[media-credit name=”David Yeazell” align=”alignright” width=”232″][/media-credit]With every Daytona or Talladega event there are list of drivers who consistently are considered the favorites. In years past the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Tony Stewart or even Kyle Busch were at the top of that list.
Recently though, a Roush Fenway Racing driver has found himself the leader of the pack. Earlier this season Matt Kenseth won the Daytona 500 for a second time and comes into this weekend’s Coke Zero 400 looking to become the first driver in 30 years to sweep the events at Daytona International Speedway.
“Like anywhere else, you’ve got to have fast race cars and here the race cars obviously have more to do with your success or failure than some of the other race tracks, so you’ve got to have that and we’ve had that so far this year at the plate races,” said Kenseth on Thursday.
“Hopefully our car will run like it did the last two races and we’ll be fast enough to work our way toward the front and hopefully stay there.”
When Kenseth won the Daytona 500 back in February it was his second Daytona win in three years. Then he went to Talladega and backed it up by running up front and leading a race high 73 laps. He was in contention for the win on the green-white-checkered finish but finished third.
Afterwards he said he felt stupid, having not stayed connected with teammate Greg Biffle. Had he done so, Kenseth might be heading into Daytona undefeated on the plate tracks. But what he has accomplished isn’t bad and according to Biffle and fellow teammate Carl Edwards, the reason RFR as a whole have been so successful lately has been their cars and engineering.
“A decade ago was a lot different than now with the rules on the cars,” Kenseth when asked about RFR finding the same success Dale Earnhardt Inc. used to have at plate tracks. “I think the cars are just incredibly close to being the same at these plate races. In my opinion, it’s probably mostly engine.
“There are two things that make you go fast here for qualifying especially, you kind of see the speed of the cars, and the race has a little bit more to do with maybe strategy or some moves you make or don’t make and things like that in the draft. But I think horsepower and aerodynamic drag are two things that make your cars go fast or slow down when you come to Daytona and Talladega.
“For whatever reason all of our stuff runs good and Dough Yates does a great job with all that stuff. Certainly the plate stuff has been really good and it’s a different year with fuel injection. It’s the first year we’ve done that, so it seems they’ve done a really exceptional job on hitting that just right on the plate stuff.”
Things have been going right for Kenseth too. Second last year at this race, a win earlier this year. Then last week he announced he was leaving RFR at season’s end for destination unknown. Or at least, unconfirmed. The following Sunday he became the winningest driver at the Miller Lite Slinger Nationals in Wisconsin.
At Daytona on Friday Kenseth shared a story about Slinger and what his favorite moment was. It wasn’t winning. After giving Kyle Busch a ride up to the track, in which he picked on Kenseth the whole time, he got the best of Busch in the race. To which he says Busch drove off the track wide-open and blew off media for the top three finishers.
Kenseth chuckled when telling the story and how he didn’t have to give Busch a ride home. Had he, Kenseth might have reminded Busch that he and his No. 17 Zest team would be receiving their Daytona 500 rings a few days later.
Kenseth has been a busy boy in a big spotlight. Yet it doesn’t bother him, saying he’s not going to be anymore high or low profile than before. He’s called it a super year, from with winning Daytona and having success at RFR. Going forward he doesn’t expect himself or anything else to change.
Right now though, it sure is nice to be back behind the wheel. Saturday before the race he’ll be inducted into the Daytona 500 Champion’s Walk of Fame. Then it’s onto trying to win at Daytona again, then next week at New Hampshire and the week after that. A mindset that even though a busy last few weeks, Kenseth hasn’t lost sight of.
“There are certain things that are a little awkward at Rough because you know that you’re not gonna be there next year and they know that,” said Kenseth. “So maybe it’s a little bit different walking in and talking to Jack or doing some of that stuff but I think you just work through that.”
“All those decisions were based on what I felt was best for next year and beyond, not what was best for this year. I think this is best for this year and we’re not gonna change any strategies or anything that we do or don’t do. We’re gonna go out and try to race as hard as we can to the end of the year and try to hopefully win some more races and have a shot at winning a championship.
“So, that’s what it has always been about and that’s what it is still about.”