Long: Fateful finish puts cap on disappointing Speedweeks for Matt Kenseth


DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Denny Hamlin will never forget Sunday’s Daytona 500. Neither will Matt Kenseth.

While Hamlin relished his “storybook” charge from fourth to first on the final lap, Kenseth pondered a final indignity in what was a disappointing Speedweeks at Daytona International Speedway.

“I feel l let my team down two straight weeks,’’ Kenseth said after losing the lead in the final mile.

Kenseth was that close to becoming the sixth driver in NASCAR history to win at least three Daytona 500s. Four of the five are in the Hall of Fame — Richard Petty, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Allison and NBC Sports analyst Dale Jarrett — and the fifth, Jeff Gordon, is bound for the Hall when he becomes eligible.

But a Speedweeks where Kenseth seemed to make the wrong decision or get caught in the wrong situation late ended with another miscalculation.

He was involved in a last-lap crash in the Sprint Unlimited jockeying for position. He earned a front-row spot for the Daytona 500 but lost the position four days later when he was collected in a last-lap crash in his qualifying race.

He later said that after falling back in the pack in that race “that would have been a real great time for the light bulb to come on and call it a day.’’ Instead, the crash forced him to a backup car.

Then came Sunday’s split-second decision that backfired.

That such a move happened again was only more confounding. Kenseth is viewed by longtime observers as the driver most like David Pearson, who was known for his cunning and ability to make the right moves late in races. While Kenseth has been more dominant in races since joining Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013, he’s still often made the right moves late, winning 12 races.

His 13th would have given Joe Gibbs his first Daytona 500 win since 1993. Instead, Hamlin presented Gibbs with that gift after a dramatic final lap.

Kenseth led entering Turn 3 with Martin Truex Jr. tucked behind. Kevin Harvick pushed Hamlin on the outside line.

The top lane had not been too effective much of the race, but the group was tightly aligned and gave Hamlin a significant push.

“I didn’t lift,’’ said Joey Logano, who was pushed by Regan Smith and pushed Harvick. “(Harvick) went into (Hamlin), and he didn’t lift. All right, here we come.’’

Hamlin figured Kyle Busch, running third, would move up to steal his momentum. Busch didn’t.

Hamlin thought Truex then would do it. Truex didn’t.

Kenseth saw Hamlin’s surge and reacted.

“He had a big enough run where I felt like if I stayed on the bottom in front of Martin I was going to be second, at best,’’ Kenseth said afterward. “(Hamlin) had enough momentum that he was going to go by me regardless. I felt like my only shot for the win was to … get in front of him.

“He turned back under me and got me real loose and got in my left rear and went by. He did a masterful job.’’

Hamlin battled Truex for the lead as Kenseth fought to regain control of his car and fell back. He crossed the line 14th.

Kenseth didn’t fault Hamlin for the move or their contact.

“You’re trying to win the Daytona 500,’’ Kenseth said.

Kenseth just tried too hard.

“It’s a million things you could do differently,’’ Kenseth said, standing beside his car on pit road after the race as Hamlin celebrated in victory lane. “I did what I thought I should do at the time to win. We finished terrible. That was the move I thought I had to make to preserve the win.’’

Crew chief Jason Ratcliff is confident Kenseth would not have been contemplating what could have been had he been in his primary car instead of his backup car.

“I felt like it was going to be a little bit off of what our primary car was,’’ Ratcliff said. “If we would have had that bad boy today, ain’t no way they pass us. That car was really good.’’

Hamlin’s proved better, if only for a moment, and Kenseth will have to wait a year to atone for what happened here.

COTA Xfinity Series results

COTA Xfinity results
Photo by Logan Riely/Getty Images

AJ Allmendinger led 28 of 46 laps Saturday to win the Xfinity Series race at Circuit of the Americas for the second year in a row.

Allmendinger held off William Byron to score his first victory of the year and 16th in the Xfinity Series.

MORE: COTA Xfinity results

Ty Gibbs placed third and was followed by rookie Sammy Smith and Justin Allgaier.

