LAS VEGAS -- It’s now been a calendar year plus one week since Matt Kenseth last visited victory lane.
From what he showed on Sunday during the Shelby American at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, it won’t be long before he gets to start that clock again.
Kenseth ran in the top five all day and led nine laps, which is something that not a lot of other drivers could hang their hats on. Jeff Gordon led 218 of the 267 laps on the way to a third-place finish, and winner Jimmie Johnson led 19 on the day.
Kenseth had his first race of the season with new crew chief Todd Parrott on the box, and he responded with a solid afternoon and he led three Ford Fusions into the top 10 in the final rundown.
“It was pretty good,” he said after the race was over. “The Crown Royal Ford handled pretty well all day. They made some really good adjustments all day, but we had that one run where we got off-sequence. I thought we had a loose wheel or something and it turned out they couldn’t find anything, but I got really loose and had a real bad vibration so for safety sake, we went ahead and pitted. I was worried that if we didn’t get a caution it was gonna cost us, but at the end of the day it worked out.”
Kenseth and Ford teammates Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards were able to run with the leaders early on, something that wasn’t the case at California last week.
“That felt good,” Kenseth said with a smile. “In the beginning we ran up there. Carl [Edwards] and Greg [Biffle] and myself were all up there and it felt like a few years ago, so it seemed like all the cars had a lot more speed this weekend. It feels like we’re on the right track, but me pitting off-sequence there probably got us an adjustment or two behind because we were more worried about getting back on the lead lap—at least I was—than saving enough gas to get our windows closer together. We probably didn’t adjust on it quite the way we needed to and didn’t have it exactly the way I wanted at the end, but overall it was a great day for us.”
While Kenseth has had three crew chiefs in the past couple of seasons, he’s still only had four in his career: Robbie Reiser, Chip Bolin, Drew Blickensderfer and now Parrott.
Already, one week into the new partnership, Kenseth can see the difference.
“It’s interesting because Todd has been around for a long time and he’s obviously won a lot of races and a championship [with Dale Jarrett at Robert Yates Racing]. I know the last couple of programs probably didn’t go the way he hoped, and I’m pleasantly surprised by his excitement level and his enthusiasm, and how excited he is to come back and have another shot at being in a competitive program and winning races and trying to run for a championship.”
That’s the ultimate goal for Kenseth, who won the 2003 title and has had some close calls since.
Kasey Kahne finally put a good run together in finishing ninth.
“We were a little bit off at the start and then we made a lot of adjustments to our Budweiser Ford,” he said. “As we got further to the front and the weather changed a little bit, I was doing the opposite of what was going on earlier. It was kind of a different setup than what we’ve run in the past, so we just need to work on that a little more and figure out exactly what happened there, but I was pleased. From where we were the first 100 laps, we made big gains.”
He also got a finish for the first time in the young season.
“Yeah, we should be out of the 30a” he said. “We had cars that could run in the top 10 in the first three races. We had a situation at Daytona and driver error at California and we finally got a top 10 here, so I think we’re where we should have been in the other races. Now we just have to keep working hard to try and get those points back.”