Kenseth again leaves Las Vegas a winner

'03 Cup champ easily wins first race with new rules

Auto Racing

March 08, 2004|By Shav Glick | Shav Glick,LOS ANGELES TIMES

LAS VEGAS - If it weren't for those pesky yellow caution flags, Matt Kenseth might have lapped the 42 other cars in NASCAR's Nextel Cup race here yesterday.

As it was, the defending Cup champion from Cambridge, Wis., brought team owner Jack Roush his fifth victory in seven races at Las Vegas Motor Speedway before a sellout crowd of about 140,000. When his Ford Taurus took the checkered flag, Kenseth's margin over rookie pole-sitter Kasey Kahne was 3.426 seconds - nearly a quarter mile - and he led 123 of the 267 laps in the UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400, but even that doesn't tell his dominance.

After hearing criticism for having won the Winston Cup championship last year despite winning only one race - here at Las Vegas - Kenseth has responded by winning two of the first three Nextel Cup races this season. Two weeks ago, he won at Rockingham, N.C.

Kenseth qualified 25th and it took him 95 laps to move to the front, but once there it was only a question of whether he could keep out of harm's way.

"This is a race-car driver's dream come true to come out and win two in a row," Kenseth said after winning $458,828 for a little more than three hours' driving. "It's unbelievable to be able to have this good of a car and to be able to lead all those laps and kind of dominate the way we did. I just can't wait to keep racing."

A momentary blip occurred late in the rather boring race when he pitted and the crew had trouble getting a lug nut unstuck. After having pitted in the lead, Kenseth came out seventh on the restart.

There were 73 laps remaining and one by one, the black and yellow DeWalt Ford picked off Jamie McMurray, Mark Martin, Kurt Busch, Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart and finally Kevin Harvick on Lap 230. It had taken him only 27 laps to get in front.

Following Kahne, the rookie from Enumclaw, Wash., who took the pole Friday with a record 174.904-mph lap, were Stewart, McMurray and Martin.

Harvick was running a strong second but ran out of fuel with four laps to go and watched 20 cars pass him.

"What can you say, we had a top-five car and finished 21st," Harvick said. Stewart was almost as unhappy.

"I busted the tires off trying to get by Harvick," Stewart said. "If I'd known he was going to run out of gas, I'd have taken it a little easier. That's how we lost second to Kasey. I just busted the front tires off."

The engine in Kenseth's car, jointly built by Roush and Robert Yates, performed flawlessly. Roush had two other finishers in the top 10. Martin, who won the first Las Vegas race in 1998, was fifth, and Busch, the hometown favorite who led the first four laps, was ninth.

"My engines are awesome with Jack and Robert's deal that they put together with Ford Racing. It's unbelievable," Kenseth said.

Once Kenseth passed Stewart to lead for the first time, he pulled steadily ahead, increasing his margin nearly every time he lapped the 1 1/2 -mile, D-shaped oval. Twice his margin over the second-place car reached four seconds, but each time a caution flag brought the pack together. As soon as the green flag brought on racing speeds, it was Kenseth on the move again.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

At Las Vegas (Starting position in parentheses)

1. (25) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 267, $458,828.

2. (1) Kasey Kahne, Dodge, 267, $260,775.

3. (19) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 267, $219,603.

4. (4) Jamie McMurray, Dodge, 267, $150,925.

5. (27) Mark Martin, Ford, 267, $127,875.

6. (11) Elliott Sadler, Ford, 267, $131,808.

7. (13) Casey Mears, Dodge, 267, $117,050.

8. (7) Bobby Labonte, Chevrolet, 267, $136,583.

9. (2) Kurt Busch, Ford, 267, $108,500.

10. (21) Rusty Wallace, Dodge, 267, $129,108.

11. (29) Dale Jarrett, Ford, 267, $120,492.

12. (32) Kyle Petty, Dodge, 267, $101,275.

13. (28) Jeff Burton, Ford, 267, $119,417.

14. (6) Jeremy Mayfield, Dodge, 267, $104,950.

15. (20) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 267, $128,128.

16. (12) Jimmie Johnson, Chev., 267, $98,050.

17. (37) Terry Labonte, Chev., 267, $107,600.

18. (23) Sterling Marlin, Dodge, 266, $112,750.

19. (38) Joe Nemechek, Chevrolet, 266, $97,150.

20. (10) Bill Elliott, Dodge, 266, $76,200.

21. (16) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 266, $112,328.

22. (8) Brendan Gaughan, Dodge, 266, $83,450.

23. (3) Brian Vickers, Chevrolet, 266, $83,275.

24. (30) Johnny Sauter, Chevrolet, 266, $73,250.

25. (17) Ricky Craven, Chevrolet, 265, $89,039.

26. (34) Ward Burton, Chevrolet, 265, $70,750.

27. (5) Ryan Newman, Dodge, 265, $114,117.

28. (33) Ricky Rudd, Ford, 264, $92,306.

29. (15) Scott Riggs, Chevrolet, 264, $91,237.

30. (22) Robby Gordon, Chev., 264, $101,487.

31. (36) Johnny Benson, Dodge, 263, $65,600.

32. (31) Ken Schrader, Dodge, 263, $65,400.

33. (40) Derrike Cope, Dodge, 262, $66,125.

34. (24) Jeff Green, Dodge, 200, acc., $91,250.

35. (26) D. Earnhardt Jr., Chev., 196, hand., $111,978.

36. (35) Kevin Lepage, Chev., 182, eng. fail., $64,600.

37. (14) Michael Waltrip, Chev., 163, acc., $100,431.

38. (41) Carl Long, Pont., 145, oil leak, $64,175.

39. (39) Scott Wimmer, Dodge, 37, eng. fail., $71,975.

40. (9) Greg Biffle, Ford, 23, eng. fail., $71,750.

41. (18) Kyle Busch, Chev., 11, acc., $63,555.

42. (43) M. Shepherd, Dodge, 9, overheat., $63,375.

43. (42) K. Shelmerdine, Ford, 8, eng. fail., $63,413.

Average speed of race winner: 128.790 mph. Time of race: 3 hours, 6 minutes, 35 seconds. Margin of victory: 3.426 seconds. Caution flags: 6 for 37 laps. Lead changes: 18 among 10 drivers. Lap leaders: K.Kahne 0; K.Busch 1-4; K.Kahne 5-35; J.Johnson 36-40; S. Riggs 41; K.Kahne 42-53; T.Stewart 54-88; R.Craven 89; T.Stewart 90-94; M.Kenseth 95-138; M.Waltrip 139; M.Kenseth 140-168; T.Stewart 169-172; M. Kenseth 173-184; J.Burton 185; K.Harvick 186-201; T.Stewart 202; K. Harvick 203-229; M.Kenseth 230-267.

Points standings: 1, M.Kenseth, 523. 2, T.Stewart, 435. 3, E.Sadler, 405. 4, J.Gordon, 404. 5, K.Busch, 400. 6, K.Harvick, 399. 7, D.Earnhardt Jr., 398. 8, K.Kahne, 385. 9, J.McMurray, 385. 10, C.Mears, 367.

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