Blown engine costs Kenseth a chance to make history

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Associated Press
Monday, March 2, 2009
— Matt Kenseth knew his bid to make NASCAR history was over before the race even started Sunday.

Kenseth, seeking to become the first driver to win the first three races of the season, sensed a problem in his engine during the warmup laps at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. A caution on the second lap gave him a chance to head to pit road, where his crew quickly tried to fix the problem.

But once back on the track, he knew the motor was about to fail.

“You guys can start packing it up, I’m going to be there in two laps,” he radioed his Roush Fenway Racing team.

Sure enough, the motor failed by lap six and the Cambride native was out of the race.

“How you can blow up in warmups?” he questioned crew chief Drew Blickensderfer over the radio. “Anyway, great job the last two weeks. Pretty disappointing.”

Kyle Busch notched the biggest win of his young career Sunday by driving from the back of the field to win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, his hometown track.

Although there are far more hallowed tracks in NASCAR, this 1.5-mile oval in the desert was where “The Wild Thing” most wanted to win. He proved that with an elaborate victory celebration that ended with him on his knees, kissing the finish line.

“I tell you what, this is pretty cool,” Busch said. “I didn’t know exactly what it would mean, but coming to the checkered flag, there were knots in my stomach. It’s bigger than winning the Daytona 500. I said it wasn’t going to be, but it is.”

Busch struggled in his first visit to Vegas, wrecking 11 laps into his Cup debut race and finishing 41st.

He bounced back to compete for the wins the next to seasons, but settled for second- and third-place finishes to then-teammate Jimmie Johnson. His best chance might have been last year, when he returned home leading the points for the first time in his career and won the pole. But he struggled with the handling on his JGR Toyota, and wound up 11th.

This year, he wouldn’t be denied.

Kenseth won the season-opening Daytona 500 and followed it with a win last week at California to take the lead in the Sprint Cup Series standings and put himself in position to make history. But his weekend got off to a poor start when he came to Las Vegas fighting the flu, then had a poor qualifying effort that led to a 40th-place starting spot.

The motor issue prevented him from ever having a chance to drive toward the front of the field.

“I think it’s the first failure we’ve had in over two years,” he said. “It’s just one of those things that happens now and again. It’s disappointing we didn’t get to race today.”

Kenseth wound up finishing 43rd on Sunday—just his second last-place finish of his career—and dropped to third in the standings. It was a far different feeling after the first two weeks of the season, when Kenseth returned to Victory Lane after a winless 2008.

“I don’t know that I’ve ever dropped out on Lap 1 before,” said Kenseth, whose previous worst finish at Las Vegas had been 20th. “It’s never really easy. It was a pretty long weekend for nothing. It’s disappointing, no matter what. I am glad we did great the first two weeks, but really, you take it one week at a time and shift your focus to that race each week.”

Last updated: 10:01 am Thursday, December 13, 2012

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