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Kenseth, Gordon Put Feud on Hold

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 10 2010

Matt Kenseth rolled into Texas this week and talked about racing and feuds. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for Texas Motor Speedway)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

Arlington, Texas – Matt Kenseth’s career path took a brief detour into the gutter earlier this week, courtesy of a bowling-oriented promotion that admittedly left the NASCAR star embarrassed.

But Kenseth and four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon both chose the high road at Phoenix International Raceway Friday during separate post-mortems on their now-celebrated bumping incident at Martinsville Speedway nearly two weeks ago.

Denny Hamlin emerged as winner of the rain-delayed Goody’s Fast Pain Relief 500 when contact initiated by second-place Kenseth knocked Gordon out of the lead on a green-white-checkered restart. Believing he had the race won, Gordon retaliated with a bump of his own that shoved Kenseth out of the groove and the lead and relegated him to an 18th-place finish. Gordon, who finished behind Hamlin and runnerup Joey Logano, punctuated his frustration by remarking post-race, “I made sure he (Kenseth) was not going to win the race after that.”

A week off for Easter helped cool the controversy, which figures to draw attention as a sidebar during Saturday night’s Subway Fresh Fit 600 on the 1-mile PIR oval.

“Every track and every situation is different,” said Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion. “The Martinsville thing, I saw a chance to go for a win and I barely got into Jeff and it was at Martinsville at 40 mph. I thought for him to say that he was going to make sure he ruined my day – which he did by the way and I finished 18th, because I barely bumped into the back of him – was a little bit harsh and unreasonable. But that’s my view and I’m sure his is different.

“Whenever I have a chance, I’m going to go for a win. I am not going to go down there and spin someone out for the win. I just won’t do that no matter who it is. I’m going to race them as hard as I can and as fair as I can. This track (PIR) is a lot different from Martinsville. There are two or three grooves down there in (Turn) 1 and 2 and no matter if they throw three green-white-checkereds, there should be enough room for everyone to get through.”

Gordon said he also looks at every race-ending situation separately. “And I don’t try to go back and rehash old, past history,” said Gordon, driver of the No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet Impala. “When it’s a shootout like that in the closing laps, especially on a short track – and you’re kind of in-between short tracks here – if there is contact you can expect there to be more contact in that situation. I just know that they dropped the green, I went through the gears, I went into Turn 1 and I got hit. And I was upset about it. I had an opportunity to get back to him and I did.

“I think it stinks for Matt because he finished pretty far back, but I feel like at the moment it stunk for me, too, because it took our chance of winning that race away. What goes on further than that, I have no idea. I like Matt a lot. I love racing with him. I talked to him after the race and I think those conversations really don’t do much good but I was glad that we talked about it anyway. I definitely want him to know that I don’t have anything against him, and I don’t. It was pretty plain and simple. If you hit me, I’m going to hit you back. That’s where I leave it. I’m certainly not thinking anything about it. But if he chooses to do something, that’s up to him. That’s just part of racing.”

Kenseth noted that he and Gordon have had several dustups over the years, dating to an incident in March 2006 that saw Gordon physically shove a stunned Kenseth in the infield at Bristol Motor Speedway after Kenseth had spun Gordon out. Gordon paid Kenseth back at Chicagoland Speedway in July, knocking Kenseth out of the lead.

“I always seem to come out on the short end of the stick for some reason,” said Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford Fusion. “I don’t know if it is coincidence or not. After the third or fourth time you start to think it isn’t coincidence though. I have talked to him at length and I don’t know if he has a problem with me in particular or what.

“Gosh, I was happy to run that well at Martinsville and then to have a shot to have a chance to pass  
someone for the win was great. I was so happy with how our car ran, but very disappointed with the finish because we could have come out of there leading the points, or at least with another top-10 finish. I was disappointed with the result, but man I was happy with how we ran.”

Kenseth added that NASCAR’s “Have-at-it-Boys” philosophy – one designed to allow the drivers to police themselves – hasn’t affected his on-track approach. “I still race the way I’m going to race, no matter what the rules are,” Kenseth said. “You’re not going to wreck somebody on purpose because there’s not a rule against it.”

