By admin | February 15, 2009
By Richard Allen
Matt Kenseth had to travel a long way to earn a win in the 51st running of the Daytona 500, in more ways than one.
The 2003 Sprint Cup champion won his first â€˜Great American Raceâ€™ after starting as far back as possible. Due to a crash in the Gatorade Duel qualifying race Kenseth was forced to start 43rd in the field after having to go to his back up car.
Kenseth quickly began making his ascent up through the pack once the green flag flew just after 3:30 in the afternoon under cloudy skies. He had moved from last place to near the Top 20 when a caution came out on lap 7 as a result of a spin involving Aric Almirola.
After that pit stop Kenseth again found himself near the back of the pack. Once more, he weaved his way through traffic and headed toward the front with the help of spotter Mike Calinoff.
The #17 car raced in mid pack for much of the first half of the event. Like everyone else, this team made their way through a number of cautions and pit stops. Eventually, Kenseth had worked his way inside the Top 10 where he maneuvered his Ford amongst the leaders.
On lap 123 disaster almost struck for the Roush Fenway Racing team. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Brian Vickers tangled on the back stretch sending numerous cars bouncing off one another, including the #17 car. Kenseth barely snaked his way through the â€˜Big Oneâ€™ with only minimal damage.
After consultation with his crew and his RFR teammate Carl Edwards, Kenseth opted not to pit after the wreck and thus maintain track position. The near disaster actually turned into good fortune.
Kenseth held his place near the front of the running order and began the process of positioning himself for the rain that seemed destined to come. On lap 145 the opportunity finally presented itself for the Wisconsin driver to make a move for the lead. With a helping push from Kevin Harvick, Kenseth rushed by then leader Elliott Sadler going into to turn 1 of the 2.5 mile speedway.
As the cars raced down the back stretch Almirola went for his second spin of the day. The resulting caution would turn out to be the raceâ€™s last. Rain set in after that and the race was eventually called just after Â¾ of its scheduled distance.
Kenseth led for about one mile of green flag racing but it was the right mile. It was the 17th career win for the driver of car #17.
There is more to the story than just coming from last to first. Kenseth completed a comeback in more than one way. Last year, he went winless for the first time since 2001. New crew chief Drew Blickensderfer was brought in to get this team back to victory lane.
Both comebacks were completed on the biggest stage of all.
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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