Tearing along, Kenseth puts smile on Roush's face


Auto Racing

April 07, 2002|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Matt Kenseth is second in the Winston Cup points race, just 99 behind leader Sterling Marlin. It's enough to make me want to jump on his bandwagon and claim him for our own - given he is sponsored by Towson-based DeWalt Industries. No doubt I'd get an argument from all those race-loving fans in his native Wisconsin.

But, claimed or not, Kenseth is riding a very nice wave at the moment. After winning at Rockingham in the second race of the season, he has been nothing but consistent, finishing among the top cars each week.

"Being second in the points right now, we're feeling pretty good for where we are in our performance so far this year," Kenseth said. "It's such a long year, though, so I'm not going to get too caught up in that right now. The team is pretty pumped up, and we're doing the things we need to do to stay up there."

His is one of four Jack Roush-owned teams that are ranked in the Top 10 going into today's race at Texas Motor Speedway. And that's enough to make Roush tip his hat back and smile.

"Last year, we understood the rules and challenges, but we couldn't get it done," he said, recalling the past season in which only Jeff Burton, who wound up 10th in points, made it into the top group.

"It was our 15th year in this sport, and we couldn't get it done. I was so blue and broken-hearted I almost cried at the [season-ending] banquet.

"I didn't get it right for any of them."

But that was last year, and this is now. Switching crew chiefs, lots of testing and determination has turned things around. Roush is only surprised that it isn't Burton who is leading the rise to prominence.

"But Matt has really been on the mark and Kurt [Bush, who won at Bristol and is fifth in points], where did they come from?" Roush said. "I've got two new guys and two veterans and the new guys are showing the way. I guess they don't have as many paradigms to break."

Earnhardt Jr. sells

According to Atlanta Journal-Constitution writer Al Levine, Dale Earnhardt Jr. has become NASCAR's hottest commodity.

In a column this week, Levine noted Earnhardt "has taken the sport places it has seldom been before - into the window of department stores, where female fans have tried walking off with Drakkar displays featuring his face; into magazines like Rolling Stone and Playboy.

"When the drivers flew into Daytona for the start of Speedweeks in February, they couldn't miss the huge banner of Dale Jr., posing like the Fabio of the fast lane, on the side of the airport hangar."

Levine's research shows the cologne, on the market for 18 years, hadn't been advertised in seven years and ranked 15th in total sales. Since taking on Earnhardt, the brand has jumped to No. 2.

Leibowitz is back

Defending Ernie's Salvage Yard pure stock champion Bruce Leibowitz of Reisterstown is looking to repeat his title-winning performance this season, beginning Saturday night when Hagerstown Speedway begins its points-race competition.

"Absolutely. I'm coming out gunning for the championship," said Leibowitz, 33. "I did it once and now want to do it again. It was the best experience I ever had in my life. It was difficult. I didn't think I was going to make it there at the end.

"Toward the end, we had some problems and at times I didn't think we were going to make it. But it turned out all right with the help of some good friends."

Leibowitz has five career wins at Hagerstown.

The ITSI late models and the Hoosier Tires Mid-Atlantic late-model sportsman series also will be in action in the first point races of the year. The four-feature program will get underway at 7 p.m., with gates opening at 5.

From NBA to NHRA

Former NBA All-Star Larry Nance is trying to establish a new career and finding the going bumpy.

"We didn't qualify for three straight races in the Marine Corps Pro Stock Olds," Nance said. "While I continue to be upset [by that], I'm not discouraged."

Nance said he looks at those first three races as part of his learning experience.

"I know how tough Pro Stock racing is," he said. "It takes time to gel. We haven't had enough time to test and know this car and motor combination well. It's very disappointing, but it doesn't discourage me from wanting to race Pro Stock.

"That's what I want to do. That's what I'm going to do. Not qualifying isn't going to chase me away. ... We'll do whatever it takes to be competitive. I'm here for the long haul, but right now I guess I'm going through the proverbial learning curve.

Nuts and bolts

Owner/driver Chuck Goldsborough, who competes in the Sport Touring Class of the Grand Am Series, has his Lexus team in first place in all three points races - driver, team owner and manufacturer's cup.

JC Beattie Jr., another Baltimore racer, finished 26th in the first race of the American Speed Association (ASA) stock car series in Lakeland, Fla. Beattie's next race is in Irwindale, Calif., today.

Penske Racing, Inc. has reached an agreement with Toyota for the auto manufacturer to supply engines for Penske's IRL team in 2003, the manufacturer's first IRL season.

Almost everyone is expecting a difficult race at Texas this weekend on the newly paved oval. Said Kyle Petty: "If you like fast ... if you like a lot of `hold on and hope for the best-type racing' ... and if you like a lot of cars running on the ragged edge ... you're probably going to love what you see at Texas."

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