Kenseth said he and crew chief Todd Parrott continue to develop a chemistry that was missing with Drew Blickensderfer, who was replaced prior to Round 2 at Auto Club Speedway in February.

“It’s gone well,” said Kenseth, who has three top-five finishes in the season’s first six races. “I didn’t really know Todd very well before this, other than saying ‘Hi’ in the garage or whatever. I think it was really good for our team to make a change and they all look up to Todd. He’s always real upbeat. Even when things don’t go quite right it has still been fun. He’s real good with all the motivation stuff and seeing when people need to be lifted up, when people need to get beat-down…he’s pretty good at all that. He’s been around a long time, been a part of a lot of successful teams.”

Kenseth asked car-owner Jack Roush to make the switch after the season-opening Daytona 500, sensing the No. 17 team was “just missing something” and needed to be “elevated.”

“I didn’t feel like the way we operated at Daytona that we could win races and win championships,”  Kenseth said. “I’m not really a natural-born leader. You know, I’m just not the guy to lead the team. The way things were going, we just needed somebody to kind of give the guys an emotional charge – probably including myself. That’s what’s been probably the best part, the most fun part is seeing how excited Todd is to do it. And his excitement has been rubbing off on everybody else and we really needed that as a group.

“Our cars definitely have been faster. That’s been the biggest thing. When you show up at the track and your cars are faster it makes everybody’s job easier, obviously. It’s easier to take a car maybe unload 10th, 15th or 20th in speed and fine-tune on that and do good pit strategy and good pit stops and turn that into a top-10 finish, where last year we were unloading 30th-place cars and trying to turn that into a top-20…a good front-part of the top-20, which was really tough for all of us. I mean, that’s been the biggest change to our cars so far. I think we’ve greatly improved from where we were last year, the first few weeks. Now that doesn’t guarantee anything for the future. We’re going to start running spoilers on bigger tracks that we haven’t done before. There’s a lot of variables going on, but I do definitely feel better about where we are today as a team than where we were last year at this time.”

Kenseth indicated he is ready to have the “interim” tag removed from Parrott’s job description. “That’s not my department, that is Jack’s department,” Kenseth said. “I’m certainly happy with everything Todd’s doing and hopefully he is happy with what I am doing. I don’t see any signals that things are going to change. We’re working well together and hopefully we keep it going.”

Meanwhile, Biffle, who is Kenseth’s teammate at Roush Fenway Racing, trails Johnson by 14 points. Kenseth is third, 16 points behind Johnson, the four-time and reigning Cup champion who is Gordon’s teammate at Hendrick Motorsports. Johnson, who has won three of the first five races this season in the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy, finished fifth on the half-mile Martinsville layout.

Asked what it will take to dethrone Johnson, Kenseth said, “Well, if you look at the past few years you have to obviously get into the (10-race) Chase, and it would be nice to get a few wins to get some bonus points going in.

“A couple years ago when Jimmie won and Jeff finished second, Jeff had almost a perfect Chase with a top-five average if I am not mistaken and still lost the championship. It seems to me just from watching that the No. 48 is as good as I have to be. We’re going to have to be about perfect to beat those guys with everyone having the same luck or fortune. If they don’t have any trouble, I think you have to be about perfect to beat them.”

On a lighter note, Kenseth emerged as his biggest critic following a promotion at the International Bowling Hall of Fame and Training Center in Arlington, Texas, in advance of the Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth on April 18. PBA Tour Hall of Famer Norm Duke spotted Kenseth a healthy 117-pin advantage for their 10-frame exhibition match, which Kenseth “won,” 228-202.

But paired against TMS president Eddie Gossage in another exhibition, Kenseth failed to break 100 and lost the match. “Yeah, 6-year-olds get higher scores than that,” said Kenseth, who is working on a streak of six top-10 finishes on TMS’ 1.5-mile quadoval. “I didn’t think it’d be quite as embarrassing as it was. But it was fun. It’s like anything else. To be really good at it, you got to be really serious at it and you got to work at it.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, April 10 2010
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