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Kenseth ready to seize the moment
1 January 1901
Ordinarily, the champion's breakfast at the Daytona 500 Experience is a leisurely affair, where the winning Daytona 500 driver, owner, crew chief and crew bask in the afterglow of victory in NASCAR's most prestigious race.
You couldn't have blamed Drew Blickensderfer, Kenseth's crew chief, for revelling in the moment. After all, barely 14 hours earlier, he had won Sprint Cup's biggest race on his debut in the series.
Scarcely 15 minutes into Monday's breakfast, however, Blickensderfer fielded two questions and left the building, his crew in tow, ultimately headed 'out west' to try to squeeze another smidgen of speed out of the racecar that's on its way to Fontana for Sunday's Auto Club 500.
When you're on a roll at the craps table, you don't want to give the dice a chance to cool. The same goes when you win a race no-one - not even Matt Kenseth - expects you to win.
Kenseth was unprepared to win the Daytona race - deliberately so. Faced with a post-race trip to New York, highlighted by an appearance on the Late Show with David Letterman, the former Cup Series champion skipped out on his own victory party and flew home to North Carolina, but flew back to Daytona early Monday morning in time for the 8am induction ceremony for his car.
“We didn't have our motorhome down here, so we didn't have hardly anything,” Kenseth explained, “I wasn't prepared for it kind of on purpose. One year, I was kind of thinking 'you know, they take you to all these places and don't let you go home afterwards. You're gone all week, so I'll bring some clothes down here'. And I think that was the worst 500 I ever had, so I told [wife] Katie 'if it happens and we win, I'll worry about it then'. So I had to worry about it last night.
“We just went and got all of our stuff. We haven't been home since Wednesday, when we came back down here, and they're not letting us go home until after California, so I needed to go home for a few hours.”
“He ran out of underwear,” interjected team owner Jack Roush, who, like Kenseth, won the Daytona 500 for the first time on Sunday.
The 500 is a quirky race, and the fastest car seldom wins. Kenseth's Ford was good, but not as good at Kyle Busch's Toyota, which led 88 of the first 124 laps. Miraculously, Kenseth's car skated through the wild, controversial lap 124 wreck that started with a game of chicken between Dale Earnhardt Jr and Brian Vickers, while Busch's car was damaged irreparably in the melee.
Kenseth led only one green-flag lap, when he passed Elliott Sadler in turn one on lap 146 following a push from Kevin Harvick. Less than half a lap later, the caution flew for a wreck on the backstretch, and rain ended the event after 152 laps, the last six of which ran under caution.
As he heads for California, one of his best tracks, Kenseth is playing with house money. In the past seven races there, he has won twice, finished fifth twice and seventh three times. He's just as good at Las Vegas and Atlanta, the third and fourth tracks on the Cup schedule.
So it's small wonder the entire team has been infected with enthusiasm over the prospects for the coming few weeks. Kenseth has a bona fide opportunity to distance himself from would-be contenders Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards, neither of whom got the results they wanted at Daytona.
That's why breakfast was an afterthought for Blickensderfer and his crew
by Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service