Crash behind him, Kenseth looks to Kentucky
June 24, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
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His No. 20 car may have been wrecked beyond repair, but Matt Kenseth was feeling no worse for wear in the days immediately after his hard crash at Sonoma Raceway.
"I felt good," the Joe Gibbs Racing driver said Tuesday on a conference call with reporters. "These guys over here at JGR do a really nice job with the cars and the seats and the safety stuff, and NASCAR has done a great job as well, over the last half a dozen or dozen years in terms of getting the tracks and the cars and all that safer. I felt good."
The 2003 champion of NASCAR's top circuit walked away from a vicious hit in Sunday's Sprint Cup Series event at the Northern California road course, where contact with Dale Earnhardt Jr. turned Kenseth head-on into a tire barrier backed by a concrete wall. Earnhardt bounced over a curb and inadvertently bumped Kenseth, the hard contact with the tire barrier effectively ripping off the front end of the No. 20 car.
The crash occurred while the two drivers were racing for position after a restart, and ended up being more severe than Kenseth thought it would be as he slid toward the barrier.
"I was looking to the side and I was kind of sliding off and I didn't feel like I was going very fast, and I'm like, 'What's over there?' " he said of the crash. "I'm kind of looking, I guess I'm just going to slide off the track. 'Oh, there's a tire barrier, I hope I don't hit that very hard,' and it kind of grabbed ahold of the car and whipped it around. I'm sure there's a lot of cases where tire barriers are better. Unfortunately, I don't think that was one of them.
"I think if I would have hit a cement wall, it would have been a lot less damage and actually would have got the car probably fixed and been able to finish the race. It just grabbed ahold of it and just destroyed that car. It ripped the front frame's horns right off of it. It was definitely a surprise."
Kenseth and Earnhardt have been friends dating back to the late 1990s, when they went head-to-head for championships in what is now the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Kenseth said he hadn't heard from Earnhardt personally as of early Tuesday afternoon, but Earnhardt tweeted Tuesday night that he had spoken with Kenseth later in the day.
@jeff_gluck actually chatted this afternoon. It's Tuesday. Did I beat the deadline?— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) June 25, 2014
Kenseth finished 42nd but remained fourth in Sprint Cup points, where he stands as the highest-ranked driver without a victory this season. This weekend brings an opportunity at Kentucky Speedway, where last year Kenseth won a Sunday afternoon race postponed from the previous evening due to rain. JGR drivers have won two of the three races contested at the 1.5-mile track since it first appeared on the premier series schedule in 2011, but they've won just twice combined this year as the Toyotas lag slightly behind the competition on speed.
Kentucky last season was the fourth of what would be seven total victories for Kenseth, who finished second in the championship race behind Jimmie Johnson. Perhaps more telling, Kenseth has led 323 laps this season as opposed to 922 at this point a year ago.
"Sometimes things change differently than maybe you think they would have. I think that with the rules changes, the aero changes and the rule changes and everything, to go into the season we just haven't got ahold of it as fast as we did last year. Last year, we just came out of the box and we were really strong right away, where this year we've still been searching, honestly, just to get right where we need to be," Kenseth said.
"Up until we got to Pocono, I felt like we were making some gains, we were running better. We put ourselves in position to win the (Coca-Cola) 600, and I wasn't able to hold onto it. We just missed it a little bit there at the end. Had ourselves up front at Dover, we didn't have a winning car but we … finished (third). So I felt like we were making some gains. Had a tough Pocono, Michigan and Sonoma here, but hopefully can go back to Kentucky and get back on track and hopefully continue those gains and be up there at the end."