Smith, Allgaier, Daniel Hemric, who placed sixth, and Sam Mayer, who finished seventh, will be eligible for the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash next weeked at Richmond after being the top four full-time Xfinity finishers Saturday.



AJ Allmendinger wins Xfinity race at COTA

AJ Allmendinger Xfinity COTA
Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images

AJ Allmendinger overcame damage from a restart to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Circuit of the Americas.

This is the second year in a row he has won this race. It is Allmendinger’s first victory of the season and 16th career Xfinity win.

MORE: COTA race results 

William Byron, driving for Hendrick Motorsports, finished second. Ty Gibbs placed third, Sammy Smith fourth and Justin Allgaier fifth.

Smith, Allgaier, sixth-place finisher Daniel Hemric and seventh-place finisher Sam Mayer — the top four full-time Xfinity drivers — will be eligible for the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus next week at Richmond Raceway.

Allmendinger won the first stage and then pitted. When a caution came out shortly, it put him 21st in the field. On the Lap 20 restart, his car suffered damage when he was hit going into Turn 1.

Allmendinger worked his way through the field and took the lead from Sheldon Creed on Lap 33 when they made contact and Creed spun. Creed fell back to 23rd and finished the 46-lap race in ninth.

Stage 1 winner: AJ Allmendinger

Stage 2 winner: Sheldon Creed

Who had a good race: Josh Berry placed eighth after suffering damage to the front of his car on the first corner of the first lap. It is his fifth consecutive top 10. … Riley Herbst‘s 10th-place finish gives him his ninth consecutive top 10.

Who had a bad race: Austin Hill, who had won three of the first five races this season, had mechanical issues early and finished 37th in the 38-car field.

Next: The series races April 1 at Richmond Raceway (1 p.m. ET on FS1)

COTA Truck race results: Zane Smith wins


Reigning series champion Zane Smith won Saturday’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Circuit of the Americas for the second year in a row.

The victory is Smith’s second of this year.

MORE: COTA Truck race results

MORE: Truck points after COTA

Kyle Busch finished second and was followed by Ty Majeski, Tyler Ankrum and Ross Chastain.

The key moment came when Parker Kligerman‘s truck came to a stop on the frontstretch at Lap 28. Smith, running second, made it to pit road before it was closed. Busch, who was leading, had already passed pit road entrance.

Smith gained the lead with the move, while Busch had to pit under the caution and restarted 16th. Smith was able to build a lead and beat Busch by 5.4 seconds.

Stage 1 winner: Christian Eckes

Stage 2 winner: Kyle Busch

Who had a good race: Ty Majeski’s third-place finish is his best of the season. … Tyler Ankrum’s fourth-place finish is his best of the year. … Corey Heim has finished sixth two races in a row. … Rookie Nick Sanchez finished seventh, giving him back-to-back top 10s.

Who had a bad race: Parker Kligerman was running third when electrical issues forced him to stop on track just after the end of the second stage. … After winning the first stage, Christian Eckes had mechanical issues and had to pit for repairs, costing him several laps.

Notable: Front Row Motorsports has won the Truck COTA race all three years. Todd Gilliland won the race in 2021 and Zane Smith has won it the past two years.

Next: The series races April 1 at Texas Motor Speedway (4:30 p.m. ET on FS1).

NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series XPEL 225
COTA winner Zane Smith’s truck catches fire after he did his burnout on the frontstretch. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

COTA Cup starting lineup


Hendrick Motorsports driver William Byron, who has won two of the first five races of the season, will lead the Cup field to the green flag Sunday at Circuit of the Americas.

Byron will be joined on the front row of the starting lineup by Tyler Reddick, the only driver to win multiple races at road courses last year.

MORE: COTA Cup starting lineup

Austin Cindric starts third and is joined in the second row by Jordan Taylor, who is filling in for the injured Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Hendrick car.

Taylor’s performance is the best qualifying effort by a driver making their Cup debut since Boris Said started second in his Cup debut at Watkins Glen in 1999.