Kenseth on top-five run: “It doesn’t make any difference” for 2018

Rusty Jarrett/NKP

By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

Matt Kenseth had a strong day at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but don’t let that fool anyone into thinking he was making a statement for the coming year.

“It doesn’t make any difference,” Kenseth said. “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. You do the best you can every week. When you try to do anything different than that, the results always go downhill, so raced as hard as we could race today. They gave me a great race car. Just didn’t work out.”

The Wisconsinite’s run  – a fourth-place result despite running on inferior tires in the race’s final stages – came just eight days removed from his admission at Kentucky Speedway that he’ll be out of Joe Gibbs Racing’s (JGR) No. 20 Toyota come 2018. JGR later announced that the machine will be taken by Furniture Row Racing rookie Erik Jones next season.

For a time, it appeared that Kenseth could be poised for a trip to victory lane.

Entering as the defending winner of New Hampshire’s first race, the 45-year-old contended early and often, and even led four laps late when issues for leaders Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch opened the door for Kenseth to strike.

Unfortunately for Kenseth, his strategy went awry when the final caution of Sunday’s Overton’s 301 flew on Lap 262. The No. 20 crew decided on a two-tire stop for Kenseth on the ensuing round of pit stops, and it cost the 2003 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion dearly when the rest of the field behind him elected to take four tires.

Kenseth took the lead from Dale Earnhardt Jr. on the race’s final restart, but lost the position to eventual winner Denny Hamlin one lap later. From there Kenseth’s race to the finish became one of survival – a challenge he handled well to come home with his fourth top five of 2017.

Afterward, Kenseth admitted the two-tire call was the deciding factor in his team’s loss.

“After we came off pit road with two tires, no, I did not think it was going to be us because there was nobody behind me,” Kenseth said. “They were all still back there putting lefts on, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes. Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and the crew did a great job today. We had a fast DEWALT Camry. 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.”

While he didn’t win, Kenseth did make gains in his playoff pursuit. After Joey Logano’s 37th-place run, Kenseth holds a 52-point edge on the Team Penske driver for the final position in the playoff grid. Kenseth also sits just two points back from the winless Clint Bowyer – a gap that could become more important should another surprise winner shorten the number of playoff openings on points.

One Comment

  1. Sol Shine

    July 19, 2017 at 9:33 am

    Ratcliffe strikes again! Once more he makes a stupid race call that cost Kenseth dearly. That has been the albatross around Kenseth’s neck since he’s been at Gibbs, he should have had a better crew chief after his first season there it was clear Ratcliffe was not up to the job.

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