CONCORD Matt Kenseth’s day at Charlotte Motor Speedway got off to a lousy start, and went downhill early.
Things got better for him from that point on, as he rallied to finish second to Jimmie Johnson in the Bank of America 500.
After dealing with two early setbacks, Kenseth rallied to challenge Johnson for the victory in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
“We didn’t make it easy on ourselves,” said Kenseth, who led once for five laps. “It was an uphill battle, but Jason (Ratcliff, his crew chief) made some great adjustments and had some good pit stops.
“We had a great pit stop when we needed it there at the end to put us in position to try and go for a win. We were just a little off. I just couldn’t run with that 48 (Johnson) on a short run.”
The outcome – Kenseth’s third runner-up finish of the 2016 season, and his second in the past three races – bumped him up to second in the Chase for the Championship’s round of 12 standings.
The day could have turned out significantly worse for Kenseth, who qualified 17th in his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota; he had to start at the back of the field after making what NASCAR officials called “unapproved adjustments” before the race.
Things got worse for Kenseth during a competition caution flag brought out on the 25th lap to check tire wear. A member of his pit crew went over the wall too early, bringing on another penalty.
“We had a part go bad during inspection,” Kenseth said. “Then we had that pit-road penalty, and had to go to the back of the field again.”
Kenseth’s luck changed from that point. He slowly worked his way through the field, cracking the top 10 just past the midway point of the 334-lap race. By Lap 240, he was running in the top five, and looking for a break.
Kenseth caught one when he was able to avoid getting caught up in a wreck on the frontstretch that eventually involved 12 cars.
Kenseth was running sixth when Austin Dillon – who had climbed to second thanks to a two-tire pit stop – couldn’t get his Chevrolet up to speed on the Lap 259 restart, was bumped by Martin Truex Jr.’s Toyota, and sent into the inside wall.
Casey Elliott, racing just behind Truex, also had to check up and was bumped by Kyle Busch’s Toyota, sending it into the outside wall and setting off the chain reaction.
Kenseth, starting in the outside line just behind Johnson and JGR teammate Denny Hamlin’s Toyota, stayed on the gas and drove past the wreckage.
“We were able to avoid the trouble they had on the frontstretch and work our way toward the front,” Kenseth said.
However, Kenseth’s biggest break came on Lap 308, when Hamlin’s motor blew, bringing out the race’s eighth caution flag with 26 laps remaining.
Kenseth was running third at the time, but emerged from the resulting pit stops as the leader after his crew turned in a stop nearly a second better than Johnson’s.
Kenseth couldn’t stay in front, though, – on the Lap 317 restart, Johnson (starting on the inside) was able to pull ahead by the third turn.
“That was all I had on the restart,” Kenseth said. “I was actually happy with my restart. I never had to lift going through (turns) 1-2. I had the momentum off of (Turn) 2, and was a half a car length in front of him, but he just drove right by me.
“I would’ve loved to have the win, so we can feel better about the next two weeks. But it was a solid run. … We had a good, competitive car, so it was a good day.”