Kenseth Ready to Defend Coca-Cola 600 Title at Lowe's Motor Speedway CONCORD, NC (May 10, 2001) -- When the checkered flag flew on last year's Coca Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, it was the rookie driver fro m Cambridge, Wisconsin who led...
Kenseth Ready to Defend Coca-Cola 600 Title at Lowe's Motor Speedway
CONCORD, NC (May 10, 2001) -- When the checkered flag flew on last year's Coca Cola 600 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, it was the rookie driver fro m Cambridge, Wisconsin who led the field to the finish. With 25 laps to go in the 600 mile race, Matt Kenseth passed Winston Cup Champion Bobby Labonte for the lead and held on for his first win in the series' longest race.
Flashback to May 28, 2000.
The No. 17 car was far from perfect when the green flag signaled the start o f the race. Starting from the 21st position, Kenseth had his work cut out for him, and recalls the crew making adjustments to loosen up the car. "At the beginning of the night we were really tight, and so we worked on the car throughout the race."
The rain came on lap 261. For the next 51 minutes, Kenseth and the team waited. Although the rain was a distraction and just prolonged an already endless night-Kenseth's focus never drifted.
"The rain gave us a little while to think about things. I remember getting out of the car, having something to eat, and talking it over with Robbie. When I got back in the car, Robbie gave the team a speech about pulling it together. I think he told them something like we had a car that could win. Whatever he said really got the guys going."
"Robbie told us that he knew in his heart we didn't have a top five car-we had the car to win," said front tire changer Phil Drye. "It was pretty emotional because we know Robbie does not tell us stuff like that unless he really means it."
When they went back to racing, Kenseth's DEWALT Ford got stronger and stronger. Nudging his way to the front, he took the lead from Labonte on lap 375 and never looked back.
Spotter Mike Calinoff remembers the race like it was yesterday. "When he took the lead I tried to keep Matt calm in the car. That's pretty hard when you are trying to stay calm yourself. I wasn't sure we could hold off Bobby Labonte because his car was good, too. When Matt finally did it, and it was for real - I just said to myself 'that kid really is amazing'. I ran downstairs and we partied like rock stars."
They did party like rock stars. When Kenseth jumped out of the No. 17 car, he and the team disappeared into a sea of confetti. Tears were shed. Gatorade was sprayed. It was at that moment in time where it was completely evident that this young driver was going to be one of the shining stars in the future of NASCAR -- and he was right at home in victory lane. Although Kenseth was no stranger to victory lane in the Busch series, a win in Cup - as a rookie-was no less than impressive.
After the media frenzy and hat dance were finished, and last photos were taken -- the celebration kicked into high gear again. The entire team, friends and family went back to Kenseth's motor coach and huddled under the canopy in the pouring rain. Unaware and maybe still in shock of their awesome accomplishment, the rookie team watched the race over and over -- toasting the win well into the next morning.
Kenseth's expectations for the next race at Lowe's Motor Speedway include another trip to victory lane. Because as the memory of his last trip to victory lane slowly fades away, it only increases his desire for a repeat performance in this years Coca Cola 600. Kenseth, a driver who is as tough a s the DEWALT tools he represents, will be able to rely on a great year of Winston Cup experience to yet again conquer NASCAR's longest race.