2014 Coca Cola 600 | Charlotte Motor Speedway

Matt Kenseth close again at Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte but still no win

rbonnell@charlotteobserver.comMay 25, 2014 

— The optimist would say Matt Kenseth already has six top-seven finishes this season in Sprint Cup.

The pessimist would wonder how last year’s championship runner-up, who won seven races, hasn’t converted any of this season’s opportunities into a victory.

Kenseth could have ended all that talk Sunday, taking the lead in the final restart of the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Instead he was overtaken, not only by race winner Jimmie Johnson but also by second-place finisher Kevin Harvick.

Kenseth prides himself on a sense of calm and perspective through good times and bad. He never got particularly giddy down the stretch last season, so he isn’t in the pits of depression now.

“Panicking has never helped anything,” Kenseth said after the race.

How well does he practice that approach in a sport with its share of hotheads?

“(Emotion) moves up and down but you try to avoid the spikes,” Kenseth said. “It’s not like we’re way off, not like terrible. Been running top five, top seven. You feel better running third than 33rd. There’s a difference there. You can only work on it so hard.”

Kenseth acknowledged that to have won Sunday, he would have required some luck. He never thought he had the top car, though top five was well within grasp. That difference between his Toyota and Johnson’s Chevrolet became apparent any time the two matched up on long green-flag runs.

“I felt we were in good shape when I cleared Jeff (Gordon) – he only had two (fresh) tires,” Kenseth said of the final sequence. “I was hoping I’d hold everybody back. But the 48 (Johnson) cleared him and then he mowed me down.

“He could do it any time he wanted to. He had two- or three-tenths (of a second of extra speed) anytime he wanted.”

Kenseth had suffered damage to the nose of his car. He said he didn’t hit anything, so it must have been debris along the track. Those are the little things he generally avoided in his run last season.

He never gloated last season, so he wasn’t about to pout now.

“Everything fell in our lap but I had no speed to hold off Jimmie and Kevin. But it was a step in the right direction – I thought we had a top-five car. But everything would have had to go perfectly.

“Certainly we’re not where we were a year ago, but we had a top-five car.”

Kenseth was asked if Sprint Cup’s new scoring system, which places greater emphasis on victories, was adding to the pressure on him or his team. He scoffed at that conjecture, much as Johnson had before Sunday’s victory.

“For me it’s not any different,” Kenseth said. “I mean, I think the pressure and urgency to win is there each and every week. At least it is for me. These are all huge races.

“Not many of us get that chance to do this every week. There’s even a smaller group that gets to do it at a really competitive, high level that actually (gives you) a chance to win these things.”

Rick Bonnell: (704) 358-5129; Twitter: @rick_bonnell

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