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Matt Kenseth Delivered Driving and Coaching Lessons in Las Vegas

By admin | March 13, 2013

 Jason Ratcliff, Matt Kenseth and Joe Gibbs

By Richard Allen

Matt Kenseth drives for a man commonly referred to as ‘Coach’ in deference to his Super Bowl victories while guiding the Washington Redskins from the sidelines. But even Joe Gibbs could have taken a lesson from his driver over the final laps of the Kobalt Tools 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway this past Sunday.

The 2003 Sprint Cup champion put on a clinic as he not only drove flawlessly to hold off a determined Kasey Kahne but he also served as a guide for his new team. Kenseth joined Joe Gibbs Racing during the most recent off-season after having driven for Roush Fenway Racing since his rookie season back in 2000.

As would be the case with any new driver/team combination, there are things each needs to learn about the other. Since this was the #20 car’s first time to be in contention for a win so late in a race, that learning curve had to be accelerated drastically in Las Vegas. And to listen as Kenseth coached his fellow team members as the race ran toward its conclusion was an interesting experience for this longtime fan of racing.

Kenseth had assumed the lead as the cars ran under caution on lap 227 of the 267 lap event. It was at that point, with Kahne assuming the runner-up spot in what looked to be a faster car, that driver and team members had to quickly learn the wants and needs of the other while under stress.

Knowing that he would need something left for the end of the race in order to hold off Kahne, Kenseth instructed crew chief Jason Ratcliff to, “Keep me updated on (lap)times so I don’t kill the tires before the end.”

At one point, the driver informed his crew that he didn’t think he would be able to maintain his lead over his fast closing pursuer. “Sorry, but I think we’re in trouble,” Kenseth said as Kahne closed. However, Ratcliff and spotter Chris Lambert quickly jumped in to encourage their driver for the remaining laps.

As the scoreboard ticked off more laps until less than 20 remained, Kenseth had to let his team know that the information he then needed had changed. “I don’t need lap times now,” he instructed. “I just need to know what line he’s running and how far back he is.”

It was after he began receiving this information that Kenseth began to adjust his line in order to take the clean air away from Kahne’s nose. At that point, the progress of the #5 Hendrick Motorsports car stalled.

A quick reminder had to be delivered to an excited crew chief and spotter that the driver’s concentration levels needed to be more elevated on certain parts of the track. “Just give me that information on the straightaways, please,” he said after being told of Kahne’s position on the track while in the middle of the LVMS turns.

The Fox television broadcast began to pick up on the lessons Kenseth was teaching to a crew that might not have quite as much experience in finding victory lane as their driver. “Talk to these guys and get them out of the way, please!” he shouted for his spotter to start making deals with the spotters of the lapped cars he was quickly approaching. “Get them down, get them down!”

In a rare glimpse of high emotion from the normally reserved Kenseth, he again pleaded for help with lapped traffic. “I need help with these guys! Get them out of the way!”

After taking the checkered flag, Kenseth began heaping thanks and praise upon his teammates who had learned the lessons he had taught very quickly and effectively. “Yeah, boys! Who-hoo!” he shouted over his in-car radio. “Thank you Ratcliff! Thank you Joe Gibbs Racing! Thank you, Lord for putting me here!”

At the end of the Kobalt Tools 400, it was a pleasure watch and listen to a true professional go about the task of not only driving well but guiding his team in the ways of winning.


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9 Responses to “Matt Kenseth Delivered Driving and Coaching Lessons in Las Vegas”

  1. Robert Green Says:
    March 13th, 2013 at 11:25 pm

    Good one Rich! The most interesting part of the race by far was the late duel at the front of the pack. As the laps unwound I was sure Kahne would overtake Matt but then FOX picked up on the radio traffic and it soon became apparent the Toyota team might just maintain the lead… And they did! I suppose time will tell, but right now it appears the new car has been designed to run alone and not just in terms of tandem drafting. It seems the drivers are also having problems just running side by side…

  2. bebe Says:
    March 14th, 2013 at 12:36 am

    wasn’t impressed with Matt’s handling of “lap traffic” ahead, part of the field buddy deal with it. He sounded like a whiner..too bad he won.

