Matt Kenseth lost the battle Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway – but he may have positioned himself to win a bigger fight.
Searching for his first Sprint Cup win of the season, Kenseth moved from third to the lead when he stayed on the track during a debris caution with 69 laps left in the Irwin Tools Night Race.
But the call did not work out as well as Kenseth surely hoped. With 45 laps to go, Joey Logano took the lead from Kenseth on the inside and went on to earn his third win of the season.
As for Kenseth, he ceded second place to Brad Keselowski a short time later and finished third.
However, while the zero in the win column remains, Kenseth’s points gap over 17th-place Kyle Larson in the Chase standings grew by a considerable margin.
Coming into Saturday’s race, it had been 58 points after he was collected in a crash last week at Michigan. But Kenseth will be leaving Thunder Valley with an 83-point cushion over Larson.
“I just knew that new tires for the set-up we had tonight and what our car would do in traffic – I just knew that clean air was going to do more than new tires,” said Kenseth, who led 62 laps.
“Maybe we could have got tires and beat those guys – I mean, we’ll never know – but on restarts, I just had such a hard time. I knew clean air would cover up a lot of problems.
“We missed a little bit tonight, but overall, it was a good night for our Dollar General 75th Anniversary car. Man, I wanted to win that thing in the worst way, but I just couldn’t hold ’em off.”
Still, Kenseth’s Chase position has gone from good to excellent. While he was defeated by Logano in the end, the Team Penske driver’s win ensures that at least two winless drivers will make the Chase on points.
That’s big for both Kenseth and the next man behind him on the Chase Grid, 14th-place Ryan Newman.
Newman also bolstered his own points cushion over Larson on Saturday by finishing 13th. He’s now 42 points ahead of the rookie with two regular season races to go; the cushion was at 28 markers before.