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Matt Kenseth's Daytona win doesn't make the season, and he's not thinking Fat City: Kenseth wants back in the championship hunt


Is more champagne on the way for Matt Kenseth (R) and Jack Roush (somewhere in the middle)? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern

   FONTANA, Calif.
   Matt Kenseth must feel a little like Cinderella, with his surprising Daytona 500 victory.   
   And his coach has been coast-to-coast, and up-and-down the West Coast the past few days, as he markets that win, and warms up for Sunday's California 500…where he should be among the straight-up favorites, along with teammate Carl Edwards, who won California and Las Vegas back-to-back last spring.
   This week so far it's been a whirlwind round New York City, then Dungeness crab and the Golden Gate in a San Francisco media spin, and now down to Los Angeles.
   "I've really been enjoying the last two days a lot more than expected, or maybe than I thought I would," the usually no-nonsense, and rather low-keyed Kenseth says. 
   "The only mix-up so far is that I locked myself out of my room at the Waldorf. 
   "I had fun on Letterman. 
   "I don't watch a ton of TV.  But I've always really enjoyed watching David Letterman. 
   "So I enjoyed it. It was a lot of fun.
    "It's cool to be invited.
   "…and then all the text messages, emails and phone calls congratulating me. That was really, really cool, and really flattering…and humbling when your friends and your peers call."
   Kenseth looked like an also-ran late Sunday, with Kyle Busch dominating and Jeff Gordon up front too.
   But then fate took a hand….by taking the wheel of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s car and running it into Brian Vickers. Or vice versa. Or vice and versa.
   And here was Matt Kenseth, stuck right in the middle of it all.
   "There are a lot of wrecks you go through, and some you get caught up in…and then there are times where you see things and you think that maybe you made a good decision, or you see the momentum of the car sliding one way and you go the other way," Kenseth mused.
  "But really in this wreck, it happened so fast.
   "We were three-wide going up through there, and cars were flying everywhere, and I really didn’t have time to react. 
   "I turned the car left just a bit and made it right through there.
   "And when I came out the other side I was fairly surprised. 
   "I actually thought I had damage, but they said the car looked good. I was very surprised."
   So now?
   Kenseth knows winning Daytona is great, and it can make a season, but there is still a long way to go. This year just started.
   "It really doesn't take any pressure off, but it puts a little spring in everybody's step," Kenseth says.
   "It probably gives everybody more confidence. 
   "But Daytona is a totally different race than Fontana or Atlanta or Bristol, or any of these tracks that are really the bread and butter of the season. Those are the tracks you have to run good at to be a serious championship contender.
   "But this certainly does give everybody confidence.  Except for last year and probably 2001, when we were winless, we for some reason have been able to get some early season wins.
   "So it's important to get off to a good start, like we did.
    "But we really need to win more races this year and be a championship contender.
    "My goals are pretty high this year, and with the addition of Drew (Blickensderfer, his new crew chief) I feel more optimistic than I have honestly in a long, long time."
   Adding Blickensderfer to the mix, and moving Chip Bolin back to the engineer's chair?
   "There was one day Chip and I talked about a lot of stuff, and I walked away thinking we probably needed to get him some help, and get somebody in there to help lead the team," Kenseth said. "To keep his eye on pit stops, and work on motivation.
   "Drew was the first guy that came to mind. I pushed hard for him when I talked to Robbie (Reiser, Kenseth's long-time crew chief, and now shop boss). Then I had a nice, long conversation with Chip about it. And Chip was actually totally on board with it.  He thought that would make the team stronger.
   "Of course, my next phone call was to Jack, and I guess I must not have been too unreasonable over the 11 years I've been with Jack because he hasn't denied a request of mine yet, and he didn't deny that one either. So, so far, so good.  
   "Of course it's only one race, but I really think Drew is going to be the guy."


Matt Kenseth says he was surprised by fan turnout for him in San Francisco (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)



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