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Kenseth proves he is up to the challenge

Matt Kenseth's aggressive late move helps him win the Nextel All-Star Challenge.

By wire services
Published May 23, 2004

CONCORD, N.C. - With $1-million on the line, Matt Kenseth showed just how aggressive he can be.

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

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

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

Kenseth beat Newman by about 5 car-lengths, with Tony Stewart, Michael Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounding out the top five.

The defending Nextel Cup champ only had 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, then struggled a bit over the next several races.

He broke out of that slump in a big way.

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.

Marlin zoomed past teammate Jamie McMurray and Jeremy Mayfield on the final lap to win the Nextel Open and advance to the All-Star Challenge.

Ken Schrader, who finished ninth, won a fan vote to join Marlin in the finale.

The preliminary race was red-flagged shortly after the big wreck on Lap 1. Casey Mears, who started on the outside of the front row, broke a transmission just past the green flag and was pushed into the outside wall by Mayfield. Kerry Earnhardt, Brendan Gaughan, Ricky Rudd, Jimmy Spencer, Jeff Burton, Scott Riggs, Schrader and Morgan Shepherd all wrecked. None of the drivers was injured.

Johnny Chapman held off Danny Bagwell and Eric Wilson over a final two-lap sprint to the finish to win a 75-mile race for the IPOWER Dash series.

[Last modified May 23, 2004, 01:00:16]

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