CRANDALL: Kenseth's tall order

Image by Kinrade/LAT

CRANDALL: Kenseth's tall order

Cup Series

CRANDALL: Kenseth's tall order


A picture is worth a thousand words. If looks could kill. Two common expressions.

Matt Kenseth recently demonstrated another one: Saying nothing sometimes says the most.

Kenseth, of course, has recently returned to Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition, and he’s done so with Roush Fenway Racing. The company’s once-upon-a-time hero cometh back home. And now the 2003 champion – also the first NASCAR Cup title for Roush — has been saddled with both the pressure and expectation of being Roush Fenway’s saving grace.

A tall task that will not happen overnight — should Kenseth accomplish it at all. If only that were remembered by some, especially considering Kenseth has preached patience. But since it hasn’t, maybe what he didn’t say at Charlotte Motor Speedway will stick.

In a pre-race media availability ahead of the Coca-Cola 600, Kenseth’s session opened like this:

Moderator: “Matt, you picked up your first Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series victory in the Coke 600 18 years ago driving for Jack Roush. Can you reflect on that just a little bit and then talk about what it would mean to return to victory lane this weekend with newly minted Hall of Famer Jack Roush?”

Kenseth… gave a brief answer about how happy he was to see Roush selected to the 2019 Hall of Fame class. A perfect shift in conversation as Kenseth chose to focus on Roush instead of going into a spiel about a hypothetical win.

Was it intentional on Kenseth’s part? There is no way of knowing without asking him, and it could have been he simply honed in on the last part of what the moderator said, picking up the words ‘Hall of Fame’ and ‘Jack Roush.’

Kenseth started — and finished — 17th in the Coke 600. (Image by Kinrade/LAT)

But let’s give the wily Kenseth, a quick-witted veteran with a sharp mind, some credit. The way the situation unfolded was both brilliant and appropriate.

While the question was nothing more than a softball lobbed Kenseth’s way to kick things off — not unusual for how these media availabilities go — the question was also, at heart, ridiculous. Kenseth made that clear by pivoting his attention elsewhere.

Not ridiculous in a way that discredits Kenseth’s talent or slaps Roush Fenway in the face, but this group did, in fact, bring him into the fold because it recognized the need to bolster its program. Even casually tossing out the idea that Kenseth could so easily take the No. 6 to victory lane for the first time since 2011 (David Ragan, July at Daytona) should be ignored.

“We’re not very far into this yet,” said Kenseth to a later question. “Kansas was a struggle the whole weekend. Last weekend was very unique, running restrictor plates and all that stuff at Charlotte, and the All-Star format and stuff, so that was kind of different.”

A lot is going on for Kenseth and company right now, none of which involves using the ‘w’ word – or even thinking that in those terms. In the last three weeks, Kenseth’s performances haven’t been far off what Trevor Bayne and the No. 6 team were doing. Kenseth finished 17th at Charlotte, and including his 14th-place effort in the non-points All-Star Race, he has two top-20 finishes in three races. Bayne has earned five in the 11 races he’s run so far.

Kenseth finished 36th in his Cup return at Kansas, but he’s followed that with two top-20 finishes in Charlotte. (Image by Harrelson/LAT)

“It was a struggle all night for us,” said Kenseth after the Coke 600. “I guess we finished about where we qualified; I thought we were about a 20th to 22nd-place car most of the night. We finished a little better than that, but maybe it’s a small step forward since Kansas. We still have some work to do.

“I feel like I’m trying to get up to speed as quick as I can. I’m still behind a little bit, so hopefully these next couple of weeks we’ll be able to get caught and keep improving.”

Improving, meaning getting better. Like a child learning to crawl before they can walk. That’s where Kenseth and this team are right now.

Winning? That’s not even part of the conversation.