Just a week after announcing he would not be returning to Joe Gibbs Racing next season, Matt Kenseth found himself in excellent position to give the organization its first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series win of the season.
And almost as quickly as the opportunity emerged, it disappeared.
With 41 of 301 laps remaining in Sunday’s Overton’s 301, Kenseth – with slightly fresher tires – ran down and passed leader Martin Truex Jr. A caution-free race the rest of the way would leave him in the prime position for his first win of the season.
However, Ryan Newman’s spin off Turn 4 brought out a caution one lap later and completely changed the dynamic of the race.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. elected to remain on the track on old tires. Kenseth was the first off pit road but his crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, elected to go with just two new tires. Unfortunately, no one else followed suit as the rest of the lead-lap cars went with four new tires.
Shortly after the restart with 35 laps left, Kenseth was overtaken by eventual race winner – and teammate – Denny Hamlin, one of the drivers who took four tires.
“After we came off pit road with two tires, no, I did not think it was going to be us (in Victory Lane) because there was nobody behind me (on two tires),” he said. “They were all still back there putting lefts on, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes.
“Jason and the crew did a great job today. We had good pit stops. We had good strategy to get us those stage points and had a good enough car to still get back through and finish pretty good in the second stage, so I felt like we had the car.
“We just needed to have those left-side tires at the end.”
Kenseth still managed to finish fourth, tying Bristol and Charlotte for his second-best performance of the season.
Asked if Sunday’s run was in any way a statement, Kenseth demurred.
“It doesn’t make any difference. It really doesn’t – I mean, that’s, that’s way out in the future. That doesn’t change anything for today. You don’t try any harder and you don’t try any less,” he said.
“You do the best you can every week. When you try to do anything different than that, the results always go downhill, so I raced as hard as we could race today. They gave me a great race car.
“It just didn’t work out.”