(CONCORD, NC) -- The year 2000 highlighted one of the best rookie battles in Winston Cup Series history -- Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Both young, talented drivers showed competitors and fans what they were made of. For Matt Kenseth, it...
(CONCORD, NC) -- The year 2000 highlighted one of the best rookie battles in Winston Cup Series history -- Matt Kenseth and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Both young, talented drivers showed competitors and fans what they were made of. For Matt Kenseth, it was under the sunshine at California Motor Speedway where it was confirmed he was one of NASCAR's future shining stars.
It went something like this: April 30, 2000. Kenseth started the NAPA Auto Parts 500 in 23rd position, and moved into the top ten within 30 laps. He took the lead on lap 87 and held the position until lap 101. Through cycles of green flag pit stops, the DEWALT team came out on top on lap 110 until lap 150. Kenseth took the lead again on lap 157 and pulled away to an almost 4 second lead from the rest of the field.
On lap 220, Kenseth came into the pits under caution. He took four tires. Everyone who came out in front of him took two tires. Kenseth battled his way back to the third place for the finish. He lead four times -- for 117 laps during the 180 lap race.
"It was just one of those deals where you never know when a late race caution will mess you up," recalled Kenseth. "We had been running in the lead and took four tires because that is what worked for us all day. I made it back to third but it was just short of the win. We just didn't need that last caution."
It was a roll of the dice type of situation and the gamble didn't go in Kenseth's favor.
"I don't regret the decision to take four tires. It worked best for us all day and it is what was best for the car. Overall, being out front like that and having awesome pit stops under the green gave us confidence that we belong competing in Winston Cup. I mean, we were beating championship caliber teams out of the pits. That momentum we gained in California created a streak of good runs, and then finally the win at Lowe's Motor Speedway lastMay. It just showed what we were capable of."
Despite coming up short en route to what would have been his first Winston Cup victory, Kenseth still likes racing in California.
"That track does not owe us anything. As a matter of fact, its been really good to us. I've had tremendous success at California and its probably my best track for performance."
Kenseth's California stats are nothing less than impressive. In the four times he has competed there, he has never finished outside of the top three. Kenseth has won back to back Busch races in 1999 and 2000. He's also finished third in the Busch car in 1997, 1998 and in the Winston Cup car in 2000.
How does Kenseth think he will fare this year?
"I don't think we are going to run like we did last year. Its just because last year we had a great car and setup and this year we have struggled a little. I think we will have a decent run there and I'm hoping for a top-10. We need to start gaining positions in the point standings."