Points leader Kenseth disappointed, determined
June 02, 2014, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com
Matt Kenseth searches for final puzzle piece that will lead to first win of 2014
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DOVER, Del. -- With his third-place finish Sunday at Dover International Speedway, Matt Kenseth moved into the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship points lead -- two points ahead of Jeff Gordon -- for the first time this year.
But the typically straight-faced Kenseth wasn't overly emotional about the development. He'd rather have won the race. Any race, actually.
Under the new championship format that rewards race winners with Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff berths, Kenseth -- last year's biggest winner with seven victories -- is still the highest ranked driver among the top 10 in points without a victory this season.
"If there's not 16 winners, and even if there is, they put the points winner in there (Chase field),'' Kenseth said, "So even though we haven't been able to win yet, we've been solid. And if you can't win, you want to finish as high as you can every week -- and obviously that's rewarded by points.
"It's important for us to stay up there because we haven't won a race yet.
"The whole (Chase) qualifying thing still feels weird to me, but we'll have to see how it all shakes out for a year."
Of course, a victory would go a long way to simplifying everything. And Kenseth has been oh-so-close. He has a series-best 10 top-10 finishes and a very respectable five top-fives, including back-to-back third-place efforts at Charlotte and Dover.
He's led laps in all but three of the 13 races to date, and was out front five different times for 17 laps Sunday.
But he's cognizant of the ticking clock to set the Chase playoff field, even though he insists he's not worried yet. And three of the four upcoming June race venues have been historically tough shows for Kenseth.
He is the defending winner of the June 28 race at Kentucky Speedway, and never finished worse than seventh there.
However, Kenseth has never won at the Sprint Cup Series' next stop, Pocono Raceway, or on the Sonoma Raceway road course (June 22). And while he has a pair of wins at Michigan International Speedway (June 15), he hasn't seen Victory Lane there since 2006.
That track record actually may make Kenseth's championship lead more significant, but his body language late Sunday afternoon revealed more disappointment than satisfaction in the situation.
He was still frustrated with the race's final restart -- and his best shot to catch eventual winner Jimmie Johnson -- explaining that he spun his tires on the green flag and was subsequently hit by Clint Bowyer.
"I think I was still spinning tires in fourth gear and Clint hit me, I guess trying to give me a push there and it just destroyed our car,'' Kenseth said. "My car was destroyed. I was glad to still finish after that."
Yet even Kenseth had to admit it was a preferred ending to a challenging day. He qualified only 21st fastest in his No. 20 Dollar General Toyota, and had to make his way up through the field more than once while his crew continually adjusted his Camry.
And Kenseth wasn't the only person feeling left in Johnson's wake. No one really showed much for Johnson, who seemed to have the field covered all afternoon en route to an all-time best ninth win at Dover.
"When you come to Dover, it's always the 48, they are just unbelievable here," Kenseth said of Johnson. "If you're going to have a shot to win here, that's the car you're going to have to beat every time unless they break.
"I always think they're the favorites no matter where we go and obviously all the Hendrick and Stewart-Haas cars have been showing a ton of speed all year long and been in position to win a lot of races.
"We've got to figure out how to get ahead of them."