Bad tim­ing likely ends Kenseth’s ti­tle chances

The Washington Times Daily - - Sports - BY JENNA FRYER

AVON­DALE, ARIZ. | Matt Kenseth did his best to put on a brave face fol­low­ing his worst per­for­mance of the sea­son, which just hap­pened to come at the worst pos­si­ble time in his cham­pi­onship bat­tle with Jim­mie John­son.

Dark sun­glasses shielded the dis­ap­point­ment in Kenseth’s eyes when he climbed from his car. His voice cracked just once dur­ing what was clearly a con­ces­sion speech. In­stead of harp­ing on the neg­a­tives — he was sad­dled with an ill-han­dling car all day at Phoenix In­ter­na­tional Race­way and ev­ery fix crew chief Ja­son Rat­cliff at­tempted only made it worse — Kenseth fo­cused on the pos­i­tives.

His first sea­son with Joe Gibbs Rac­ing has been the best of his 14 years in the Sprint Cup Se­ries. He won a ca­reer-best seven races, added a South­ern 500 vic­tory to his re­sume and crossed Chicago, Dar­ling­ton, Ken­tucky and New Hamp­shire off the list of ac­tive tracks where he’d never won a Cup race.

And at 41 years old, a decade re­moved from his only Cup cham­pi­onship, Kenseth was in the mix again.

Al­though Kenseth is still el­i­gi­ble to win the ti­tle, his 23rd-place fin­ish at Phoenix sends him into Sun­day’s fi­nale at Home­stead trail­ing John­son by 28 points. It would take a mas­sive fail­ure for John­son not to win his sixth cham­pi­onship.

“You hope to go down to Home­stead and race for it on per­for­mance,” Kenseth said. “On the other hand, I’m ex­tremely happy. I’m re­ally, re­ally happy with my team. It’s a spe­cial group of guys. We’ve had just an amaz­ing, in­cred­i­ble sea­son and we still have one week left. Hope­fully, we can go to Home­stead and go down there and con­tend for a win.”

It was an ad­mirable post-race per­for­mance on an abom­inable day for Kenseth and the en­tire No. 20 team that came out of nowhere at a time when there was zero mar­gin for er­ror.

The rest of the garage had noted from the open­ing prac­tice Fri­day that John­son and his Hen­drick Mo­tor­sports team had shifted into an­other gear. Com­ing off a rout of the field at Texas, the No. 48 team gave ev­ery in­di­ca­tion it was poised to do the same at Phoenix. Joey Logano said John­son was in “kill mode” and Kenseth team­mate Denny Ham­lin sounded as if a John­son ti­tle was in­evitable.

With the pres­sure on, Kenseth had to be per­fect. In­stead, his car was ter­ri­ble from the start.

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