7th May 2012, 12:00 AM
Kenseth takes blame for loss in final laps
TALLADEGA, Ala. -- Matt Kenseth wants a do-over.
After leading seven times for 73 laps in Sunday's Aaron's 499, including being at the front of the field during the race's final restart, Kenseth wound up third -- his best finish at Talladega Superspeedway since 2006 -- but felt he gave away a sure victory for either himself or Greg Biffle when the two became separated while tandem drafting.
"It's hard to whine about leading most of the day and finishing third," Kenseth said. "It's just disappointing on the last restart when I had control over keeping Greg with me and I did a poor job of managing that. We got separated and got beat."
When the race went overtime because of a nine-car accident, Kenseth was in perfect position. Not only could he control the restart as the leader, but he had Biffle -- who pushed him "hard enough to almost spin me out on the straightaway" all day -- directly on his rear bumper.
It was the same scenario that resulted in a Daytona 500 victory for the Wisconsin native. And Kenseth felt a bit of déjà vu at that point.
At the drop of the green, Kenseth and Biffle looked like they were shot out of a cannon. But looks can be deceiving, because in the matter of a split-second, Kenseth suddenly realized he no longer had a drafting partner.
"On that last restart, we got a good restart, cleared the bottom lane and got in front of [Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch]," Kenseth said. "And after we did that, I looked back at Greg and saw I had lost him. I knew I was in trouble then.
"He didn't have enough cars behind him and our line just didn't have enough momentum. I got too far away from him because he didn't have anybody pushing him and keeping him with me."
Biffle was no more than two or three car-lengths behind -- but it might as well be the width of the Grand Canyon when it comes to getting the maximum effect of aerodynamic drafting. Without the benefit of a second car, Kenseth was helpless to do anything but turn his helmet to the right and watch Keselowski and Busch roar past on the outside.
"As soon as I realized I was detached we already had two or three car-lengths of separation," Kenseth said.
Even then, Kenseth thought his competition might have misjudged things as well, and made their final moves too soon.
"What I didn't count on was when we got in front [of Keselowski and Busch], that they would go to the outside right away," Kenseth said. "I thought they'd wait until the last lap. As soon as they pulled to the outside, Greg didn't have anybody behind him pushing. And it made his car lose all its speed.
"I knew I was too far in front of him and if I tried to back up to him, we were going to get passed. So I just kept going, hoping we could catch up."
Despite having a vibration from his first set of tires, Kenseth was a force from the outset. He grabbed the lead for the first time on Lap 19 and ran at the front or close to it nearly the entire 194-lap distance.
How strong was Kenseth's Ford? Despite some major body damage, including a large hole in the fender over his right front wheel -- courtesy of contact with Casey Mears -- Kenseth was the class of the field.
"It probably didn't help that we had a piece of the body break off on the B-post and had the fender tracked in a little bit," Kenseth said. "That was my fault because I ran into [Mears] with the right front. It didn't help us, but we had a fast car."
And perhaps being too fast was one of Kenseth's problems. Once he and Biffle got separation from the pack, his only option was to keep Biffle in tow.
It worked at Daytona. But in no more than a blink of an eye -- or a glance away from the rear view mirror, Kenseth felt he let a victory slip away.
"It was my fault," Kenseth said. "I needed to drag the brake more and get off the gas more to make sure he stays attached. But honestly at Daytona, we came unattached and they couldn't get a run back on me. When we did come apart, there really was no bottom lane. He lost all his speed."
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