Race Weekend Central

2-Headed Monster: Should Kyle Larson Have Turned Matt Kenseth to Win?

Dun dun. Dun dun. Dun dun.

It was like the scene from Jaws on Sunday, Matt Kenseth leading as the laps wound down at Dover, looking to shake off his gremlins and take a well-earned first victory of the 2016 season. Behind him, however, was Kyle Larson, slowly stalking the Joe Gibbs Racing driver and looking for his first-career win.

The Wise Wisconsinite versus the Crazy Californian, experience versus youth, Toyota versus Chevrolet. Who was going to come out on top?

Larson put his dirt track racing skills on full display, using multiple grooves to slowly catch Kenseth. When he did, he rode the No. 20’s rear bumper like it was Daytona, hoping to manipulate the air and get Kenseth loose. He tried gently nudging Kenseth up the track, a semi-bump and run, but nothing Larson did was able to faze his adversary.

After the race was over, Larson was okay with second saying, “I tried to race [Kenseth] as hard as I could without getting into him to beat him.”

But doing so cost the third-year driver his first-career win. Should he have turned Kenseth to take the victory?


Kudos to Kyle Larson, for running a clean race and refusing to plow his way to victory.

It’s certainly a far different move than the one that occurred at the Whelen All-American Series race at Daytona in 2013.

It was a move that a lot of people called dirty, and it certainly left an impression on him. Lesson learned- and applying that lesson at Dover this weekend showed a lot of maturity for a young driver, especially one who was just one bumper away from a win.

No one would have blamed Larson for doing so – after all, he’s been having a tough season and following his breakout rookie year, many were wondering what happened to the wheelman that battled Kyle Busch for the win at Auto Club just a couple of years ago. Turning Kenseth would have been just another bump in the 2003 champ’s season, another in a long list of problems the team has faced in 2016.

But he didn’t, and not doing so earned himself a lot of respect in the garage. Anybody can run through somebody to win – fans love it and the move’ll make highlight reels for years to come – but it takes a certain finesse and control to pass cleanly and not push the issue if you can’t. Larson, a notorious dirt track racer, has both in spades and exhibited them on Sunday.

“I may have gotten into him once. But I’m not going to do anything dirty,” Larson said. “I respect Matt Kenseth a lot. He always races me with respect, and I try to do the same with him.

“I’m still early in my career,” Larson said. “I don’t want to make anybody mad or make any rivals. You can see there’s some drama in the sport, and it takes drivers years to get over it.”

Perhaps he was thinking of Kenseth’s feud with Joey Logano last fall. As many of you know, Kenseth was spun out by Logano last fall at Kansas. It cost him a shot at the championship and led him to return the favor to Logano a few weeks later. No doubt that was in the back of Larson’s mind as he stalked Kenseth.

Both drivers were going for a Chase-clinching win, and the racing was among the best for the lead all season. The fact that they ran so cleanly is what Kenseth, especially, would call quintessential racing – going all out without resorting to spinning out the competition. It might not have resulted in a victory for Larson, but spinning Kenseth out would have tarnished what should be a momentous occasion in any young driver’s life.

The wins will come for Larson, and he’ll be able to fully enjoy the triumph at NASCAR’s highest level.

-Sean Fesko


Kyle Larson’s decision to race Matt Kenseth clean in the closing stages of Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism was noble, and likely earned him some respect among in the garage. However, given Larson’s current situation in the points, and even career, the Californian should’ve done whatever it took to win the race.

(Photo: Russell LaBounty/NKP)
Kyle Larson’s found victories and success in the XFINITY and Truck Series, but a Cup win continues to elude him. (Photo: Russell LaBounty/NKP)

Let’s face it: Larson needs to win.

After an impressive rookie campaign in 2014, Larson’s No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing team’s has struggled with inconsistency for the last two seasons. The former sprint car star’s managed average finishes of only 19.3 and 20.9 (so far), respectively, in the last two years to date, despite a combined 13 top 10s.

Top five finishes have been fleeting. Winning opportunities? Virtually nonexistent.

Even after a strong run in Dover, Larson sits back in 21st in the series standings, nearly a full race’s worth of points behind the Chase cutoff, and his team’s inability to string together good runs doesn’t bode well for the future.

With that said, he might come to regret not using the ‘ole chrome horn on Matt Kenseth at the Monster Mile.

Sure, Larson gained some respect as a clean driver, and there’s plenty of time for him to try to make the Chase on points or snag a win somewhere else, but let’s be realistic here. How many more shots is he likely to see?

Looking beyond the Chase, there’s also a fear that Larson could get left behind.

The rookie class has come out swinging to start 2016. Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney are both contending for top 10s every week, and both drivers are in position to compete for a spot in the Chase grid, both on points or with a trip to victory lane.

Larson’s 2014 Rookie of the Year competitor Austin Dillon has picked things up in his third year, too. Dillon sits 10th in the points going into the All-Star Race, courtesy of three top fives and six top 10s.

Even Roush Fenway Racing drivers Trevor Bayne (19th) and Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. (20th) sit in front of Larson one third of the way through the season, courtesy of the team’s slight resurgence.

