The pressure that has been Matt Kenseth’s constant companion the past few months is gone.
”I feel like the world has been lifted off my shoulders today,” Kenseth said Sunday after a fourth-place finish in the Pop Secret 400 clinched the Winston Cup championship.
Kenseth took the points lead in the fourth race of the season and kept it. He said the tension kept building even as he moved out to what seemed to be an untouchable lead.
”I kind of spun out in August and September a little bit reading everybody’s columns,” Kenseth said, smiling. ”Those things actually add pressure because I don’t want to be the guy that goes in the record book that had that big of a lead and blew it.”
Bill Elliott won Sunday’s race, but it was Kenseth who received most of the attention after wrapping up his first Cup title and the first for his car owner, Jack Roush.
Kenseth said: ”I never thought I’d have the opportunity to sit in one of these cars, much less be the champion. I’m just thankful to be in good equipment with good people working on it.”
The championship was also emotional for Roush, who finished second in the points four times with Mark Martin in his first 15 years in the Winston Cup series and who has acknowledged bitter feelings over some Nascar rulings over the years.
”It’s kind of like going through a plate-glass window,” he said. ”There’s a lot of pain breaking through it. But I have probably fussed and complained about some things I probably shouldn’t have.”
Kenseth, 31, took the title in his fourth season in Nascar’s top series. He won only one race, but had 11 top-five finishes and 26 top 10’s in 35 races.
He is 226 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson with only next weekend’s race at Homestead-Miami Speedway remaining. The most a driver can make up in one race is 151 points.
The 48-year-old Elliott, who has been the subject of retirement rumors, won his first race of the season, the 44th of his career and the first since taking the Brickyard 400 last year. He defeated Johnson by 1.23 seconds — about 10 car lengths
”Right now, I want to concentrate on the last race at Homestead and what we’re going to do there, and we’ll think about next year after that,” Elliott said.The New York Times November 10, 2003