2013 AdvoCare 500: Matt Kenseth’s ‘disappointing’ day proves costly

Tom Pennington

Kenseth was never competitive Sunday, and his worst finish of the Chase more than likely cost him a chance to win a second NASCAR championship.

It wasn't a concession speech, but it might as well have been after Matt Kenseth finished Sunday's AdvoCare 500 23rd, all but handing Jimmie Johnson the 2013 Sprint Cup Championship.

Struggling with a car that wouldn't turn despite a litany of adjustments, Kenseth posted his worst result in the 2013 Chase. That, combined with Johnson finishing third, put him in a 28-point hole with one race remaining. It's not an insurmountable margin, but the fact is Kenseth no longer controls his destiny entering next Sunday's season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

"I'm disappointed, obviously with the way our season has gone and kind of being in the championship hunt, you hope to go down to Homestead and race for it on performance."-Matt Kenseth

"I think the day is pretty self-explanatory," Kenseth said. "We just really struggled. Honestly, it was the first day like 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 (back) where we couldn't stay on the lead lap.

"It was an unfortunate, disappointing day, but man we did the best we could do. We just were off today."

From the drop of the green flag Kenseth was never comfortable with the handle of his No. 20 Toyota. At various stages his car was too loose then too tight, completely confounding both he and crew chief Jason Ratcliff.

Ratcliff was so dumbfounded he even told his driver he would stop making adjustments.

Not helping matters was a woefully prolonged pit stop near the halfway mark that clocked in at 25 seconds. The slow stop was a result of confusion whether to take two tires or four, a mistake Ratcliff owned up to afterward.

"I don't really think we had a strong car at all today, unfortunately," Ratcliff said. And, then just snowballed and got us way behind ... you go to put left sides on and nobody comes down pit road behind you. You're thinking, 'Man, let's just put four on.' And the bad part about it is you've already called lefts and your guys have left side tires in their hands.

"It's really bad," he added. "Just a bad job on my part today."

In a race defined by track position it didn't help that the No. 20 team never was operating from a position of strength. As the yellow flag slowed the middle portions, Kenseth repeatedly hit pit road be it for tires, spring rubbers, wedge or other changes. However, none of them improved his car.

For his part, while admitting he was disappointed with the outcome, Kenseth tried to remain optimistic. Although he's 28 points in arrears of Johnson, there is a mathematical chance he could still win the championship.

Johnson can secure his sixth Cup Championship by finishing 23rd or better in next Sunday's season finale; 24th if he leads a single lap; or if he leads the most laps, 25th. Working in Kenseth's favor is Homestead-Miami Speedway is one of five tracks Johnson has never won, whereas Kenseth won there in 2007.

"I'm disappointed, obviously with the way our season has gone and kind of being in the championship hunt, you hope to go down to Homestead and race for it on performance," Kenseth said. "On the other hand, I'm extremely happy. I'm really, really happy with my team. Man, it's been a great season.

"We still have a week to go. Hopefully, we can go to Homestead and go down there and contend for a win."

More from SB Nation:

Complete coverage of the 2013 Sprint Cup Chase

Johnson takes points lead with dominant victory

Another runner-up finish for Dale, Jr.

NASCAR power rankings: Kenseth surges past Johnson

The good times, hard life and shocking death of Dick Trickle

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