CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Matt Kenseth says he has no issues with Kyle Busch staying in the preferred bottom lane for the final restart Sunday at Martinsville Speedway instead of allowing Kenseth to start there and give Busch the lead back as they had done earlier in the race.
Busch’s decision, though, left Kenseth to restart on the outside. Kenseth couldn’t get down to the bottom line and quickly fell back. Soon he was around cars that had pitted — Kenseth hadn’t — before that final restart and they passed with their fresher tires. After restarting second with 11 laps to go, Kenseth finished 15th.
“I thought when eight cars stayed out, the way my car handled and the way it would restart and the top and being on warm tires and all that stuff, I knew that it probably wasn’t going to be good, but I didn’t think it would be that bad,’’ Kenseth said Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. “I thought I would have been able, somewhere, to find a gap and pop in there fourth or fifth and hopefully make a position up. I knew my chances for a win were greatly diminished, but I didn’t think I would fall back that far.’’
Kenseth and Busch had made deals on previous restarts where the leader took the outside line instead. The teammate on the inside then allowed the leader to get back down after the restart and resume the race in the lead.
As they prepared for the final restart, Busch asked crew chief Adam Stevens what to do. Stevens said it was time to race.
Kenseth said he understood Busch’s decision.
“I assumed that there was a good possibility he was going to take the bottom,’’ Kenseth said. “I’m sure he felt like and I felt like … the biggest threat to beat him was me. If he could get me on the outside and have some guys behind him he hadn’t had to race with most of the day, his chances were probably going to be better. Common sense tells you that’s the right thing to do.’’
Kenseth likely would have done the same if the roles were reversed.
“My philosophy with teammates has always been help your teammates as much as you can as long as it doesn’t hurt your own effort,’’ he said. “In that particular case, there was a good chance it was going to hurt his own effort and he was going to get beat by his teammate, so, of course, you’re going to try to do what you’ve got to do to win. That’s what we’re supposed to do. That’s what we’re paid for. That’s what your sponsors pay for. That’s what our owners want us to do.’’
On the restart, AJ Allmendinger, who was third, got underneath Kenseth and kept him from moving into that lane. Other cars tucked in behind Allmendinger and Kenseth had nowhere to go. He and Paul Menard bounced off each other but Kenseth was stuck on the outside and continued to fall back.
Busch, meanwhile, ran away from the field and celebrated his first Sprint Cup win at Martinsville.
“If I can’t win a race, I want a JGR car to win the race, no matter what,’’ Kenseth said.
That marked the second race this year Kenseth was in position to win late and didn’t. Teammate Denny Hamlin passed him for the lead less than a mile from the end of the Daytona 500. Kenseth was shuffled back and finished 14th. Strong runs at Atlanta and Auto Club Speedway were ruined by mistakes on pit road. Kenseth, who has one top-10 finish this season, is 14th in the points.
He said crew chief Jason Ratcliff and his team are looking ahead instead of behind, though.
“I don’t see anybody hanging their heads around there,’’ Kenseth said. “I don’t feel like we need a group intervention. I think we’re all grownups. We’ve all been doing it for a long time. I think Jason understands. I understand. I think my crew guys understand.
“I also understand that I was running fourth at Pocono with five to go last year and won the race. Kevin (Harvick) had us beat by a tenth and a half at Loudon every single lap and ran out of gas … and we won that race.
“It’s easy to dwell on the negatives. You’ve got to keep it all in perspective. You’re going to have days when things go right as well. It all starts with performance. If you have the performance, sometimes it’s painful but if you’re patient enough, you’re going to end up getting the results eventually. I don’t think it’s necessarily that we’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot every week. We maybe have a time or two but not every week. You keep it in perspective.’’