By admin | March 13, 2013
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 maintainÂ 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. “IÂ 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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