Nov 10, 2013, 8:43 PM EDT
But on Sunday, misfortune finally caught up with the 2003 Cup champion as he endured a dismal Advocare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway.
Plagued by numerous issues, Kenseth finished one lap down in 23rd and lost a whopping 21 points to Johnson, who finished third. Johnson (now ahead of Kenseth by 28 points) only has to finish 23rd or better in next Sunday’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway to win this year’s Cup title.
“I can’t say I was overly confident about what we had,” Kenseth told the Associated Press’ Jenna Fryer. “Obviously, it didn’t drive good or we would have been up there with the front group. I just did all I could with it, which wasn’t much.”
Kenseth was never a factor primarily due to handling problems on his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota that never completely went away during the 312-lap race. At one point, it got so bad that Kenseth dubbed the car “undriveable” over his team’s radio.
Clean air seemed to be the only cure for what ailed Kenseth, so his JGR team played the pit strategy game for track position. For a while, the gamble was working and Kenseth was able to make his way into the Top 10 after staying out on track under a caution at Lap 145.
But everything changed on Lap 163, when the yellow came out again for a spin involving J.J. Yeley just moments after Johnson had saved his car from crashing in Turn 1 following contact with Carl Edwards.
Johnson dropped all the way to 26th, and the door was open for Kenseth to make him pay. Instead, he had a horrendous stop under the caution. In addition to his crew changing the tire call during the stop, Kenseth ran over an air hose that forced him to back up.
By the time it was all over, the stop had lasted almost 26 seconds – tossing him all the way back to 29th. In the second half of the race, Kenseth once again made up some ground by staying out during pit stops but thanks to his seemingly possessed Toyota, he lost the track position back under green-flag conditions.
This time, he wasn’t able to be toward the front when it counted. Afterwards, Kenseth’s crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, defended the No. 20 gang.
“Everybody’s going to say, ‘Oh, the pressure got to them,’ ” he said to the AP. “Just poor execution on a track that’s so hard to pass. You’re trying to make up for something that happened earlier and it just snowballs on you.
“The car wasn’t responding to changes. We’d make a change and wouldn’t help it, so we’d put that back and make a another change and I don’t know if that was better or worse, so I was like ‘Just quit working on the thing, it’s not responding.’ We were just trying to make something out of nothing.”
Now, Kenseth, Ratcliff and Co. will have to try and make a miracle next weekend.
Apr 16, 2014, 8:48 AM EDT
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Apr 15, 2014, 8:33 PM EDT
If Sprint Cup drivers’ comments during today’s Goodyear tire test at Kansas Speedway are an indication, we can expect to see track records fall next month on the 1.5-mile oval.
Apr 15, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
Kyle Petty breaks down critical pit strategies in recent races, and Nate Ryan reports on today’s Goodyear tire test at Kansas.
Apr 15, 2014, 6:42 PM EDT
Rookie rival Kyle Larson has been more flashy, but Dillon’s consistency has paid off in the season’s first eight races.
Apr 15, 2014, 5:45 PM EDT
On tap: The decision of four tires or two; Jeff Gordon’s crew chief, Alan Gustafson; today’s tire test at Kansas; and the Darlington edition of “Scan All 43.”
Apr 15, 2014, 4:55 PM EDT
Mosley’s advice to current FIA president Jean Todt? “Take no notice.”
Apr 15, 2014, 4:01 PM EDT
The first race of last month’s season-opening weekend in St. Petersburg was rained out.
Apr 15, 2014, 3:16 PM EDT
The Force India driver will look to continue his momentum this weekend in China.
Apr 15, 2014, 2:11 PM EDT
The test will help determine the aerodynamic options available to teams for this June’s IndyCar event on the 1.5-mile oval in Fort Worth.
Apr 15, 2014, 1:45 PM EDT
Video highlights from the first Chinese Grand Prix, already 10 years ago.
Apr 15, 2014, 1:01 PM EDT
Like father, like daughter? Ella Sofia Gordon got her first taste of a quarter-midget car earlier this week.
Apr 15, 2014, 12:45 PM EDT
Some of IndyCar’s top performers, stats of notes and points after two races.
Apr 15, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT
Indy Lights rookie Lloyd Read has either been really unlucky with circumstances or really lucky to avoid worse circumstances in the first two races, depending on your interpretation.
Apr 15, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT
Where the NASCAR points standings sit after eight races, now post-Darlington.
Apr 15, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
Expert insight from NBCSN’s IndyCar ace analyst Townsend Bell returns for a second season on MotorSportsTalk.
Apr 15, 2014, 10:07 AM EDT
No overturning of Red Bull’s appeal at Melbourne.
Apr 14, 2014, 8:00 PM EDT
See what changed between Sunday morning and Sunday afternoon for three of IndyCar’s best – a street race at Long Beach where the gloves came off.
Apr 14, 2014, 7:37 PM EDT
Sabine Kehm also talks about the Schumacher family having to deal with “untruths” in media reports about the seven-time F1 champion’s health.
Apr 14, 2014, 6:45 PM EDT
Rick Allen and Kyle Petty discuss the Darlington efforts from Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, and Jimmie Johnson – as well as Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer’s late incident.
Apr 14, 2014, 6:05 PM EDT
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