Having to make up a sizeable deficit on Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth knew he was going to need some luck if he were to win the Sprint Cup championship.
That luck never came, and despite a valiant effort, Kenseth finished runner-up to teammate Denny Hamlin in the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He ended the season second in the championship, 19 points behind Johnson, who placed ninth Sunday.
"It was a really great night for us," Kenseth said. "I'm so proud of everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing and Kyle (Busch) and Denny. Especially for Denny, it's been a tough, long year for him and this is what we all needed honestly. This will really give us a lot of confidence heading into next season. ... Overall, great day, great season."
Starting on the pole, Kenseth did all he could, leading a race-high 144 laps. But as he was out front, there was no communication with his team how Johnson was doing, a sign which Kenseth knew was bad.
"I figured silence wasn't good," he said. "I told them that I didn't really care and didn't really need to know unless he was in the garage and something happened to him and then we were just going to make sure we didn't run into the wall. Other than that we were just going to run the race and call the race and try to win."
Regardless of how Kenseth performed, all Johnson had to do Sunday was finish 23rd or better. He did that and more, consistently running in the top-10 to win his sixth title in eight years. The points lead Johnson held was such that Kenseth knew his only hope was if misfortune befell his counterpart.
The two actually made contact during a late restart when Jeff Gordon spun his tires, bunching up the field. Kenseth sustained a dent in his right side door, while Johnson suffered a tire rub, which gave faint hope that the championship might turn.
That notion proved short-lived, however, as all four tires remained up on Johnson's machine. Both drivers would eventually make repairs under a subsequent caution.
"I didn't even know we had contact on the restart, it was the weirdest thing," Kenseth said. "... I got off the gas not to wreck. I got hit in the right rear, if it was Jimmie, I have no idea until you just told me. I didn't know where he was."
Despite the disappointment of losing the championship, Kenseth was still in a jovial mood post-race, joking it was nice Johnson "finally won something." His lightheartedness is explained by the excellent year he himself turned in winning seven races in his first season driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Not surprisingly, he's already looking ahead to 2014.
"It was just an unbelievable year for us really," Kenseth said. "Obviously, we wanted to finish off and win the championship as good as we ran all year, but couldn't be more proud of the whole team. They did a spectacular job all season and all day today again. Denny and Kyle are awesome teammates and I'm really looking forward to getting into next season."