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Kenseth posts best M'ville finish since 2002

April 02, 2012, Mark Aumann,

MARTINSVILLE, Va. -- Matt Kenseth called it "a recipe for disaster."

The two fastest cars all day -- Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon -- were sitting first and second but on old tires. The rest of the field was on fresh rubber. And three laps were left to decide the winner of the Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville Speedway.

Talk about a little déjà vu for Kenseth. Two years ago, he and Jeff Gordon traded bumps in a similar situation, with Kenseth getting the worst of it, going from first to 18th in the span of two laps.

"This is probably my worst track and we had a top-10 car all day and ran in the top 10 all day."


So Kenseth was more than happy to have a different view of this one. And it definitely worked to his advantage the second time around, as he wound up finishing fourth -- his best Martinsville finish since running second to Bobby Labonte in 2002.

"When the top two didn't get tires after 100-some laps, you knew it was going to get pretty crazy," Kenseth said. "I didn't know it was going to get that crazy in the first corner, but you knew it was going to be nuts."

When Ryan Newman bumped Clint Bowyer on the first of two green-white-checkered restarts -- making it three-wide on NASCAR's narrowest track -- Kenseth knew that wasn't going to turn out too well.

"I was just hoping I wasn't going to be caught up in whatever wreck was going to happen," Kenseth said.

With cars spinning and crashing in front of him, Kenseth slowed in the top groove -- somehow avoiding getting drilled from behind in the process -- and eventually swung back down the track to safety.

That put him fifth on the race's final restart. This time, Kenseth found his path clear and was able to overtake Martin Truex Jr. for fourth on the last lap of the race.

"I was right behind Dale Earnhardt Jr. and I was boxed in," Kenseth said. "With just two laps, if you're not in the first two rows, there isn't enough time to really get anywhere unless somebody slips up. Fortunately, [Junior] was able to get a good run off Turn 2 after the white flag and we were able to pass a couple of cars and get a good finish."

Patient Matt Kenseth? Not usually, especially when it comes to Martinsville, where patience can be in short supply.

"I usually lose mine every year here," Kenseth said. "You have to be a little bit patient, you have to have some give and take. Circumstances dictate that a lot of times. You have to have some space to be able to let people go and that type of thing, too. You just try not to burn the brakes up and drive it too hard and run into somebody or something."

Kenseth started 21st but worked his way into the top 10 early on, thanks to two long green-flag runs that played into his car's strength.

"We were OK for about 10 laps," Kenseth said. "Then from about Lap 10 to Lap 40, we weren't very fast. And then until we'd pit, most runs we were competitive. We needed a little bit more, but this is probably my worst track and we had a top-10 car all day and ran in the top 10 all day."

Kenseth knew he didn't have anything for Johnson, Gordon or Junior -- and on short runs, Denny Hamlin was better -- but Kenseth climbed from his car Sunday with two positive thoughts.

One, he didn't wind up wrecking -- or getting wrecked. That wasn't the case here last fall, when Kenseth was involved in several skirmishes with Brian Vickers, eventually ruining Kenseth's championship hopes.

Two, his No. 17 Ford was competitive throughout. Despite disappointing outings at Phoenix, Las Vegas and Fontana, Kenseth now has three top-five finishes -- including the Daytona 500 win -- and is in a four-way tie for third in the standings.

"We've been so up and down [in 2012], and had cars that ran really good but the finishes haven't showed that," Kenseth said. "So I'm happy to get a top-five here.

"Hopefully, we can get some finishes rolling so if we do that, we don't have to worry about the points. They'll take care of themselves. But we've got to keep getting these finishes."

Watch highlights from the Goody's Fast Relief 500: