BUSCH: Matt Kenseth Close, But Not Close Enough

Kenseth close, but not close enough By Shawn A. Akers BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (Jan. 8, 1999) Matt Kenseth refuses to torture himself with the questions of "What if." What if he had done this, or what if he had done that. All that will do, ...

Kenseth close, but not close enough By Shawn A. Akers

BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (Jan. 8, 1999) Matt Kenseth refuses to torture himself with the questions of "What if." What if he had done this, or what if he had done that. All that will do, Kenseth figures, is drive him crazy. It certainly wouldn't bring him a NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division championship, which he lost to Dale Earnhardt Jr., by 48 points in 1998. "It'd be real easy to beat myself up over losing the championship since we were so close, but there's 31 races in a year and every single point matters all year long," said Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Lycos.com Chevrolet. "We lost too many points. We didn't run good enough on short tracks and we didn't run good enough on flat tracks. Basically, we just lost it on performance. "They performed better than we did -- they had four more wins than us, but we had more top-fives and more top-10s. They led more laps and won more races, and anytime you can do that, you can win the championship. The bonus points made the difference. The difference in bonus points between us is probably what the overall difference was in the championship. Those points play a big part in winning the championship." Don't let that fool you. Kenseth and his team, in their first full season on the circuit, impressed the competition, even Earnhardt Jr., with whom he is a good friend. Kenseth posted the first three victories of his series career, and racked up an incredible 23 top-10 and 17 top-five finishes to keep the heat on Earnhardt Jr. throughout the entire campaign. He and team owner/crew chief Robbie Reiser proved to be a terrific combination from the start. "We had a great season and I'm so proud of our team and our accomplishments this year," said Kenseth, whose winnings in the season-finale Jiffy Lube Miami 300 pushed him over the $1 million mark, minus post-season bonuses. "We came up just a bit short in our battle with Dale Jr. for the points championship. But, when you consider and compare everything, we did a respectable job." "As far as Busch teams go, you could say that we're little, but we're loud," said Reiser of his crew of only eight full-time employees who have come to be known as 'Reiser's Raiders.' "I'm so proud of Matt and everybody on our team. We made a lot of noise this year and we'll be back even stronger for the 1999 season." Without major sponsorship, Kenseth posted a respectable sixth-place finish in the season-opener at Daytona, a prelude of good things to come. It was the next week at Rockingham, however, that Kenseth proved his worth. Kenseth caught Tony Stewart on the final lap of the GM Goodwrench Service Plus 200 at North Carolina Speedway. He then pushed his No. 17 Chevrolet past Stewart coming off Turn 4 and earned his first-ever series victory. The next two races brought the team down from its high, as Kenseth finished 24th and 33rd, at Las Vegas and Nashville, respectively. But the team was able to rebound quickly, and Kenseth posted five consecutive top-10 finishes and eight in the next 10 races to put himself back in the hunt for the championship. Kenseth made himself a much more serious contender for the title when he won for the second time in 1998. He led the final 22 laps of the inaugural Lycos.com 250 at Pikes Peak International Raceway in mid-June, a win that helped him wrestle the point lead away from Mike McLaughlin. Kenseth held the point lead for the next month, giving it back to McLaughlin after an eighth-place finish at Myrtle Beach. Earnhardt Jr. grabbed the point lead from McLaughlin after a victory on July 19 at California, and he never relinquished it the rest of the season. The Lycos team didn't fold, however, and came on strong at the end of the year with nine top-six finishes in the last 11 races. That included a third win for Kenseth, in the MBNA Gold 200 at Dover. It just wasn't enough to catch Earnhardt Jr., however, who had built up a comfortable enough lead to withstand a 42nd place finish in the season finale at Homestead. Kenseth will have a new sponsor, DeWalt Tools, behind him for the 1999 season, which is speculated to be his last in the NASCAR Busch Series. He hopes that, along with another determined effort, will be enough for him and his team to make it to the top. "For us to have a shot at winning the championship next year, we're going to have to improve our program on the short tracks and on the flat speedways," Kenseth said. "We're already discussing test dates and such for next season. We'll test at Nashville, Watkins Glen and a flat track like Phoenix for sure. If we can, we'll probably go to Hickory a few times since it doesn't count against our limit. If we can improve on those types of tracks and lead more laps to get the bonus points, we could be right there again battling for the title next November."

Source: NASCAR Online

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Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Mike McLaughlin