Matt Kenseth Sweeps Crown Royal IROC Finale at Atlanta
First ever $1 Million Dollar Champion
Hampton, GA (Oct. 30, 2004) - Reigning NASCAR Nextel Cup champion, Matt Kenseth made it a clean sweep Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway by winning the final race of the 2004 Crown Royal International Race of Champions (IROC) and becoming the first ever $1 million dollar champion.
Kenseth is the third consecutive competitor to win the prestigious title in his first year of competition, joining 2002 champion, Kevin Harvick, and 2003 champion, Kurt Busch.
Kenseth, who also won the NASCAR Busch Series race earlier on Saturday, took the lead on lap 53 of the 65-lap, 100.1-mile sprint and held off last lap charges by series' points leader, and fellow NASCAR competitor, Ryan Newman to win by 0.257 second.
Bonus points saved the day for Kenseth, who was in position and collected two bonus points for being in second place at the lap 45 competition yellow and, at the conclusion of the race, picked up three more bonus points for leading second most laps (13). If not for Kenseth's five bonus points Newman, finishing second, would have won the $1 million dollar championship by virtue of the tiebreaker of best average finish over all four races.
Reigning Crown Royal IROC champion, and NASCAR teammate, Kurt Busch helped Kenseth take the lead from NASCAR's Kevin Harvick, who had been dominating the race. Kenseth said, "I was fortunate enough to have Kurt (Busch) give me a big shove at the end. Kurt gave me a good push to get by Kevin (Harvick) for the lead."
Harvick had attempted to maximize his chance for the crown by charging from his seventh place starting spot to the lead by lap seven. Harvick collected five bonus points for leading most laps, (46) and three additional bonus points for leading at the competition yellow. It looked like Harvick was heading for a second IROC trophy after a strong restart until being overtaken by Kenseth and Busch.
After the pass, Harvick was trying to protect his position when he and, NASCAR driver, Jimmie Johnson made contact between turns three and four, resulting in Johnson's car going down onto the apron. The scuffle allowed World of Outlaws champion, Danny "The Dude" Lasoski and NASCAR Craftsman Truck champion, Travis Kvapil to gain positions.
Lasoski continued to mount a great charge to the front including challenging Kenseth for the lead before being passed by Newman with two-laps remaining, relegating Lasoski to a third place finish. Kenseth said, "I felt really good about it (winning) until I looked in my mirror and saw him (Lasoski) outside. It's a lot like Daytona with the draft and I was too far out in front thinking they were going to get a run and freight train by me. I was worried about that, and then The Dude made an awesome run up through there and gave me a good shot down the backstretch, which gave me a little extra momentum to hold him off. I knew the points were going to be real close and when I saw him charging there at the end I was a little nervous."
The Crown Royal IROC finale provided fans at Atlanta Motor Speedway with plenty of side-by-side racing and three-wide passing for position throughout the entire event. Kenseth attributed the heightened competition to a new twist thrown in for the finale at Atlanta. In addition to the competition yellow, instituted at the beginning of the 2004 season to add a shootout element to the end of each event, the Crown Royal IROC officials included a routine pit stop during the competition yellow to refresh the cars and the drivers for a twenty-lap shootout.
Kenseth said, "I think it made the race more competitive on the restart. You saw a lot more bump drafting, two and three wide passing and some good moves going on, like the run I got on Kevin (Harvick) and he blocked me all the way down the backstretch, and I don't think I could have got a run like that on the restart without a pit stop."
The only incident of the race occurred on lap 25, bringing out the caution flag, when USAC champion, J. J. Yeley bounced off the wall exiting turn four, collecting two-time Indy 500 champion, Helio Castroneves. The two went spinning through the front stretch grass with both cars sustaining too much damage to continue; neither driver was injured.
In his closing comments Kenseth said, "The Crown Royal IROC race was a lot of fun. To win the All-Star race was really special because that's what it is, and everybody has watched IROC for years and years, and it's exciting with everybody going for broke. So, it's is cool to win that Crown Royal IROC Championship, and the $1 million was cool, too, but to be part of the group of guys who have been part of this series and now, to have won the championship is extra-special."