LOUDON, N.H. — In a moment, it was all gone for Matt Kenseth.
All the effort over 295 miles and more than 2 hours and 45 minutes of racing was gone — as was the victory — when Kevin Harvick passed Kenseth for the lead on a restart with six laps to go.
“They gave me a shot to win,’’ Kenseth said of his team, “and I didn’t hang on for it.’’
The final moment, though, actually began a few laps earlier.
On the restart at Lap 290, Kenseth pulled away from Martin Truex Jr., who was second at the time, and seemed headed for the win until a caution for a multi-car incident.
As the cars circled New Hampshire Motor Speedway behind the pace car, Kenseth’s team told him that there had been complaints about the last restart. He asked who complained. His team told him NASCAR, although officials ruled the restart was legal.
“They made it sound like I slowed down the last time,’’ Kenseth said after finishing second to Kevin Harvick.
“But in my opinion the leader is always supposed to have the advantage. He’s the leader; he earned that advantage. They said I slowed down a little bit last time, which I’ve got to re-watch it. I don’t really think I did, but if I did at all, it’s because the inside car was laying back a little bit, and you want to make sure he gets up to your nose so it’s a fair restart. If he’s back at your door and anticipates a little bit, it’s not a fair restart. He’s going to be equal to you or a little bit better.’’
So as Kenseth, on the outside, and Harvick, on the inside, headed toward the restart on the following restart, Kenseth made a mistake.
“I saw Kevin at my door, and I should have known better,’’ Kenseth said. “ I should have went deep in the (restart) box and waited, and the acceleration was probably better down there anyway, but I didn’t. I went right at the first line, and he anticipated a little bit of that and got rolling good through the gears and then I got through the gears bad. I spun the tires in second, I spun the tires in third, so I had a really bad restart besides all that.’’
Harvick detailed his thoughts to NBC Sports on that final restart:
“It’s definitely a challenge just to get it right. It’s so easy to mess it up. I had gone into that restart really focused on trying not to spin the tires because I felt I was in a vulnerable position on the bottom and didn’t really want to get myself three-wide or spin the tires and wind up losing two or three spots.
“I just wanted to fire off and have a chance when I got to Turn 1 and wound up getting lucky really that Matt had what he said happened with him getting through the gears. As we got into Turns 1 and 2, I was able to let off the brake and go back to the throttle and get back beside him coming off of Turn 2 and that was the key. My goal was to protect what I had because we needed a solid day, and it wound up putting us in a position by just getting off the restart well.’’
Truex, who finished seventh, said he wasn’t surprised that Harvick won because the No. 4 team is strong but felt like how he and Kenseth raced each other late helped Harvick.
“I wish Matt didn’t let him win,’’ said Truex, who led 141 of the 300 laps. “He raced me that hard and held me behind him all that time. If I just could have got by him, I don’t think anybody could have touched us. I felt like with him being able to hold us off, I thought he was going to be OK. But I think he was in the same position as me. I think he ran really hard trying to keep me behind him.
“We both burned our tires off. Man, we were going as hard as we could go every single lap, and I think Harvick was back there in clean air. He wasn’t as fast as we were, so he was just running smooth, consistent laps, and he ended up having better tires than us at the end.’’
Harvick said it wasn’t that easy.
“They would race on the restarts (Kenseth and Truex) and they would slide around and definitely were using their tires up, but on the restarts I was having to do the same thing. I think it was just really about track position for us, to be able to get closer to the front and fire off with those guys and not have to battle somebody else and then be so far behind.’’