By Toby Christie, NASCAR Editor
Matt Kenseth may not have won Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but the 44-year old driver from Cambridge, Wisconsin had to feel great in finishing third.
Kenseth started the race from the 16th position and by lap 10 he appeared to have a decent car as he had moved up to 12th. During a pit stop at lap 36 though, Kenseth was busted for speeding heading into pit lane. After a pass through penalty, Kenseth fell to 31st one lap off the pace.
On a day, where long green flag runs were the norm it was a long uphill battle for the driver of the No. 20 DeWalt Toyota Camry. Kenseth kept his head down and went to work, and by the end of the first stage of the race he found himself in 24th.
Just as it appeared Kenseth was making some headway, he was busted for speeding again during the caution period between stage 1 and stage 2.
“Yeah, our DeWalt Camry was really fast,” Kenseth explained after the race. “We just sped on pit road there some – all our lights were right, so I don’t know. We must have – something happened there and that got us behind. Then we were trying to get caught up and it happened again, so we just had to forget about our indications, just go real slow down pit road.”
The second speeding penalty would send Kenseth back to the tail end of the field again. Kenseth would have to work for the next 177 laps to get his lap back. But finally with 63 laps remaining in the race, a caution came out for debris while Kenseth was in the free pass position — 14th.
Getting his lap back gave Kenseth a second wind, and over the last 56 laps of the race he reeled in car after car after car. With 25 laps to go, Kenseth was in fifth but that wasn’t where the rally would stop. Kenseth kept digging. When the caution came out for a stalled Austin Dillon with 16 laps to go, it closed Kenseth in on the leaders.
Under the round of pit stops under this caution, Kenseth came out of the pits in third, but race leader — Kevin Harvick — was penalized for speeding. This moved Kenseth to second. On the final restart of the race, Kenseth was passed by Brad Keselowski — who had the luxury of starting on the inside line — but Kenseth would hang on for an incredible third place finish on what was a hard-fought day.
“Yeah, it was a good comeback. It was an uphill battle all day,” Kenseth stated with excitement. “For some reason, our speed was off on pit road and we got two penalties there that put us behind and just the cautions fell and everything and it took all day to get our laps and get back in position, so everything kind of when our way at the end, except for that outside restart hurt us, but we had a good car and glad we got a decent result.”
Kenseth’s rally moves him up 16 places in the championship standings to 16th. Now the Joe Gibbs Racing driver heads to Las Vegas — a place where he has three career wins — with momentum.