HOMESTEAD - A cautionary tale from Matt Kenseth to the 2004 Nextel Cup champion: Make sure defending the title comes first.
Kenseth won his first championship last season with a mind-numbing consistency born of ultra-preparation and attention to detail. It's not that the No. 17 Ford team tried less hard this season, he said, but the commitments of a champion made things harder.
"I probably did a little bit too much stuff last winter and even during this year as far as appearances and probably spread myself a little too thin, which probably didn't help things," Kenseth said. "I don't know if it really hurt things, but it didn't really help things. It definitely had me wore down at times, more so than I wish I was or what I have been in the past. A lot of it you have to do, but some of the stuff you didn't really have to do."
NASCAR has not had a repeat champion since Jeff Gordon in 1997-98.
Points leader Kurt Busch, Kenseth's teammate at Roush Racing, has displayed much of the right-place, right-time fortune that Kenseth had last season. Busch has recovered from spinouts with the entire field grinding down on him and just missed major crashes at least twice in the 10-race Chase for the Championship. Kenseth, meanwhile, qualified fifth for the Chase but is currently tied for eighth. He has had numerous engine problems and all but snuffed his title hopes when he lost control at the mouth of pit road and smashed into a barrier at Dover, giving him a 32nd-place finish.
"I've probably made some mistakes that I typically don't make - like the Dover pit road thing," Kenseth said. "Things like that when you know you should do things that are smarter and don't make a mistake. I'm not a big believer in luck, but sometimes things just go right and sometimes they go wrong. This year when we had the things go wrong, we couldn't turn it into something right.
"You've seen that with Kurt this year. I mean, in this Chase he's spun out three times in front of the whole field and nobody has hit him. That's things going right. Sometimes you have that on your side and sometimes you don't."
SPOT REMOVER: Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s spotter, Steve Hmiel, was escorted from Homestead-Miami Speedway on Saturday after NASCAR learned he made "disparaging remarks" about the sanctioning body over a team radio while spotting during the truck race on Friday, NASCAR spokesman Mike Zizzo confirmed. He was sent home for the weekend after a meeting with NASCAR president Mike Helton and Nextel Cup director John Darby.
TUNEUPS: Apparently chassis No. 4859 still has some zoom left. A day after failing to qualify on time and requiring a provisional to start 39th in today's Ford 400, Jimmie Johnson posted the second-fastest speeds, 175.484 and 173.784 mph, in both practices Saturday. Johnson's crew had covered the car and left the garage for South Beach instead of working on it after practice Friday but discovered before practice Saturday that it had a problem with its left-front shock absorber. Johnson has won at Concord, N.C., Atlanta and Darlington in 4859 this year.
SPARK PLUGS: Kevin Harvick denied Jamie McMurray's bid for a third straight Busch series victory by overtaking him on the last lap of a green-white-checker finish to win the Ford 300, the final race of the Busch season. ... Jack Roush said he plans to run Carl Edwards for a full Nextel Cup season in the No. 99 Ford. Edwards, 25, replaced Jeff Burton in the past 13 races and produced five top 10s.