Originally created 05/24/04

Kenseth passes Newman to win All-Star Challenge



CONCORD, N.C. -- Matt Kenseth drove the final 20 laps as hard as he could, with a nervous energy he hasn't felt since his first victory.

"My heart was pounding out of my chest," Kenseth said.

He pushed those emotions aside, and with a final, perfect maneuver, he also might have finally shed his reputation as a passive driver.

Kenseth moved right to the rear bumper of Ryan Newman - but never touched him - and then drove past with four laps left to win the Nextel All-Star Challenge on Saturday night, taking home the $1 million prize.

When it was over, the normally reserved Kenseth stepped out of character a bit and celebrated by doing doughnuts by the finish line with his Ford.

"A million bucks, boys!" he screamed to his Roush Racing crew over the two-way radio. "You guys are the best!"

Kenseth beat Newman by about five car-lengths, with the Chevrolets of Tony Stewart, Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounding out the top five.

Newman surprisingly eschewed a pit stop before the final 20-lap segment, and the rest of the leaders changed four tires. Even with that advantage, Kenseth had a hard time making the decisive pass.

He tried a couple of times to get below Newman, but couldn't complete the move. Finally, coming off Turn 4 with four to go, Newman's Dodge began to slide sideways, which was the only opening Kenseth needed.

"I just saw him slipping off 4, so I just got right on him," Kenseth said. "I was able to get by then."

The defending Nextel Cup champ had only one victory during his conservative run to that title, but he came into 2004 seemingly determined to alter his image. He won two of the first three races in dominating fashion, then struggled a bit over the next several races.

All along, he claimed the criticism didn't bother him, even as NASCAR altered its points system in a not-too-subtle attack on his style.

"It feels good to come out and do that, kind of vindicate ourselves after some of the stuff we heard last year," Kenseth said. "You had to run fast the whole race."

Even though he did make an aggressive pass, Kenseth never planned to nudge Newman out of the way, a move that has become commonplace in recent years.

"I wasn't going to hit him," Kenseth said. "That stuff comes full circle, whether it's done to you and you do it back or you do it to somebody and they do it back. We've got to race and respect these guys every week."

This race is split into three segments, starting with 40 laps. Nearly half the field was damaged early, when Kurt Busch tried to push Roush Racing teammate Greg Biffle past Kenseth on the 10th lap.

Instead, the contact sent Biffle into the outside wall at the end of the frontstretch, with a large portion of the field bearing down on him.

In all, 11 cars were involved - including defending race champ Jimmie Johnson - and six were forced to the garage for the rest of the night. That list included Biffle, Busch, Kevin Harvick and Sterling Marlin, who got into the All-Star Challenge by winning the preliminary race.

"I don't understand what happened," Biffle said. "You've got to finish the race first, and he wrecked us on the straightaway.

"He took out the whole field. If I was (team owner) Jack Roush, I don't know what I'd do."

Busch took the blame.

"It was just an all-star type bump," he said. "I apologize for all the wrecked cars on pit road. I've got to get myself in check, I guess."

Stewart won that first segment, and the top eight were inverted for the second, 30-lap portion, which was won by Newman.

Jeff Gordon, who was involved in that early wreck, brought his battered car home sixth, followed by rookie Kasey Kahne, Elliott Sadler, pole-sitter Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin.

"It was just good racing, Matt's a good friend of mine," Newman said. "We just came up a little short, just three laps short."