Kenseth Put A Different Style To Good Use

A few ruminations after the Samsung Mobile 500 at Texas Motor Speedway:

** Matt Kenseth turned in what I thought was a very un-Kenseth like performance in the 500-mile race on the 1.5-mile Texas track.

No, it wasn’t that he won the race; rather, it was the style with which he did it.

I’ll admit I am one of many who have compared Kenseth’s driving style to that of David Pearson, winner of 105 races and now a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Pearson seemed to always save his car until the final portion of a race and then pounce with a rush to the front and the checkered flag.

He was sly and cunning. Both traits contributed to his nickname, “The Silver Fox.”

During his years with the Wood Brothers, Pearson was particularly effective in the late stages of a race. He might have been a calculating, deliberate driver, but many observers felt he was simply keeping his Woods Mercury reigned in until the time was right.

When Pearson bolted into the lead many of us figured he’d simply unleashed the power his car had all along.

“Looks like the Woods made that magic chassis change,” we’d say with eyebrows raised.

From all appearances over the years, Kenseth has seemed as deliberate as Pearson.

Not so at Texas. The Roush Fenway Racing driver dominated the field, leading 169 of 334 laps en route to an easy victory – the 19th of his career – in which he finished 8.34 seconds ahead of Clint Bowyer.

Kenseth looked more like the ultra-aggressive Cale Yarborough than Pearson.

There was, he said, a reason for that.

“We had such good track position all night we never really got behind which was a huge advantage for us,” Kenseth said. “I think it would have been a lot tougher for us to come from behind.

“More times than not the fastest car wins the race and that’s what happened tonight. We knew that if we kept the car up front it would be hard for anybody to beat us.”

So that’s exactly what Kenseth did – and he did it so well the anticipated first night race at Texas was a yawner.

It was, to say the least, a very timely victory for Kenseth. It snapped a 76-race losing streak. He hadn’t won since February of 2009, when he won at Auto Club Speedway, which came on the heels of his Daytona 500 victory.

Kenseth is now third in the point standings.

 

** Kenseth’s victory capped an excellent race for Roush Fenway. All four of its drivers finished among the top 10.

Kenseth won, of course, while Carl Edwards was third. Greg Biffle took fourth and David Ragan finished seventh – which rebuked the notion that his pole victory was a fluke.

It was a good weekend at Texas for Ford. The night before Kenseth’s victory, Edwards won the Nationwide Series race, which gave Mustang its first victory ever in a NASCAR-sanctioned race.

Speaking of Edwards, he had uncomfortable race due to a stomach ailment. After the race he said it might have been caused by something his mother cooked and he ate.

“I felt little bad this morning,” Edwards said. “I felt better once the race started but then got a little sick again for a minute.

“But a good run like I had makes you feel great.”

Edwards fits the competitive mold of a stock car driver. I’ve never known one to seek relief because he felt sick. He had to be VERY sick.

 

** A few drivers who have received notice for surprisingly good performances in 2011 gained even more notoriety, I think, after Texas.

Paul Menard, whom many have said has found competitiveness at Richard Childress Racing, finished fifth.

Richard Petty Motorsports’ Marcos Ambrose finished sixth and many have already said he’s getting the hang of it all.

And, again, there’s Dale Earnhardt Jr. With ninth place he compiled yet another top-10 finish and moved up to sixth place in points.

Meanwhile, others find themselves, again surprisingly, struggling. They include Jeff Burton, Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Jamie McMurray and Joey Logano.

 

Numbers Tell Us The Competition Ain’t Bad, For Now

As the 2011 season heads into Texas Motor Speedway for the running of the Samsung Mobile 500 tonight it is interesting to note how, competition-wise, the preceding six races have provided excellent storylines.

This is NASCAR’s opinion, you understand, not mine – but I must say that I agree with it.

“Storylines” might be the wrong word here. Let’s just say that what has transpired so far are simply facts that deserve our attention.

Why, you might ask. It’s because some of what we might have expected so far this season has not happened – and some of what we did not, in many ways, has.

I use as evidence of all this information provided by NASCAR; information that puts its competition in a good light. But when it comes to competition, the sanctioning body is all about promoting the quality therein whenever possible – which is its job, after all.

The facts and figures are accurate. They are not manipulated. They are what they are, and, to be honest, they are intriguing.

We’re told that two of last year’s top winners, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson, remain winless going into Texas. I’m not sure about you, but I’m one of those who thought either one of them would have been victorious by now. Heck, if nothing else, they were the hands-down favorites at Martinsville.

And you knew that, didn’t you?

Interestingly, lead-change records have fallen in three of the six Sprint Cup races so far, at Daytona, Phoenix and Martinsville.

There has been, NASCAR tells us, an average of 31.5 lead changes per race, the most after six events in series history.

Now I would be one of the first to say this is nothing but the result of racing circumstances. But I would quickly add that races that have produced record lead changes at such a high average are, if not great, certainly compelling.

After all, which race is better – one in which several drivers swap the lead or one in which a driver dominates to the point of boredom? I think you know.

NASCAR tells us that, through six races, there has been an average of 13 leaders per race, the most in series history.

Again I would say this is the result of circumstances. But I would also say that, as far as fan and media appeal, it beats the hell out of anything else.

We know that prior to Kevin Harvick’s win at Martinsville, his second in a row, there were five different winners in the first five races of the season. It’s the first time that’s happened since 2005.

Once more, it’s all about circumstances.

But then, given what has happened so far, consider this: You tell me, if you like real competition, what is more appealing – that one or two drivers dominate or that several win – and in some cases we are ultimately greatly surprised when they do?

Case in point: Face it, when Trevor Bayne and Wood Brothers Racing won the Daytona 500 was that not a big, pleasant surprise that ultimately captured national attention?

Headed into Texas, seven different teams occupied the top seven positions in the point standings. They were Joe Gibbs Racing, Roush Fenway Racing, Hendrick Motorsports, Penske Racing, Richard Childress Racing, Stewart Haas Racing and Chip Ganassi Racing.

Hey, I like it. To me it’s a more intriguing scenario than oh, say, for Roush to have four teams among the top seven and Hendrick the other three – unless you’re a big fan of either team, or both.

Finally, NASCAR pointed out that the top four drivers in the point standings all run different manufacturers.

If I had to guess, the sanctioning body revels in this statistic more than any other. It’s proof, somewhat, that its ongoing efforts to create a level playing field for all its participating manufacturers are paying off – for now, anyway.

I know all of this is NASCAR tooting its own horn. But why not? There have been seasons in the past when it didn’t have a horn to toot.

Tooting aside, the numbers do tell us the competition in NASCAR, so far, ain’t been bad at all.

Starting at Texas tonight, we’ll see if stays the same, gets better or gets worse.

 

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