2020 has been a year full of surprises and near the top of the list has been the return to the NASCAR Cup Series for Matt Kenseth, who posted his first top 5 finish since November 2017.
Kenseth finished second in Sunday’s Big Machine Hand Sanitizer 400 at the Brickyard after leading 12 laps.
The second-place finish and 12 laps led added up to be his best performance since leading 62 laps en route to winning at Phoenix in November 2017. It is also the best finish for the no. 42 team this season, topping Kyle Larson’s fourth-place finish at Phoenix in March.
Kenseth started Sunday’s race in 21st but quickly moved up into the top 15, which was where he ran for 147 of the 160 laps run. Although he did not earn stage points in Stage 1, he earned five stage points with a sixth-place in Stage 2.
In the final stage, Kenseth ran inside the top five, even assuming the lead from no. 11 Denny Hamlin and no. 4 Kevin Harvick when they pitted. Kenseth caught a break on lap 134 when no. 88 Alex Bowman hit the wall, allowing Kenseth to pit and be on fresher tires than Hamlin and Harvick.
Kenseth restarted fourth on lap 139 and moved up to third. He would move up to second ahead of an overtime restart set up by Hamlin crashing on lap 155, but Harvick held off Kenseth and Kenseth finished second.
“Our McDonald’s Chevrolet handled great today, we were really fast,” Kenseth said. “I think if we had been in front, we would have been hard to beat but I just didn’t have enough speed to get around Kevin.”
Kenseth’s second-place finish Sunday came on the heels of finishes of 11th and 12th during the Pocono race weekend, which were his best finishes since finishing tenth at Darlington in May.
“I felt a lot more comfortable than I have been for sure but I think Pocono was a big step forward. We hit on some stuff at Pocono that directionally seemed to be better and we hit on something here that I hope we can continue to Kentucky and then just keep moving forward from that, hopefully being up front where this team belongs.”
Kenseth’s second-place finish was also his fourth runner-up at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He finished runner-up in the 2003, 2006 and 2016 runnings of the Brickyard 400.
Heading into July 12’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky (TV: FS1; 2:30 p.m. EST), Kenseth sits 28th in points, 138 points behind 16th place no. 20 Erik Jones and 63 points ahead of 31st place no. 96 Daniel Suarez.