Commentary

Beating Kenseth was a long shot

Updated: April 10, 2011, 8:48 AM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Any tiny bit of possible drama Saturday night at Texas Motor ended when Kurt Busch had to pit for fuel while leading with 13 laps to go.

And a dreaded pit-road speeding penalty with 59 laps left also was a drama-killer, keeping Tony Stewart from a likely lead with one lap to go.

Stewart ran out of gas on the final lap, but he did it when he was running third because of the penalty. He would have been in front. Now that would have been some drama.

As it turned out, the no-drama ending produced a winner who clearly deserved to go to Victory Lane in Matt Kenseth.

[+] EnlargeMatt Kenseth
HHP Images An official walks out to hand the checkered flag to Matt Kenseth after Kenseth dominated the Samsung Mobile 500.

The No. 17 Ford was a bullet train on a track with steam locomotives. And everybody knew it.

So why not take some chances to try to steal one from Kenseth? Other than big gambles on fuel mileage, Kenseth was untouchable, winning by 8.3 seconds over Clint Bowyer.

No one was a match for Matt in this one. It's been a long time coming.

Jeff Gordon ended a 66-race losing streak earlier this year at Phoenix. Kenseth ended a 76-race winless streak in front of an impressive crowd of more than 125,000.

"Thanks, guys," Kenseth said on his radio. "I didn't know if I was ever going to win one of these again."

Kenseth led 169 of the 334 laps in the Samsung Mobile 500. It was obvious early on that no one was going to catch him. Unless he was derailed by a wreck or a mechanical failure, the only option was to roll the dice and try to outsmart the No. 17 team.

"I know it wasn't a close finish," Kenseth said. "But it was great racing all night."

Easy to say when you win going away. Some of the people watching might have viewed it from a different perspective.

The only way to make things interesting was for a couple of teams to play chess and hope to make a winning move.

Stewart and Busch gave it a shot, staying out as long as they could when everyone else had pitted near the end, hoping for a caution flag.

They didn't get it. Busch had previously pitted with 64 laps to go, too far to make it to the checkered flag without stopping again.

But Stewart pitted with 59 laps remaining. The No. 14 Chevy ran 58 laps before coming to pit road that time, so it appeared 59 laps was a realistic gamble to get to the end.

Only one problem: Stewart was too fast entering pit road on that stop. Way too fast. The pit-road speed limit this race was 45 mph, but NASCAR gives the drivers a 5 mph cushion.

Stewart was over 52 mph in the first pit-road segment.

How do I know, you ask? It was shown on the television broadcast.

After saying earlier in the week they didn't want to post the number on speeding penalties, NASCAR officials allowed a TV camera to show the computer monitor of the pit-speed segments.

Stewart's violation was highlighted in red on the computer screen. He did his pass-through penalty, but crew chief Darian Grubb still thought they could win it on fuel mileage.

He was wrong on both counts. The penalty kept Stewart from being in front at the end, and the fuel wasn't enough either way. Stewart ran dry and finished 12th instead of third.

"I was worried about Tony's deal," Kenseth said.

When a driver hasn't won in more than two years, you worry about everything. But crew chief Jimmy Fennig was more confident.

[+] EnlargeMatt Kenseth & Jimmy Fennig
Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCARMatt Kenseth and crew chief Jimmy Fennig seem to have hit on a winning formula.

"We knew Kurt would have to stop," Fennig said. "I thought Tony would be close."

Kenseth now has 19 Cup victories, but few have come in a car this strong.

"It feels good to have such a dominant car," Kenseth said.

Kenseth was the last Cup champion before the Chase playoff was implemented in 2004. He finished outside the Chase in 2009 before going winless in 2010.

Things weren't the same when crew chief Robbie Reiser left the 17 team to become the general manager for the entire operation at Roush Fenway Racing.

Kenseth had three different crew chiefs last year, but seems to have found some chemistry with Fennig.

And Jack Roush's group has found its mojo again. Roush cars finished in three of the top four spots Saturday. Carl Edwards, who finished third at TMS, won at Las Vegas on the other 1.5-mile oval so far this season.

Kenseth, 39, didn't forget how to drive. He just needed better equipment and a little stability.

After the race ended Saturday, Ross Kenseth, Matt's 17-year-old son and a budding racer, had this to say on Twitter:

"I guess the old man can still get up on the wheel."

I guess so, Ross, especially with a car that makes the rest of the field try desperate measures.

Terry Blount is a senior writer for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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