Here's why Matt Kenseth's win at Phoenix brought him closure, pleased so many others

Brendan Marks, The Charlotte Observer on

Published in Auto Racing

Could Kenseth theoretically drive for another few years? If Sunday's result is to be believed, then absolutely. But without the proper sponsorship or any availability on a top team, that doesn't matter. Instead, he'll get to appreciate being the rare driver who knows when they get their final win and can celebrate it appropriately.

Coming into Sunday's race, Kenseth wasn't being touted as a potential winner by the general public or pundits, but within his own team, there was confidence dating from Saturday's practice.

"Occasionally over the last five years we'll have a Saturday practice like the one we had yesterday where Matt comes in, he never even uses the word 'perfect,' " Jason Ratcliff, Kenseth's crew chief, said, "but occasionally he'll say ... 'man, the entry is pretty good, it turns pretty good, the exit' ... he almost said 'perfect' yesterday. Occasionally you'll get one of those.

"So I knew when we left here last night, we came in this morning, we didn't do anything really to speak of."

Kenseth was clearly onto something on Saturday. He ran well throughout the afternoon Sunday, staying near the front of the pack and occasionally jumping up to the lead, but it wasn't until almost the very end of the race that he made his final move. He passed Chase Elliott with about 10 laps to go and was able to hold onto the lead from there. Then, once he'd crossed the finish line and broken out into tears, all the "respect" came pouring in.

Eventually Kenseth made his way up to the media center to do interviews, to be the center of attention one last time. He mentioned how special this win was, how he has finally accepted his future, and repeated how much it meant to have the clear support from so many other people.


And then like clockwork, his pit crew burst into the room to continue the celebrations. There were more high-fives, a small ruckus, and then as they filed out, shouting.

Kenseth followed them, raising his hand to thank the media one last time. And then, as his crew bounded out of the room and hollered, "Way to go, Matt" one last time, Kenseth finally made his exit -- from the room, the track, and from the sport he's known most of his life.

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