Just to look at Matt Kenseth, he’d be the last guy you’d think would be a gambler. Kenseth’s reputation is of the professional. Kenseth makes no waves. He goes out and does his job and usually finishes well. He wins races, but he’s never been accused of being a dirty driver. He’s been compared to David Pearson in how he saves his equipment and is there at the end to steal a victory. Such was the case on Sunday.
[media-credit name=”CIA Stock Photo” align=”alignright” width=”235″][/media-credit]The Fed Ex 400 looked to be a race between points leader Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, and Clint Bowyer. They had dominated the race, leading 353 of the 361 laps run until Juan Pablo Montoya spun and brought out a caution with the 39 laps left. Kenseth made a little suggestion to car owner Jack Roush that maybe they should take on two tires instead of the customary four. Apparently Roush and crew chief Jimmy Fenning agreed and two tries it was. The result was Mark Martin, who had also gambled, was the only car ahead of Kenseth. It only took two laps for Kenseth to pass Martin and from then on he drove to a two-second lead and the win.
In the meantime, the terrific trio of Edwards, Bowyer and Johnson were mired back in the pack and they didn’t make enough moves to get anywhere near the front. Most blamed it on the slick track, but it was good strategy. Kenseth said that those things haven’t worked lately for the team, but he won the jackpot in that gamble.
It had to be satisfying for the No. 17 team for several reasons. Kenseth is widely considered the reason for the Chase system. A former Sprint Cup champion, Kenseth won only one race in his championship year. After that, the playoff system was born and Kenseth, though he has only missed one Chase, was considered a non-factor, making many say that he wasn’t a true champion. Despite his many wins over the years, he goes pretty much unnoticed in races, even though he always finishes at or near the top of the final standings. I once sat in front of a group of Kenseth fans who constantly complained that the only place they could find any souvenirs was at a race track. The lack of Kenseth supporters is common most places on the Sprint Cup tour. That may change this year.
Kenseth already has won two races this year. That puts him in good shape to be in contention for a wild card slot in the Chase if he should falter and have bad luck in the 16 races remaining before the final playoff. Also factor in the fact that Ford is back. After several seasons of watching Hendrick Motorsports and Richard Childress Chevrolets and Joe Gibbs Toyotas dominate the series, the blue oval has been very competitive. In fact, teammate Edwards has been very good and on this day, Richard Petty Motorsports’ Marcos Ambrose was competitive all day, finishing third.
So Matt Kenseth might not be flashy or a media darling like Dale Junior or Jeff Gordon, but he proved to be a gambler Sunday at Dover. And like any good gambler, he won the bet. The old saying goes that nice guys finish last. That might not be the case in 2011.