AVONDALE, Ariz. — Matt Kenseth isn’t conceding the 2013 Sprint Cup Series championship.
But he knows trying to overcome Jimmie Johnson’s 28-point advantage with one race remaining is a very tall order.
Kenseth and his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing team struggled most of the race in Sunday’s AdvoCare 500k at Phoenix International Raceway. At one point during a round of green-flag pit stops, he fell two laps down and was running 29th.
He ended up with a 23rd-place finish, his worst performance of the Chase and worst finish since he was 33rd at the July Daytona race.
“I think our day was pretty self-explanatory. We just really struggled,” Kenseth said. “Honestly, that was probably our first day like that, that we’ve had all season long.
“That speaks volumes about my team. We haven’t had a day like that all year where we’ve been far enough where we couldn’t stay on the lead lap.”
Unfortunately for Kenseth, the bad day couldn’t have come at a worse time.
While Johnson, too, had some problems – he twice nearly got wrecked on the track – he managed to regroup and got rewarded with a third-place finish when then-leader Carl Edwards ran out of fuel on the next-to-last-lap.
“Being in the championship, hunt we hoped to go down to Homestead and race for it on performance,” Kenseth said.
Kenseth’s JGR teammates, Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin, also struggled in the race. Hamlin led the first 18 laps but also caused the race’s first caution when he spun out with what quickly became an ill-handling car.
Busch’s seventh-place finish was the best he ran in the entire race. He spent much of the race running between 10th and 20th.
“Denny and Kyle pretty much dominated the fall (2012) race and in the spring (this year), (and) I thought all three of us ran really, really good,” Kenseth said.
“We just seemed like we were all off a little bit this weekend. We’ll get back to work on it. Hopefully, we’ll be fast next week.”