Matt Kenseth knew that he was taking a gamble. He could also tell by the look on his crew chief's face that it had better pay off. When the caution came out with 54 laps to go in last Sunday's Neighborhood Excellence 400 at Dover, Robbie...
Matt Kenseth knew that he was taking a gamble. He could also tell by the look on his crew chief's face that it had better pay off.
When the caution came out with 54 laps to go in last Sunday's Neighborhood Excellence 400 at Dover, Robbie Reiser radioed for Kenseth to come in for fresh tires. Kenseth watched as the leaders stayed out and decided to stick with them.
"I just thought that was my only chance to win the race," Kenseth admitted about the disagreement over strategy. "I felt like, in my head, that if we got four tires we weren't going to get back up and win the race -- we might finish second or third or fourth or fifth - but I just thought it was our best chance to win.
"There really wasn't any discussion," Kenseth said. "He just told me to pit and I didn't say anything. I just kind of watched what everybody did and when I saw everybody stay out I just kind of decided on my own to stay out."
The move paid off as Kenseth got past Kevin Harvick and Jamie McMurray with a handful of laps to go to claim his second win of the season.
"When I looked over going down the front stretch and saw the look on (Reiser's) face, I knew I better finish pretty good or it was going to be a long couple of months," Kenseth said.
Reiser admitted that he probably wouldn't have been mad at Kenseth regardless of how they finished, but he was thrilled with the way it worked out.
"We've been doing this a long time and we've put him in a lot worse situations than this, where cars have run 30th and 40th at times, so it just comes with the territory," said Reiser, who has been with Kenseth since hiring the driver as a fill in for his Busch Series team in 1996. "I like to race as much as Matt likes to race and we put everything we got into it and we got a great race team that's supports everything we're doing.
"Matt's my friend as much as he is my teammate, so we just work together. He sees things like I see them. We just don't always agree with him. When the day's over we pretty much come up with the same common goal that we want to win so that's we go after."
The win moved Kenseth to within 74 points of leader Jimmie Johnson at the half way point before the cutoff for the Chase for the Championship. He leads the circuit with eight top-five finishes.
Kenseth's successful season will be challenged on Sunday in the Pocono 500 at Pocono Raceway (1:30 p.m. Eastern on Fox). Kenseth had miserable finishes in both Pocono races last year, but he watched teammates Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch win and knows that he has the equipment to get the job done on the unique 2.5 mile triangle.
"Pocono hasn't been one of our better tracks," said Kenseth, whose best Pocono result was a third place finish in 2003. "Especially last year, this place really hurt us in the points. But, we're riding a pretty good wave of momentum right now. Coming off of an awesome win at Dover means a lot. But, that was last week, and that's how you have to approach this, week by week."
Kenseth finished fifth at Pocono in his rookie season and peeled off four top-10s there in a three-year stretch, but he has just one top-10 in the past six races. He finished 32nd and 36th in the two events last year.
"Pocono creates a lot of different challenges for your team as far as race setup," Reiser says about the track's configuration. Pocono has three distinct corners and it's difficult to get a balanced set up. "I think that's why you see teams bring so many different type cars here. Some bring short track cars, some bring speedway cars. We're bringing a brand new car that we sort of built with this place in mind. It's never tested other than a little wind tunnel time, so we're anxious to see how it's going to work out."
At this point last season, Kenseth was 22nd in the point standings. He staged a dramatic comeback in the final stretch that put him into the Chase for the Championship, but ran out of steam during the championship run. He's hoping that his good start to this season will help in his quest for a second series championship.
"Confidence is high, but really since we've been with Robbie and Jack (Roush) when we put this DeWalt team together seven years ago now, there was only one stretch that I can think of where I wasn't very confident," said Kenseth, who won the championship under the old points format in 2003. "I knew we had all the stuff and we just had to work through it and keep working on it.
"I knew Jack had everything in front of us that we needed to go win with, we just needed to figure out how to get it done. So when you have equipment that is capable of winning, if your teammates are doing it, if you're doing it, whoever's doing it, I think you're always confident. But yeah, we feel better this year than we did last year at this time."