For the first time in the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup, Matt Kenseth is not leading the championship.
Jimmie Johnson’s 13th-place result in today’s Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway seems a bit lacking after he led a race-high 47 laps. However, it was enough to take the Chase lead from Kenseth, who, like Johnson, ran up front early but finished 20th at the checkered flag.
With four races remaining in the post-season, Johnson now leads by four points over Kenseth as the Chase heads from the Sprint Cup Series’ biggest track to its smallest – the .526-mile Martinsville Speedway – for next week’s Goody’s Headache Relief Shot 500 powered by Kroger.
Johnson had hoped to continue what had been a strong run as of late on restrictor plate tracks, but found himself shuffled out of the lead pack as the race wound down.
“The outside lane got going and everyone jumped up in it, and you just don’t know if people are going to chase the bottom or the top,” Johnson told ESPN afterwards. “When I saw the 1 car [race winner Jamie McMurray] have the lead, then you figured the 1 and the 88 [runner-up Dale Earnhardt Jr.] would take the top. And as that developed, I was on the bottom lane and worked my way to the middle lane.
“I was able to maintain for a while and then everyone went single-file at the top, and I just dropped like a rock…But we rallied back, got a few more spots, and most importantly, got back in front of the 20 [Kenseth] and missed the [last-lap] wreck on the backstretch.”
As for Kenseth, who was one of the top drivers in the first half of the race, he tumbled from the lead pack with an ill-handling car in the middle stages. Toward the end, he was able to charge back into the Top 5, only to fade once more.
“It was really bizarre,” Kenseth said of his car’s evil ways. “Typically, handling is a non-issue here and we just got so loose, I couldn’t hang on to it. I pretty much had to run in the back for two runs which was disappointing.
“We finally got it fixed on the last run, but we only had 20 laps to get back up there and I really needed to be up there like we were early and kind of feel like I was controlling the race more, controlling the lanes, the runs and all of that. I could never get back to there.”
When asked about losing the Chase lead, Kenseth said the matter wouldn’t affect him or his team’s focus.
“I honestly feel like we can race with anybody when we’re at our best,” he said. “So hopefully, we’ll be at our best the next four weeks and give ’em a run for their money.”