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What's on DW's mind this week?

Owner Joe Gibbs on Matt Kenseth's win at Kentucky Speedway.
Owner Joe Gibbs on Matt Kenseth's win at Kentucky Speedway.
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Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip — winner of 84 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion — serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

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Matt Kenseth is one happy gambling man. He got his fourth win of the season Sunday at Kentucky Speedway. It actually was his first win ever there and overall Matt has twenty-eight NASCAR Sprint Cup victories.

You’ve heard me say it before but it bears repeating. For Matt to make the change this deep in his career, at his age, moving from Roush-Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing is impressive. Like Sunday’s gas-only stop during the last caution, moving to Gibbs has also proven to be worth the gamble.

He and crew chief Jason Ratcliff really have developed amazing chemistry is just a short period of time. They trust each other and that’s such a huge factor. When you put Matt Kenseth out front in a good race car, well he is all but flawless. Matt doesn’t make many mistakes. It doesn’t matter if it was Kasey Kahne breathing down his neck earlier this season or Jamie McMurray closing fast yesterday, Matt is just steady as a rock.

Matt is definitely on a roll this season. His best season was ever was clear back in 2002 when he won five races. Heck, if a couple of breaks had gone his way, like not have an engine let go at Daytona or getting caught up in Jeff Gordon’s wreck at Bristol, Matt could easily have six or seven wins already. I don’t for one moment think he is done at four win’s this year.

They didn’t have the fastest car Sunday at Kentucky so they used strategy to beat Jimmie Johnson. Let’s face it, Jimmie dominated the race on Sunday. The man led 182 laps of the 267. Matt and Jason knew they had to try something. If you do the same thing as Jimmie, well you are going to finish behind Jimmie.

So on that last pit stop under caution they rolled the dice. They took fuel only, got off pit road first, got the lead, never looked back and went to Victory Circle. Honestly it reminded me of how Jeff Hammond and I used to do it back in the day. We didn’t always have the fastest car, but we still were able to figure out a way to win. That’s how championships are won.

I was also very happy to hear the drivers all weekend talk about how they love racing at Kentucky Speedway. That track is not a cookie-cutter mile and half tracks like the others on the circuit. That track has a lot of character. The entrance to Turn 3 for entrance is pretty flat but then as you get into the corner the banking catches you.

The front straightaway is bigger and wider than most of the other mile and a half tracks. So you have a lot of speed as you go down past the front Grandstand. Turn 1 is a little more forgiving getting into it. Now exiting Turn 2 is a real flat tight exit so you can get into a lot of trouble there if you aren’t careful.

The other unique thing about Kentucky Speedway is the back straightaway is elevated much higher than the front and that’s by design for the fans. The thought process was that if a fan was sitting on the bottom row of the front grandstand, they could watch the cars going down the backstretch without any problems. So that’s why it’s elevated. So it really makes me proud to hear the drivers who have raced there since 2000 say the track is fun to race on.

Jamie McMurray had a great run Sunday finishing second after starting twenty-third. He’s now nineteenth in the points and if he could pull off a win, being in the Top 20 in points would put him right in the hunt of one of those two Wild Card spots.

Joey Logano is someone I keep saying you need to keep an eye on. He’s been fast all year since moving over to Penske Racing. He got himself in the Top 10 in points Sunday. That’s where you need to be after Richmond in September when the Chase field is set.

Speaking of the Chase field, it’s really tightening up. I’m not talking about the guys at the top that all but locked in. I am talking about the drivers from about eighth all the way down to twelfth. When I say tight I mean tight. Kasey Kahne is only one point back and Jeff Gordon is only two points back.

Kasey has somewhat of a security net since he already has a win this year. Right now Kasey has one of the Wild Card spots and Tony Stewart has the other. I still maintain one win isn’t going to be enough.

So who makes it in the Top 10, who has the wins to get the Wild Card spots and then who doesn’t make the Chase at all is a really compelling storyline to follow as we head to Richmond in September.

Denny Hamlin hit the wall hard again Sunday. He seemed pretty dazed after he climbed out of the car. Doctors did clear him Monday after testing to see if he suffered a concussion. He was cleared by doctors to take part in the Joe Gibbs Racing two-day test at Indianapolis this week as well as being cleared to race at Daytona Saturday night.
The reality is Denny is not going to make the Chase this year. Probably the best the #11 bunch can hope for is to still win a couple races this year and then build momentum for 2014. Some of Denny’s best race tracks are still coming up. They include New Hampshire, Richmond and Martinsville. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see them end 2013 on a high note.

Another hot topic right now are the restarts. I’ll keep saying it because it’s true that the restarts are too convoluted. Matt Kenseth did nothing wrong on that last restart. He’s the leader of the race and he can go when he wants to.

What NASCAR has done has kinda put these guys in a box, literally and figuratively. These restarts need to be cleaned up. Actually there is a very simple way to do that. We need to go back to the way it was back in the day. Let the flagman control the restarts. It was his job in the past, so why not let it be his job again. It’s a pretty simple solution in my book. I just think it needs to be addressed and the confusion can be put to rest.

So Kentucky Speedway is in the rearview mirror and we’re off to the beach. That’s another tradition from back in the day. When it came time to go to Daytona in July we always would say we’re off to the beach. Back then we would run the race mid-morning and then by mid-afternoon we’d all be on the beach.

The July Daytona race was always special because the crew could bring their families and enjoy a mini-vacation as we reached the half-way point of the season. I’ll be working the RaceDay show for Speed again Saturday night. I have so much fun on that show that I hate to think I only have a couple left this season.

I’ll also be having some fun with some of my driver buddies as we help kick-off the massive Daytona International Speedway frontstretch renovation. Daytona is planning to host a major ceremonial groundbreaking on July 5th and I was honored they asked me to be part of it.

So we’re off to the beach and trust me, there is no better place than Daytona Beach!
 

Tagged: Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Denny Hamlin, Jamie McMurray

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