|02/25/12 09:37AM||Daytona 500, Matt Kenseth, NASCAR|
Steady Kenseth proves he has killer moves, too
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Sometimes Matt Kenseth's reputation as one of the steadiest, most consistent drivers on the Sprint Cup circuit can be deceiving.
There is more to Kenseth's game than being steady. He hasn't won 21 career Sprint Cup races, including the 2009 rain-shortened Daytona 500, without having a few daring tricks up the sleeve of his firesuit as well.
I'm just thankful that when [Biffle] did do that block that Jimmie was able to clear -- because when I turned down to the bottom, if Jimmie couldn't have squeezed up through there in the middle, I would have lost the seal right there and we would have been history.
-- MATT KENSETH
His considerable skills were on display Thursday when Kenseth put on a sweet last-lap move to grab the lead from Greg Biffle, his Roush Fenway Racing teammate, in the second Gatorade Duel 150-mile qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway. Kenseth then held the position the rest of the way around the 2.5-mile track to get his No. 17 Ford to Victory Lane.
"That was a total Kyle Busch move for sure," joked Busch, chuckling. "No, Matt did great. That's exactly what you expect coming down toward the end of a race here, making it exciting."
Kenseth was being pushed by the No. 48 Chevrolet driven by Jimmie Johnson as the pair approached the start/finish line to take the white flag signifying one lap to go when Biffle went high up the track to try to block them. As Biffle went high, though, Kenseth took his car and Johnson's low. They dove to the inside on the bottom of the track and shot past Biffle, giving Kenseth the lead he would not lose.
It wasn't the first time the seemingly unlikely pair had teamed up to freight-train others on the day.
"Early on, I saw Jimmie to the outside and he was able to push us to the front," Kenseth said. "We were able to stay up there together for a quite a while in the beginning, then he got around me. When I saw him on the outside toward the end, I decided that was my best shot for the win.
"I tried to get under one of the guys in front of me ... but I just kind of backed up to [Johnson's] bumper and he stayed right with me, kept shoving me all the way in there."
Busch said Friday that he watched a replay of the race and was impressed by how flawlessly Kenseth executed the move.
"You go back and watch the film and watch his hands -- how little his hands moved," Busch said. "But then watch how much his car moved -- because he knew with him being pushed by Jimmie, [Kenseth] couldn't just crank on the wheel and turn down and go underneath Biffle. He was like really trying to guide it and the way he slipped through there -- just barely missing the back of Biffle's car and having him follow right through there and having Jimmie's car barely miss the front of whoever was back there, it was cool.
"It was like a hot knife through butter. It just looked smooth; it looked good."
Others took notice as well.
"It was a good move by Matt. He and Jimmie Johnson kind of set Greg up. Greg was a little bit of a sitting duck there," said Jimmy Fennig, Kenseth's crew chief. "But then those two got hooked up and Matt took it to Victory Lane. It was a good move, a very good move."
Car owner Jack Roush said the move and the end result were byproducts of Kenseth's belief that it's better to stay at the front of fields in high-risk restrictor-plate races rather than riding around in the back for a while as many other drivers prefer.
"Matt did a super job," Roush said. "Matt likes to hang around the front of these fields. Not everybody agrees with that, but Matt likes to be hanging around the front. It paid a big dividend [Thursday]."
Kenseth said he actually did not have much of a choice when it came to making a split-second move on Biffle at the end of Thursday's event.
"Well, we were going so much faster that we were going to go by him regardless," Kenseth said of Biffle. "I think that was his only hope, to try to get up the track, to try to line my front bumper up to where I would have to push him. The problem was, I was going too fast. Even if I wanted to slow down, which I didn't want to do on the last lap anyway, I couldn't have.
"Jimmie was pushing me so hard. We were locked together. I know in that situation that Jimmie can't see what's going on up there. I had no other choice [with Biffle]. Wherever he went, I was just going to go the opposite way."
When he did, though, there was a millisecond when everyone held their breath, wondering how it would turn out. That included Kenseth.
"I'm just thankful that when [Biffle] did do that block that Jimmie was able to clear -- because when I turned down to the bottom, if Jimmie couldn't have squeezed up through there in the middle, I would have lost the seal right there and we would have been history. But luckily we were able to stay together and get clear of them," Kenseth added.
Kenseth said he didn't have a prearranged plan to work with Johnson. It just worked out that way.
He also admitted that he didn't trust Johnson to stay behind him until the end -- and, of course, Johnson would have tried to get around him for the win if Johnson could have.
"I mean, it's not like we made a deal before the race or anything like that," Kenseth said. "You're going to do whatever you can to get the best finish for yourself. ... I really thought we'd stay attached and he'd push me to the front and probably pass me off [Turn] 4 like Kyle did [to Stewart in the Shootout]. ... That's what I expected after watching Saturday's race."