With his future in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series up in the air for next season and still looking for his first win of the 2017 season, Matt Kenseth and his No. 20 team found themselves in a prime position to check that box off the list in Sunday’s Overton’s 301 at New Hampshire, but a late race gamble on tires didn’t quite go his way and he would have to settle for a fourth-place finish instead.
Kenseth would start the day in third place at a track where he has had success in the past, moving up to second place behind Martin Truex, Jr. by the time the first stage ended at lap 75.
Stage 2 was more of the same as Kenseth came across the line in seventh place at lap 150.
During the final stage, Kenseth found his way to the lead just two laps before the final caution flew on lap 263.
As the race leader, Kenseth lead the field down pit road for their final pit stops of the day and crew chief Jason Ratcliff called for two tires on his Toyota to allow Kenseth to be the first driver off of pit road.
However, the two tires that Kenseth took made him the only driver to do so, while all of the other leaders elected to take four tires instead, making him a sitting duck when the race went back green. Starting on the front row alongside Kenseth was Dale Earnhardt, Jr., who stayed out on his old tires to take over the lead.
Just as expected, the tire disadvantage went against both Kenseth and Earnhardt when the green flag came back out at lap 267, as Earnhardt dropped like a rock and Kenseth held the lead for just one lap before his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin passed him with ease and set sail, scoring the race win 34 laps later.
Meanwhile, Kenseth was doing his best to just hold on and try not to lose a bunch of spots over the closing laps. When all was said and done, Kenseth would be scored in fourth place, his best finish since the Coca-Cola 600, where he also finished fourth.
“After we came off pit road with two tires, no, I did not think it was going to be us because there was nobody behind me,” said Kenseth. “They were all back there still putting lefts on, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes. Jason and the crew did a great job today. We had a fast DeWalt Camry. We had good pit stops, good strategy to get us those stage points and had a good enough car to still get back through and finish pretty good in the second stage. I felt like we had the car, you know, we just needed to have those left side tires on at the end.”
Though Kenseth and his team weren’t able to capitalize with a win, New Hampshire wasn’t all bad news as his top-five finish combined with Joey Logano having mechanical issues during the race means that Kenseth widens his points margin as the 16th and final driver that could race his way into the playoffs in points. Heading to the Brickyard 400, Kenseth holds a 52-point lead over Logano in 17th and a 97-point lead over Erik Jones in 18th with seven races remaining in the regular season.