By admin | July 16, 2008
By Richard Allen
Matt Kenseth finished 7th in the LifeLock.com 400 at the Chicagoland Speedway last Saturday night. That sounds like another less than eventful run for the low key driver who is somewhat known for getting the job done while at the same time running just under the radar screen. However, his Chicago finish was anything but less than eventful.
The 2003 champion is currently 8th in the overall Sprint Cup standings. Again, that sounds very uneventful and Matt Kenseth like. However, his season, too, has also been anything but less than eventful.
In the LifeLock.com 400 Kenseth started off strong and had his car moving toward the front of the pack. Then, things took a turn for the worse. The driver of car #17 radioed in to his crew that he felt a tire going down and was heading for pit road. The unscheduled stop dropped him to 37th place, one lap down to the leader.
If there was any good luck involved it was that Kenseth and his Roush Fenway Racing team had time to recover. On their next pit stop, which occurred under caution, the â€œKiller Beesâ€ got their driver out of the pits ahead of all the other lapped cars by changing only two tires.
A well timed caution flag then allowed Kenseth to take advantage of the â€œLucky Dogâ€ rule and get his lap back.
Then, the #17 car proved to be one of the fastest on the track as Kenseth came back through the field to capture a 7th place finish.
In a way, the Chicago race was a microcosm of Kensethâ€™s season as a whole.
The Ford team seemed to be off to a good start. Kenseth briefly took the lead in the season opening Daytona 500 and ran near the front for much of the race. However, RFR teammate David Ragan lost control of his car and knocked Kenseth into the wall, resulting in a 36th place finish.
The Kenseth of old seemed to return as he placed 5th in California. Then, he had a strong run going in Las Vegas until being spun by Jeff Gordon late in that race.
However, the season turned very un-Kenseth like starting in Martinsville. In a five race stretch from Martinsville to Richmond the car #17 finished 30th or worse four times. Kenseth found himself in the somewhat unfamiliar position of 22nd in the overall standings and well outside the all important Top 12.
The race in Darlington, however, signaled a turnaround for the Wisconsin native. In the nine races starting with Darlington, Kenseth has reeled off eight Top 10 finishes.
Now, Kenseth sits in 8th place of the overall standings and appears to be on his way to maintaining his status as one of only two drivers to qualify for every Chase for the Championship. Jimmie Johnson is the other driver to accomplish that feat.
While on the surface, both the race in Chicago and the 2008 season as a whole may look like business as usual for Matt Kenseth. However, a deeper look reveals that both the race and the season have had plenty of ups and downs.
Richard Allen is a member of the national Motorsports Press Association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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