By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
There’s something to be said about perseverance. It’s like having an ace up your sleeve in a high stakes poker tournament. Perseverance truly is the one intangible trait in Motorsports that can overcome older tires, a weaker car and even a horrible start to a season.
What Matt Kenseth showed Sunday, in a dramatic win at Dover, was the epitome of perseverance.
Heading into last Sunday, Kenseth had suffered through an abysmal start to the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup campaign. Making matters worse was the fact that all three of Kenseth’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammates (Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards) were all busy enjoying the spoils of victory lane just about every week.
It wasn’t that Kenseth didn’t have a fast machine under him through the first 11 races, in fact quite the contrary. Kenseth was just incredibly unlucky.
He held the lead on the final lap of the Daytona 500 until being nudged from the lead in the final turn by Hamlin. As Hamlin took a champagne bath, Kenseth was left scratching his head with a 14th place finish.
A week later, Kenseth led 47 laps in Atlanta, but during a lap 117 pit stop he was busted for improper fueling on a green flag pitstop. While his crew chief Jason Ratcliff argued the call, NASCAR stopped scoring Kenseth, which put him two laps down. Kenseth would finish with a disappointing 19th-place result that day.
A late crash wiped him out in Vegas, a couple of races later in California, poor handling and pit road penalties ended any shot at victory. Pit road penalties again foiled Kenseth in Texas, while a cut tire ended a strong day at Bristol, where Kenseth led over 100 laps. In Richmond, Kenseth suffered a battery issue, and then he ended up on his roof in a vicious crash at Talladega.
This insanely long list of unfortunate circumstances week after week would be an understandable reason to keep any driver down, but Kenseth refused to accept this as a lost season, and when he had his chance at victory, Kenseth pounced.
After hanging inside the top-10 all race long, a caution with 58 laps remaining gave Kenseth and Ratcliff a chance to roll the dice for a win. The duo opted to change just two tires, while the majority of the field would bolt four fresh tires on their cars. Kenseth would line up alongside Jimmie Johnson in second.
When the race went green, Johnson’s car had a transmission failure, which stacked the field up behind him triggering an 18-car melee. Kenseth was able to skirt by to take the lead.
Kenseth would have to fend off several hard charges from youngsters Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott over the final 30 laps, but Kenseth just wouldn’t surrender.
Larson would get alongside Kenseth several times, and the two even made contact a few times, but Kenseth would never relinquish the lead en route to his first win of the year. Kenseth in my opinion showed championship caliber mettle at Dover, and despite his rough start is now in the thick of the championship hunt.