But with a 76-race winless streak on the line? Probably better not to leave anything to chance.
Kenseth did just that at Texas, putting together a rare, dominant performance Saturday night (April 9) in which he led nine times for 169 laps en route to an 8.315-second win over Clint Bowyer. That left the No. 17 car taking the checkers for the first time since Fontana, the second race of the 2009 Cup Series season after inheriting the lead for the final time after green-flag stops cycled through with 14 laps to go.
“It’s a big relief,” said the 2003 Cup champ on ending his victory lane drought. “I haven’t had something like this for a long time.”
He wasn’t kidding. The laps led total was the most for him in one race since the Homestead season finale three-and-a-half years ago; it also eclipsed the total of 108 he accrued during the entire season of 2010.
For Kenseth, this one was never really in doubt down the stretch although several drivers tried to stretch their fuel following the fifth and final caution of the race on lap 216. In particular, Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon (one lap down at the time) attempted to make it on one more stop but both ran out of gas and were too far back to contend for victory; for Stewart, a pit-road penalty on his final green-flag pit proved disastrous and left him limping home 12th, the last car on the lead lap once his Sunoco tank went dry.
That left Bowyer as the only real challenger, leading 41 laps during the midsection of the race (laps 200-250). But his progress was permanently hampered by a near-wreck involving the lapped car of Brian Vickers with 87 to go. Making a spectacular save in the tri-oval, he held onto the No. 33 Chevrolet but lost his momentum, then the lead to Kenseth and the car was never the same after that.
“I just forced the issue a little too much,” he said. “Got loose underneath, having got into him and almost ruined the night. I was dirt tracking it… not supposed to do that.”
Further back, Carl Edwards held on for third despite dealing with an upset stomach throughout the race. “I hate to throw my mom under the bus, but she cooked something last night that I don’t think was too good,” he quipped afterwards but earned a consolation prize: grabbing the points lead he lost after Martinsville one week earlier.
Greg Biffle and Paul Menard rounded out the top-five finishers in Texas’s 500-mile night race debut. Marcos Ambrose, polesitter David Ragan, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kurt Busch – leading 50 laps through an off-beat, off-sequence pit strategy – rounded out the top 10.
Ragan, who won his first career pole in his 153rd career start, led the field to the green flag, leading the early stages until the first caution of the evening came out on lap 11 when Tony Raines went up in smoke in turn 4. Every single car on the track except Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski and Andy Lally took the opportunity to pit, resulting in a logjam on pit road that made post-race traffic look like child’s play.
In the pits, Tony Stewart made contact with Dave Blaney’s car, spinning Blaney around and damaging his right-front fender in the process. After pit stops, the top five were Kurt Busch, Keselowski, Lally, Ragan and Kenseth as the race went green.
Using track position to their advantage, Busch and Keselowski swapped the point up front until David Gilliland’s car hit the wall in turn 2 on lap 47. There was more chaos in the pits on this go-round when David Reutimann and Joey Logano made contact, but when the smoke cleared it was Greg Biffle putting the No. 16 Ford out in front.
Once the race went back to green, Biffle led for a handful of laps until Kenseth took control on lap 59, and that was pretty much all she wrote from that point on. How dominant was Kenseth’s Ford on this night? Midway through the race, the team didn’t fill his tank during a stop and left him eight laps short. But the second he dove down pit road early under green, the rest of the field came with him so they wouldn’t lose precious time to their dominating rival on new tires.
“Hopefully, we can carry this momentum back to victory lane a couple of times,” he said after acknowledging the quality of that performance.
The race had just five cautions for 24 laps, a sizzling average speed of 149.231 mph with just one serious wreck to slow the proceedings. On lap 215, Martin Truex Jr. would suffer his second hard crash in two weeks as his car broke loose. Following contact with Kevin Harvick, his car whipped into the turn 2 wall and Mark Martin t-boned his passenger-side door full throttle. Regan Smith also piled in, having nowhere to go, effectively ending the night for all three competitors.
“There was just a big pileup,” said Martin of the incident; he took the hardest hit into the backstretch inside wall with no SAFER barrier. “It’s just racing.”
But for Kenseth, this one was the type of racing he hadn’t enjoyed in quite sometime.
About the author
The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.