It’s hard to believe this after Larson’s standout rookie season, but the 23-year-old is in danger of becoming an afterthought. At this stage in his career, if Larson can’t begin to deliver some results, car owner Chip Ganassi may have to look elsewhere for talent.

Traditionally, the second and third years have been when young drivers begin to “get it”, when they start delivering on their potential. That this moment still hasn’t happened for Larson conjures up a lingering worry that he won’t become one of NASCAR’s elite.

A win on Sunday would’ve gone a long way towards keeping those worries at bay. Instead, the fears will continue to creep into the garage area because, as the great Bobby Unser once said:

“Nobody remembers who finished second, but the guy who finished second.”

-Aaron Bearden

About the author

Sean returns as a ringer in 2017, contributing once a month because he (gasp!) is living it up in the big city without internet. While he's not consuming race news on the Twitter app and reddit he's writing a ton of short stories and paying the bills by working in marketing.

Sign up for the Frontstretch Newsletter

A daily email update (Monday through Friday) providing racing news, commentary, features, and information from Frontstretch.com
We hate spam. Your email address will not be sold or shared with anyone else.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

If fans are getting into Kyle’s L. head. I offer an observation that the guy does not want to tangle with a cry baby who 43 years old, will have endless media criticism because he is a “youngster” who didn’t “respect” his elder, blah, blah, blah. Never mind the “elder” has gotten a clean pass (read crickets) on many things regarding his “mistakes” over the years, who is a hypocrite and seems unbalanced in more than one instances these past couple of years. Not to mention a documented liar (yes, read up peeps, read up). Matty would have spun some lying tale, and Kyle would have been left to defend the lie. IMO. No matter what, Kyle would have come out of it being the bad guy, Matty would have cried…who needs that bs. Nobody does.

Well, maybe they will give Kyle a participation trophy for being a “good guy” who “drove clean”. SMH.

I look forward to Kyle’s comments when he grows a pair after the idiot Kenseth does something to him. His attitude will change, no doubt in my mind.

Bill B

Since I know you have no bias against Kenseth and are totally fair and balanced in your appraisals, you must be correct.


Bill B, forget trying to reason with this effed up idiot. kb has yet to post anything positive and is especially bitchy right now because her fav, Lil’ Joey, is being swallowed up by Lady Karma. It’s almost too humorous reading the ramblings of the whacked out idiot. kb, piss on that you ****.


Spot1, the last time I checked, everyone was allowed the right to an opinion. But, obviously from what you wrote, that is wrong. Yes, Kb is allowed to say what she did about Kenseth, just as you are allowed to spew your hatred toward Joey. Reasoning? You sound like Broken Arrow, in that you can’t be reasoned with either. Actually, you sound like both my ex-wives, who were THE most unreasonable people on earth.


Ken, you are right in that everyone is allowed to have an opinion but when you look back at the endless ramblings of kb, it is the same thing all the time, week after week of the same diatribe. And, yes, when something bugs me, I will go on the attack. Maybe I shouldn’t let it bug me but some clowns are all to easy then to get them going. And, if you have two ex-wives, in each case there is one common factor…………that’d be you.


Thanks Ken. Tis a funny thing. Spotty is foaming at the mouth spouting about me because it “bugs him”. Well his problem is his problem, I am not his issue, and I should not be. Funny to watch… You literally see him going for his meds or having the phone near by to call 911. What power I have, so sad! And what should he care about lil’ old me. CREEPY! The other poster, it won’t change..so I don’t bother, nor do I care, he presents himself as a old curmudgeon, and maybe he is. I get under his skin too! Who cares. They say what they say…and I say what I say. Only I am the crazy one. Ah what the fluck ever..too funny. God Bless Ken! Being correct doesn’t count of much, but you are correct!

Tim S.

Understatement. Palestinians are less biased against Jews than kb against Kenseth.

John H

The bigger question should be why didn’t Chase Elliott hang back and wait for the top two cars to race side-by side for the win, then dive-bomb to pass like he did on the move to get by Kyle with 10 to go. It was clear Kyle and Matt were gonna mix it up, and Chase could certainly keep up with both of them but not clear them after the pass. I think Chase’s spotter left the rookie’s first win lying on the table at Dover.

Either way, I don’t EVER remember an exciting finish at Dover like that one.


Little Timmy, you twisted fluck, how insulting to those who are in serious peril due to the world events. Little Matty is a douche, get over it. Pay attention I said nothing wrong and do your research. Way to insult YEARS of strife and death to make your point over a pro Matty Kool Aid haze. Sick fluck.


Thank you for continuously proving my point you sick ****.

Broken Arrow

So ad hominem attacks against a commenter are your definition of “reasoning,” Ken? Very revealing.


Name 5 of the top drivers (Kyle busch for instance) and tell me they would not have turned Kenseth. Larsons owner should have a talk with him about winning the way the rest of the field does.


I’m sure ky would and so would Logano among others as we have seen it happen before. But, really, is that the right way to win? What takes more talent? To win by taking someone out or being able to cleanly pass them? Maybe the attention deprived crowd would rather see the dirty win but, hopefully, there are still fans of clean racing out there.

Share via