By David Morgan, Associate Editor
It has taken some time for Matt Kenseth to shake the rust off in his return to NASCAR Cup Series competition, but Sunday at Indianapolis, he certainly looked like the driver of old, bringing home a second-place finish – his best showing of the season.
Replacing Kyle Larson behind the wheel of the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, Kenseth was able to come out of the gate with a top-10 at Darlington in mid-May, but in the races since, had struggled to even crack the top-15.
The team finally started to get things together last weekend at Pocono, finishing 11th and 12th, respectively in the two doubleheader races before heading into Sunday’s Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at Indianapolis, where they were able to keep the momentum going.
“Whenever you run well, you build more confidence, not just for myself but for the team and everybody involved,” Kenseth said. “Running bad has opposite effect. Certainly, we had a good day starting off at Darlington. I was super sloppy and rusty, we still finished 10th.
“Just kind of downhill from there. We went back and were a little faster. I hit the wall, got a bad finish. Nothing was going really well. Like I said, we had a couple decent races last weekend with no mistakes, no problems, no issues, got decent finishes. Today we were able to be competitive, run up front.”
Starting in 21st at Indianapolis, Kenseth had his work cut out for him, but methodically worked his way through the field, eventually cracking the top-10 and finishing the second stage in sixth place.
Kenseth would take over the race lead when Denny Hamlin and Kevin Harvick peeled off onto pit road at lap 123, holding on to the top spot for a 12-lap stint until the caution flag flew for Alex Bowman’s impact with the Turn 1 wall.
Making his way down pit road for the final time, Kenseth returned to the track in the top-five, where he would stay for the remainder of the race, eventually settling into third place behind Hamlin and Harvick as the laps wound down.
Kenseth had one final shot at making something happen, when Hamlin blew a tire with seven laps to go, pushing the race into overtime, but Harvick took off like a rocket on the restart, leaving Kenseth to have to settle for a runner-up finish.
“It’s always nice to be up front and be in contention late in the race,” Kenseth said. “Chad did a great job on the box with his calls today. We had a really good strategy and the best tires coming to the end of the race, lining up fourth behind the leader late in the race, but just couldn’t get it done to take the lead.
“I tried everything to get to the front, but just didn’t have quite enough to get around the No. 4 car. If we had gotten to the lead though, I know we would have been hard to beat. All in all, though, a great race for us. It felt good to run up front and was a confidence booster for all of us. Looking forward to getting to Kentucky and carrying that momentum forward.”