The oldster and the youngster gave a disparate slant to Saturday’s racing at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Representing age, and presumably the wisdom that goes with it, was Matt Kenseth, at 42 a two-time Daytona 500 champion who has not entered Victory Lane in a while. Kenseth ended his drought by winning the final restart of the night and capturing the Nationwide Ford EcoBoost 300 by the slim margin of 0.713 seconds.
Representing youth was Chase Elliott, 18, who became the youngest driver to ever win a NASCAR season series when he took the Nationwide title.
When Elliott drove his celebration lap in the No.9 Chevrolet, he had to nurse a battered vehicle around the track because in the final stages of Saturday’s race his loose vehicle met up with the wall several times.
Of his victory, Kenseth said: “It’s always important to win. It’s not like I tried harder than I did the other 35 weeks. We’ve just had a lot of circumstances toward the end of races where we haven’t won.”
On Saturday night, the ending was finally kind to Kenseth.
There were two restarts off cautions on the final two laps. Kenseth lost the first restart, but then won the final and more important one.
“It’s been a long time since I won a race in anything,” Kenseth said.
To be exact, it was in Kansas on Oct. 5, 2013.
That fact pointed out, it’s not like Kenseth is lacking in victories over the years. In 17 years of Sprint Cup racing, including winning the season championship in 2003 when it was called the Winston Cup, his career record is 31 victories, 270 top 10s and 13 poles in 543 starts. In 18 years and 283 starts in Nationwide events, Kenseth has 29 triumphs, 196 top 10s and 16 poles.
If anybody needed some sympathy after Saturday’s race, it was Kyle Larson, the 22-year-old from California who finished third. For Larson, Saturday was a too-familiar story — lots of running out front, but not finishing there.
Larson led 96 of the 134 laps in Friday’s Ford EcoBoost 200 Truck Race. Then, in Saturday’s race, he led 106 of 206 laps.
The only problem was that Larson didn’t lead either race on the lap that counted the most — the final one, with the checkered flag waving.
Larson was the one Kenseth battled side-by-side in those final two restarts on the final two laps of Saturday’s race.
On the first restart, Larson got the break on Kenseth and edged himself into the lead. Kenseth envisioned another late defeat coming his way. “Pretty much knew it was over,” he said.
Then Kenseth caught a break with another caution flag. Larson and Kenseth maneuvered into position one last time with Larson on the inside. This time, Kenseth got the best of Larson and moved away for the victory.
“Thankfully,” Kenseth said, “… I was able to get it rolling good on that second one and got back by him.”
In the season series for the Nationwide championship, Elliott in his Chevrolet had little to no pressure because he had already clinched the title before the race started.
By the time the race was over, Elliott — the son of 1988 Winston Cup champion Bill Elliott — had finished 17th with a 42-point lead over Regan Smith in the season series.
Despite his age and early success, Elliott said: “I can see things I can improve on. You can’t just talk. You have to go out and do it.”