  3. Henry Says:
    March 14th, 2013 at 4:18 am

    I don’t agree at all. Kenseth sounded like a desperate man who would try to win at all cost. Like everyone else in person and on tv he knew he was toast. But the horrible aerodynamics of the cars reared its ugly head again. Kahne could not even get up to the back bumper. The two cars should have traded the lead 2 times every lap if the lead car did not have a HUGE advantage. Getting to 2nd was easy against cars in dirty air, but passing the leader impossible. The difference was the (it almost NEVER works) desperate move on pit road which matched the high octave desperate pleadings of the driver. Woop tee doo.

  4. JimB Says:
    March 14th, 2013 at 11:22 am

    I totally agree. Kahne was good but he didn’t drive with the determination and savvy that Kenseth had. To bebe: You try driving 200 MPH on old tires and a slower car and hold the lead for 25 laps and you will sound like a whiner at times, too. This is normal for most drivers. To Henry: What driver, who is worth a damn, doesn’t drive like he is a desperate man at the end of a 400 mile race? Matt’s HUGE advantage was that he wanted it more than the other guy and stuck his car in the best places to make it most difficult for the faster car to get around him. Nothing wrong with driving like a Champion, I says.

  5. Bill B Says:
    March 14th, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    I actually agree with bebe. Matt did an awesome job and deserved the win but lapped traffic is the norm. Perhaps all drivers tell their spotters to get the lapped traffic out of the way but I’d have preferred not to hear it. IMO lapped traffic is part of racing and anyone that expects anyone out on the traffic to just move out of the way is not what I want to see. I always hear people bitch and moan that non-chase drivers are supposed to yield to chase drivers in the last 10 races. I don’t agree with that either. How is this different?

  6. Dan Says:
    March 14th, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    How could anybody complain about the finish of that race? I am not a fan of either driver, but they were going as hard as they could, sideways lap after lap, it was awesome to watch. Matt Kenseth did a great job of holding off a faster car. Complain about aero all you want, but rewatch the race. It was all about the lines they were running. The people who complain about such a balls out race probably also complained that Tony and Carl weren’t closer together in the final laps at Homestead in 2011 even though that may have been the greatest race I have ever watched. Go watch Monster Jam if you want destruction. Vegas was a hell of a show.

  7. Charles Says:
    March 14th, 2013 at 4:35 pm

    The one thing is that Kasey Kahne, unlike his teammates, has NEVER been very good at chasing others for the win. He can win if he’s on the lead, but he’s never once won a Cup race by passing the leader late. And of all the drivers in the Cup series, Matt Kenseth should know, since Kasey just sat behind him back in the final Cup race at Rockingham in 2004, waiting to make the move on th last lap, but fell short.

    The reason for that is that Kahne has never been an aggresive driver, particularly in traffic. It’s not that Kahne didn’t drive hard, but rather about Kahne’s lack of aggressiveness and not wanting to take chances in traffic. And Kenseth knew that. And when Kenseth took Kahne’s best line away from him, it was game over. But also, if it had been Kyle Busch in front, Kahne would have won easily since, as was the case two other times, Kyle would get in the lead, but punish his tires doing so, thus causing Kyle to back up to Kahne.

  8. Tony Geinzer Says:
    March 14th, 2013 at 6:51 pm

    I wonder if Jeff Burton and Matt Kenseth would be the first in line for Future Sprint Cup Owners?

  9. Offkilter Says:
    March 14th, 2013 at 7:19 pm

    If khane would have gotten to him and there was a battle for the win, this would have been a good article. He sounded whiney and desperate. Conceding he was in trouble and apologizing for losing before the fight even starts is pretty lame.