What a difference a week made for Matt Kenseth and the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team.
Kenseth had a 14-point advantage over Joey Logano in the Challenger Round before the standings were reset to 3,000. But Kenseth suffered a reversal of fortune on Sunday after finishing 42nd in the Bank of America 500.
Kenseth started the Contender Round on a high note by winning the pole on Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway. But after leading 72 of the first of the first 76 circuits at Charlotte Motor Speedway, his race “snowballed” from there.
A loss of track position was just the beginning
The team elected to take four tires during the pit stop on Lap 77 and Kenseth dropped from first to 13th. On the next pit stop during the fifth caution period, Kenseth, who had the first pit stall, overshot the box to offer Logano ample room. He soon thought better of it.
“We were real fast out front, we were kind of tight in traffic and got behind pitting and then I missed the pit stall trying to come around…and had to back up in the pit and that put us back there,” Kenseth said. “So just kind of snowballed.”
My mistakes and they cost us today. So we’ll just move on from this and get ready for Kansas.
Kenseth restarted 20th on Lap 174 — which mired him in traffic and set the No. 20 Toyota up for its next incident — with Ryan Newman. Kenseth was rounding Turn 4 when Newman plowed into him.
“I honestly don’t know,” Kenseth said of the accident on Lap 177. “I’ve got to go look at it. He went up like I thought he was broke, so I went up through the middle and I thought I left him plenty of room and then next thing I know I was pointed at the fence, you know? I don’t know.
“I’ve got to rewatch it. There’s not a ton of room over there, but I thought there was enough room for three of us. I just got it in the right rear and put it in the wall, so after that we had the front end bent and we just kind of blew a tire.”
The fatal blow
Jason Ratcliff guided the team through four rounds of repairs during the seventh caution. But with extensive damage with the right front suspension, it was just a matter of time before Kenseth’s day would end. On Lap 239, with Kenseth three laps off of the pace, he plowed into the Turn 4 wall.
“Going to the garage, guys,” Kenseth radioed the crew.
With the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota beyond repair, Kenseth had to settle for a 42nd-place finish — and 12th place in the points standings. Kenseth is currently 45-points behind Sunday’s winner Logano and 32 markers behind eight-place Brad Keselowski.
"I really look at it one race at a time to be honest with you," Kenseth said. "I mean, you do the best you can every week and if this is the best I can do it’s amazing I have a job.
“These are never the kind of days you want to have for sure, but it’s just one of those days. We shouldn’t have ever been back there to start with. My mistakes and they cost us today. So we’ll just move on from this and get ready for Kansas.”
Kenseth remains "confident"
Kenseth leads the Sprint Cup Series with five victories this season. As for next weekend’s race at Kansas Speedway, the 2003 Sprint Cup champion has two wins, two poles, six top fives and 11 top-10 finishes in 19 starts. His last victory at the 1.5-mile track came in 2013 — after winning the previous race in 2012.
“I’m confident,” Kenseth said. “I’ve never stood here after a race and been like, ‘I’m really confident we’re going to win next week.’ It’s way to hard to be that confident, but I’m just as confident as I was this morning.
“We’ve had really fast race cars and even when we’ve been off a little bit, the guys have been figuring out how to get the finishes and get some wins. We’ll just go there, race as hard as we can and whatever happens, happens and we’ll do the same at Talladega.”