The 51-race gap wasn’t the longest winless streak of Matt Kenseth’s NASCAR career.
Kenseth’s victory in Sunday night’s Food City 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway likely wasn’t his biggest, either.
Yet the win, which came over a nine-hour, rain-delayed marathon that stretched a scheduled 500-lap race to 511, might have seem a bit sweeter if only for serving as a reminder of the success in Kenseth’s late-career move to Joe Gibbs Racing.
In his first season at JGR in 2013 – after nearly 14 full years with Roush Fenway Racing – Kenseth won a career-best seven races and finished runner-up to Jimmie Johnson for the Sprint Cup Series championship.
Little did he know at the time his last win of that season, Sept. 22 at New Hampshire, would have to be savored for so long.
“Not winning for as long as we did … honestly, it does, it wears on you a little bit,” said Kenseth, who should join teammate Denny Hamlin in the Chase this season.
“We had such a good 2013, we came a little short of the ultimate prize there, but we had such a great season, and last year there were some races we had some chances to win and just things wouldn’t line up for us.
“We just couldn’t get it to happen.”
Sunday night’s race was less about Kenseth and his No. 20 Toyota team not being able to make it happen and more about having the patience to see it through.
Kenseth began the weekend by winning his first pole of 2015 and was able to enjoy a moment with his 21-year-old son, Ross, who announced Friday he will make his NASCAR debut with JGR in an Xfinity Series race in June at Chicagoland Speedway.
It was the dynamics of the race that proved particularly trying for Kenseth and the rest of the field.
Persistent rain delayed the scheduled 1 p.m. start until 2:31 p.m., but eight minutes and 22 laps later it was halted as a hard rain returned.
That was enough time, however, for Kevin Harvick to grab the lead from Kenseth, and remove from contention two drivers – Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano – who had fast cars but wrecked just before the race was stopped.
Nearly eight hours later, Kenseth found himself back in the front and desperately trying to hold on while trying to outrun the next shower.
NASCAR halted the race one final time to dry the track’s corner before setting up the final two-lap overtime that would decide the winner. Kenseth, however, had little trouble finishing what he started.
“I’ve never lost sight of how hard this is and how competitive it is and how many good teams and drivers and crew chiefs and crew members and all that stuff is out there, and I think every team has ups and downs,” said Kenseth, who has one Cup title (2003) and 32 series victories.
“Last year overall I felt like we weren’t certainly at our potential I don’t think, not just us but as a whole group, as an organization. I feel like we made big gains toward the end of the year.
“I feel like this year we’ve really been gaining on it, all of us.”
He simply needed the patience to wait for it.
Was it worth the wait?
“It’s always great,” Kenseth’s crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, said of being back in Victory Lane. “Even if we were there last week, it never gets old.”
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