Bouncing back

Bob Margolis

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Matt Kenseth doesn't plan on letting a little thing like running out of gas at Dover ruin the Chase for him.

And a rare mechanical failure isn't slowing down Kevin Harvick, either.

Each driver came away from last weekend's race in Dover bruised and battered, but certainly not out.

And in both camps, there's an air of confidence as they prepare for Sunday's Banquet 400 here at Kansas Speedway.

Last weekend, Kenseth and crew chief Robbie Reiser were following the same game plan that got them into the winner's circle in the June race at Dover. And with the laps winding down, Kenseth found himself in the lead, with a charging Jeff Burton as the only obstacle between himself and a Dover season sweep.

But Burton passed Kenseth, and with two laps remaining Kenseth ran out of fuel. He ended up 10th and remained third in the standings, though he lost 40-plus points in the process by not finishing second.

"Hindsight is always 20/20, but if we were questionable on fuel, it probably would have been the right thing to come and get tires and fuel [during a late caution], but it's easy to say now," Kenseth said. "You never know during the race."

Kenseth admits that racing Burton hard down the stretch burned a bit more fuel than expected, and he also pointed to the fact that one final late-race caution – which would have provided an additional fuel cushion – never materialized.

After that race, Kenseth was quite vocal about his disappointment, even telling his team, "That's how you lose championships, guys."

Fast-forward to this weekend and the team has turned its attention to the task at hand, bringing to Kansas the car that Kenseth drove to a second-place finish at Indianapolis this year – along with an attitude of "one race at a time."

Kenseth has a fairly unimpressive record at Kansas. In five prior visits he has scored one pole and one top-five finish – both coming last year.

But the game plan is simple.

"We really want to go and do the best job we can and get as many points as we can every race," Kenseth said. "You try to lead laps and you try to finish as far forward in the end to get the most points."

And after qualifying eighth for Sunday's race, Kenseth has reason to be optimistic.

"Overall, I'm really happy with that lap time, that's good," Kenseth said. "There was a lot of speed; I'm real encouraged about that lap."

Last Sunday's performance, despite the disappointing result, also gives Kenseth confidence.

"Robbie and the guys gave me an excellent car [at Dover] that was, for most of the day, the class of the field," Kenseth said. "Hopefully, we can have the same this weekend, just improve on the finish."

For Harvick, his first DNF since August 2005 (Bristol) couldn't have come at a worse time.

Harvick was the points leader heading into Dover last weekend, and he was enjoying the kind of momentum that had him atop many lists as the favorite for the championship.

But something odd happened on the way to the banquet in New York City.

The normally bulletproof RCR engine in his Monte Carlo SS suffered a failure that put him out of the race with 34 laps remaining, leaving Harvick with a 32nd-place finish and dropping him from the points lead to fifth.

Crew chief Todd Berrier said the culprit was a valve spring.

"They've been putting some new parts in the engines," Berrier said. "They know what the problem is and it's been corrected."

Harvick took it all in stride.

"These guys have done a great job getting the engines where they need to be," Harvick said. "First failure we have had in a long time.

"Obviously you want things to go good and they have gone really good. I understand though that stuff is going happen, it is just one of those deals and you can't control it.

Ironically, teammate Clint Bowyer suffered the same issue with his engine at Dover, though he was able to finish the race. Their teammate Jeff Burton won the event.

Harvick's team has brought to Kansas the same car Harvick drove to a fourth-place finish at Chicagoland, a track similar to Kansas.

Not that it matters much to Harvick.

"I used to ask [about] the car, the engines, all that stuff, but I know they are doing everything they can do to put the best stuff out there. To be honest, I don't even worry about it," he said.

The Dover DNF could have been a huge emotional letdown, but Harvick handled it with a level of maturity not shown before.

"You just kind of smile about it and move forward," said Harvick, who will start 14th on Sunday. "It can be detrimental to your season and it doesn't need to be that way."

Harvick was loose and laid back, flashing the trademark "Happy Harvick" smile that had been missing from his face in the past few years.

"We have come to the conclusion that we have done the best that we can, we are doing the best that we can every week," Harvick said." Right now it is a matter of who makes the least mistakes, and has some luck on their side to do what they need to do."

Notes

  • Chip Ganassi obviously isn't wasting any time cashing in on his new driver, Juan Pablo Montoya. There already is a page that features Montoya items (clothing, hats, etc.) for sale on the team's Web site.

    Someone's got to pay for getting Montoya out of his F1 contract.

  • Denny Hamlin still is suffering the aftereffects of racing hurt in Dover last week. Despite having a head cold and aching muscles in his neck, the rookie finished that race ninth.

    "That was the hardest race of my career," Hamlin said. "Physically, mentally and psychologically, it was the toughest race I've ever driven."

    Hamlin has had a specialist work on his neck this week and he says he's ready to go. He'll start 25th in Sunday's race.

  • Brian Vickers, who is leaving Hendrick Motorsports at the end of the season to drive for Toyota's Team Red Bull, no longer takes part in the customary Hendrick race weekend team meetings. Only crew chief Lance McGrew is allowed to attend the at-the-track meetings where strategy and race setups are discussed among crew chiefs and drivers.

    "We all know there are few secrets in this sport and it's important to keep as many as possible," Vickers' teammate Jimmie Johnson said.

    Missing the meeting apparently was no problem for Vickers on Friday, as he qualified in the second row, alongside Johnson, for Sunday's race.