Matt Kenseth has won two Daytona 500s: 2009 and 2012.
But Kenseth’s memory of the Great American Race seems to go back only to last year’s race, when teammate Denny Hamlin won, depriving Kenseth of a third career 500 win.
Instead, Kenseth finished a disappointing 14th.
In a recent interview with NBC Sports, it’s clear from both Kenseth’s answer and demeanor that he’s still upset at letting last year’s race get away from him.
You’d be too: Kenseth was leading the race with one lap to go (he had led from Lap 160-199). He lost the lead in Turn 3 on the final lap when he moved up to block Hamlin. His teammate ducked underneath Kenseth and they made contact, almost causing Kenseth to wreck.
While Kenseth was able to save his wayward car, Hamlin motored past and then had a drag race to the checkered flag with Martin Truex Jr., in what would be the closest finish in Daytona 500 history.
End result, Hamlin won his first Daytona 500 and Kenseth missed out on his third season-opening win.
“I’ve got to be honest, all I can remember right now is losing one last year, and that stinks,” Kenseth said. “Winning ‘em is way better. Ask Denny what it’s like to win one of them.”
But even though he claims to only remember last year’s loss, Kenseth’s memory of Daytona and its legacy are forever etched in his mind.
“It’s the biggest stock car race in the world, right?” he told NBC Sports. “As a kid growing up, with your love being stock car racing, winning the Daytona 500 is in the top of your mind. Or being in the Daytona 500, that’s the big race you turn on and watch on TV, and you feel those guys racing.
“One of my Daytona 500 career highlights is starting my first one. I remember walking down pit road with (former crew chief Robbie Reiser) and looking out in the stands and all the people we’re going to race against and couldn’t believe we were actually there and going to compete with those guys.
“That was real neat, and to be able to win a couple of them was definitely one of my career highlights.”
Kenseth returns to Daytona next week, one of four active drivers to have won the 500 twice, along with Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Michael Waltrip (who hopes to make his 30th and final career start in the 500 this year).
After coming so close in last year’s race, maybe Kenseth will get that elusive third 500 win this year – and prevent Hamlin from getting his second.