewhere. That cost him on pit road when he was caught speeding on Lap 173. NASCAR clocked him at 50.6 mph. The pit road speed limit was 45 mph and teams were given a 4.99 mph allowance before a penalty was called.
“I sped trying to be aggressive just because I knew we were not as good as (Johnson),’’ Kenseth said.
Kenseth fell to 16th after his penalty. Even with a car he described as “wobbly loose,’’ Kenseth returned to the top 10 about 25 laps later.
Crew chief Jason Ratcliff called Kenseth in early on the next stop, pitting on Lap 236. Johnson pitted four laps later. After a slow stop, Johnson returned to the track in front of Kenseth. Johnson pulled away.
“I can’t keep up,’’ Kenseth radioed his team as Johnson pulled away.
Kenseth spent much of the race trying to dissect a combative car that left Kenseth to radio his crew at one point: “It’s all over the place. I don’t know whether to tell you to fix the loose or fix the tight.’’
They never could solve it.
“We just never exactly had it,’’ Kenseth said. “Before I sped on pit road, we were making progress. It’s all on me. There were times we could pick away with Jimmie. He was kind of playing with us. He didn’t want to blow a tire. When we’d catch lapped cars, I’d catch him a little. He’d clear them, and I would lose time. We weren’t going to beat him on speed tonight, no matter what. We were just off a little bit, and they were just extremely on.’’
Even with his struggles, Kenseth had a chance to finish second. He closed on runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr. and third-place finisher Joey Logano, but couldn’t get close enough to make a move.
“Once the tires would drop off ... I just couldn’t pass as good as I typically could here. I couldn’t run way up on the wall. I was stuck in the middle or the bottom. After about 25 laps, the tires leveled off, I was kind of stuck where I was running.’’