When Matt Kenseth won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway after only three races with his new team, it sent a clear message to all of NASCAR; the No. 20 team is back and laid the groundwork for the team being a force to be reckoned with for 2013.
Everyone was already watching to see how the veteran driver would perform with a new team, a new crew chief and a new car. While Matt has always been a talented driver with a championship and two Daytona 500 victories on his resume, change can be difficult, and it can often take some time to adapt.
It turned out that all the time that the No. 20 team needed was three races.
Matt and his new crew chief Jason Ratcliff formed a strong relationship early on. The team was dominant at the Daytona 500, running up front for most of the race as they led for a total of 86 laps before engine problems put them out of the competition. Two weeks later at Las Vegas, they had worked out the kinks and brought home the trophy.
Matt started his No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in the 18th position at Las Vegas after rain washed out qualifying, but wasted no time making his way into the top-10. He drove his way up to eighth by lap 20, and broke into the top five on lap 151. When a caution came out with just over 40 laps remaining, the Dollar General team made the call for fuel only allowing Matt to restart as the leader on lap 230. Matt led the field to the green flag on the restart, but another caution came out with 32 to go. The yellow flag did little to deter him and the Dollar General team, however, as he took the lead on the restart and held off a hard-charge from Kasey Kahne during the final 20 laps to get the win.
“I was really nervous,” commented Matt from Victory Lane that day. “All day Kasey Kahne had the best car, and I told Jason (Ratcliff) with about 12 (laps) to go — I apologized to him, ‘I’m sorry man, I’m beat.’ I was getting too tight and I was killing the right front tire. I just had to make sure I stayed in front of Kasey since we didn’t have quite the fastest car at the end, but we had it where it needed to be. We had great pit stops and great pit strategy. We were in the right place at the right time and we took advantage of it.”