Kenseth's promise shines through at Dover by Dave Rodman DOVER, Del. (Sept. 20, 1998) From beginning to end, this NASCAR racing weekend at Dover Downs International Speedway was Matt Kenseth's stage, and he took full advantage of the ...
Kenseth's promise shines through at Dover by Dave Rodman
DOVER, Del. (Sept. 20, 1998) From beginning to end, this NASCAR racing weekend at Dover Downs International Speedway was Matt Kenseth's stage, and he took full advantage of the opportunity to showcase his blossoming talents with a victory in Saturday's NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division MBNA Gold 200 and a scintillating, front-of-the-pack run in Sunday's NASCAR Winston Cup Series MBNA Gold 400 while subbing for Bill Elliott.
Kenseth started 16th in the McDonald's Ford on Sunday, moved into the top-10 a quarter of the way into the race and was never out of the top-10 the rest of the day, racing fender-to-fender with everyone from race winner Mark Martin and runner-up Jeff Gordon to former series champion Rusty Wallace and Bobby Labonte. He finished sixth, equaling Elliott's best run in the car this season.
Afterward, Kenseth was upbeat, but not overly impressed, with his own performance, contrary to the prevailing opinion in the Dover garage.
"It's just one race, but I'm really happy," Kenseth said in level-headed fashion, knowing he's already committed to a full NASCAR Busch Series program in 1999 with Reiser Enterprises. "The weekend hasn't sunk in yet, but we ran really competitively and we ran good for the whole team."
Kenseth knew he had a road of some sort to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series after he signed a "driver development contract" with Roush Racing earlier this season. After his run Sunday, the pavement's certainly changed hue -- but to Kenseth it's nothing but hard laps ahead.
"I wasn't intimidated at all while I was running with those guys," he said. "If you sit and think about it I guess you are ... maybe I will be when I go home and watch the tape.
"But when you're racing, you're racing, man. I'm a racer. I race as hard as I can whether it's for 15th or first or 30th. That's just the way I'm built and the way I was raised."
That quality is what impressed Martin, and led him to speak in glowing terms of his protege -- a Cambridge, Wis., native out of the same mold and background as Martin -- after the race.
"Matt is a superstar," said Martin, who convinced multi-team owner Jack Roush to sign Kenseth to the development contract, seeing in him many qualities he himself had possessed as a young racer. "Everybody's gonna be after him after today and I think it's kind of funny because he's just not available.
"We've got a plan mapped out for him that's real well thought-out. He's a fine young man and they don't come along like him very often. I'm real proud to have been able to recognize that and reel him in and help him some and give him a nice comfortable path to Winston Cup."
Kenseth becomes only the latest leaf in a book whose pages are rapidly turning over from the era of Waltrip, Earnhardt, Rudd and Wallace to that of Gordon and Burton and Mayfield.
Kenseth had an arduous battle with Wallace down the stretch as they fought for the final spot in the top-five, which would've been totally incomprehensible to Kenseth and many other onlookers. For his part, Wallace was impressed with Kenseth's debut run.
"He raced me clean and he was just excellent behind the wheel," Wallace said, going even farther into racer-speak. "He held a real pretty wheel, in fact. He didn't run into me or nothing, so it seems like his first time out in a Cup car was a good job for him."
As much as Martin has done for Kenseth so far in his career, he also held the key to this weekend.
After Elliott's father passed away on Thursday night, his team manager, Mike Beam, needed a driver for the No. 94 McDonald's Ford. Beam said he was going to head to the NASCAR Busch Series garage on Friday morning with no real clue who he was going to get to drive "Bill's favorite car."
After consulting with Martin and his crew chief, Jimmy Fennig, he headed to the other end of the Dover facility for a meeting with Robbie Reiser, who owns the Lycos Chevrolet Kenseth drives in the NASCAR Busch Series.
"He was good enough to let us do it and it all fell into place," Beam said. He added that a phone call from Elliott on Sunday morning, before he headed to his father George's funeral, was critical to the team's success.
"I'm glad I had my cell phone on," Beam said, "because it just so happened that Bill called me. We talked for about half an hour, and I told him what the car was doing on the long runs we had Saturday. He told me 'If I was you I'd do this,' I'll be danged if we did it -- we changed both springs in the front and some other stuff and it worked pretty good."
Source: NASCAR Online