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Kenseth cruises to victory in Texas

Posted: Tuesday, April 09, 2002

FORT WORTH, Texas -- Maybe practice is overrated.

Matt Kenseth won the Samsung/Radio Shack 500 on Monday despite running only five laps in practice at Texas Motor Speedway.

His few laps came Friday, before he blew an engine. Saturday's practice was rained out, and more wet weather Sunday postponed the race, leaving everyone guessing about chassis set-ups on the repaved 1 1/2-mile oval.

Kenseth found the answer, holding the lead with a late-race, two-tire stop and driving to an easy victory in his No. 17 Roush Racing Ford.

''When you have a fast car, sometimes you don't want to practice too much and start making changes that might slow you down,'' Kenseth said. ''Really, we had kind of decided on our own what we were gong to run on our car and it was pretty close to the set-up I ran on my Busch car Saturday.''

Kenseth finished fifth in the Busch race.

The key moment in Monday's race was the two-tire pit stop near the end.

''We lost a race like that in California in my rookie year by taking four tires,'' Kenseth said. ''We didn't want to do that again, and we knew if some of those other guys got out ahead of us, we probably wouldn't be able to get past them.''

It was the second win of the season and the third of his career for the former NASCAR Winston Cup rookie of the year, who solidified his hold on second place -- behind Sterling Marlin -- in the season points.

Jeff Gordon was able to hold off Mark Martin for second -- 0.888 seconds, or about eight car-lengths, behind Kenseth. The winner averaged 142.455 mph in the race slowed by 41 laps of caution.

The leaders made their final pit stops on lap 308, in the last of seven caution periods in the 334-lap event.

Kenseth, who had been battling at the front with Tony Stewart, got a very fast pit stop and came back onto the track ahead of Gordon, who also took only two tires on his Chevrolet.

Stewart had taken two tires on his previous stop to get track position and was forced to take four this time. He slid all the way to eighth and never got back into contention, finishing well off the pace in fifth.

''Clean air was a big deal,'' said the 30-year-old Kenseth. ''If you were up front and had clean air, you were in pretty good shape. We were up front when it counted.''

Kenseth, who has five top-10 finishes in seven starts this season, including a victory in Rockingham, N.C., was listed as starting 31st in the 43-car field. He actually had to pull to the back of the field for the green flag after the blown engine Friday.

Under NASCAR's new one-engine rule, the teams must use only one motor for the entire race weekend or start from the back.

The fast oval was repaved last summer, and that put a premium on passing, making Kenseth's task look impossible.

''This was awesome,'' he said. ''I never thought we'd have a shot at winning it today. We were all worried about it being a one-groove track, with the repaving, but it really wasn't. I was really surprised how fast it came in. You could run side-by-side.

''I had a real fast car. I could catch people in front of us, but it was just hard to pass them.''

Kenseth took the lead for the first time on lap 231 and wound up leading three times for a total of 84, including the final 25.

The green flag waved for the final time with 22 laps remaining, and Kenseth's Taurus pulled steadily away from Gordon, who had his hands full with Martin, Kenseth's teammate.

For Gordon, the four-time and defending series champion, it was his best finish since a victory in Kansas City last September.

Ricky Rudd, who led in the early going, wound up fourth, followed by Stewart, rookie Jimmie Johnson and Marlin, who now leads Kenseth by 70 points.

It appeared through the first half of the race that defending race winner Dale Jarrett, Rudd's teammate, had the best car in the field. He led a race-high 134 laps and was running second on lap 229 when he ran out of gas coming off turn two and had to coast to the pits.

He then got trapped in his pit stall behind Gordon's car for about 10 seconds and wound up losing two laps. He finished 24th.

Crowd favorite and former Texas winner Dale Earnhardt Jr. hit the wall on lap 184 after a brush with the lapped car of Shawna Robinson, the only woman in the field.

Ward Burton and Robby Gordon were also involved in single-car crashes. None of the drivers was injured.



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