Matt Kenseth produced a typically consistent night out of chaos.
The NASCAR Winston Cup points leader failed to qualify and needed a provisional to get in the Pepsi 400 field. He nearly ran down a member of his crew during a pit stop and fell back to 28th midway through the race. After he pulled within striking distance of the leaders in the final 20 laps, he was at risk of running out of gas with three laps remaining while chasing Roush Racing teammate Greg Biffle from second position.
So Kenseth played it conservative and pitted with four laps remaining. He fought back to sixth and collected 155 points (plus five bonus points for leading 10 laps) and maintained a 180-point lead over Dale Earnhardt Jr. in the standings.
In producing his best series finish at Daytona in eight tries, Kenseth and his No. 17 Ford have 14 top 10s this season and lead the points for the 14th consecutive week. With 19 races remaining, his lead is the largest since 1994.
Those accomplishments were not lost on Kenseth, and especially on a driver who has won just one race this season.
"It is a load off my shoulders to get out of Daytona with a top-10 finish and not really lose any points," Kenseth said.
Biffle said he was unaware Kenseth needed to pit and thought his teammate was coming with him to the finish line. Biffle assumed Kenseth's move down the track was an act of team loyalty.
"He moved down the track and pushed me into the lead there," Biffle said. "I would have done that for my teammate."
Kenseth said there was no collusion, that he was simply assuring his team a solid finish and scoring valuable points.
"Where we were," Kenseth said, "in Biffle's situation, he was going to win the race if he didn't run out of gas. If he ran out of gas, he was probably going to finish 15th or 20th and we couldn't afford to gamble a top-10 finish away and finish 20th. We were just too close to making it. If we could have made it, we would have went for it."
Crew chief Robbie Reiser said there was a slim chance Kenseth could have found enough gas in his 13-gallon fuel cell to make it.
"There was probably an opportunity to make it," he said, "and it was all about chance. And as tight as we are in points there's no need to take a chance."
Especially after salvaging points despite starting 37th.
"It doesn't matter where you start here," Kenseth said. "That's just as fast as our car was. I felt good about getting up front if we had good pit stops and the way the draft works. I actually felt good about my car after practice yesterday. It wasn't the fastest, but it handled really good."
Good enough Biffle said to possibly catch him if the No. 17 crew felt like gambling. Biffle conceded Kenseth "had the car" to catch him.
As points leader, Kenseth would have won a $170,000 bonus for winning the Pepsi 400, but it looked like he would have no chance after sliding through his pit stall on Lap 74.
Kenseth went from sixth to 28th after the mishap, but an immediate five-lap caution after a Kurt Busch spin allowed him to make up track position.
"We just overshot the pit," Reiser said. "We tried to get him in the stall a little faster. It's just one of those deals."
In the end, not a bad deal at all.