For 360 laps it all made perfect sense:
In their first full Cup season together, the pair has two wins and four top-5s, but an instantaneous moment of trust might come to underscore the depth and ultimately the success of their relationship. Kenseth's suggestion to take two tires instead of four on the final pit stop was quickly supported by Fennig, putting the No. 17 Ford out second and ultimately in a position to pass Mark Martin for victory.
"Jimmy made the call. I just suggested it," Kenseth said. "He made the call and told the crew to do two. I have known him for a long time and he might tell you when he grabs the mic here that he isn't comfortable with me yet, I don't know. It didn't take long for me. You go through a little bit to understand somebody about how loose is he and how urgent does he sound or whatever.
"It does take a little bit to learn that, but I have always respected Jimmy and really enjoy working for him. He has a no-nonsense racing approach, which is how I grew up racing. We have a lot of fun racing together."
And they've known that for awhile. Kenseth, a new hire at Roush Fenway in 1998, used to pepper Fennig -- then Martin's crew chief with the organization -- with questions during tests, in the garage. Wherever. They later worked together in the Nationwide Series. This partnership appears to be the closest thing Kenseth has had to the bond he shared with longtime crew chief and fellow Wisconsin product Robby Reiser, perhaps because it's nearly as old.
"I enjoy working with Matt," said Fennig, who replaced Todd Parrott last June. "This ain't the first time I have worked with him. We worked on the Busch cars and I enjoyed it back then. It takes a little while to know how you can read a guy and to know exactly what he is looking for in a race car and give it to him. I think everything is going good right now and we will keep going from there."
Those three cars had combined to lead all but 13 laps to that point. Johnson and Edwards had been the class of the field all day and Bowyer was suddenly very much their equal. And the distance remaining in the race was too great to eschew the benefit of a complete tire change. The scores of cars that took just two or didn't pit -- like
Johnson restarted 10th and eventually finished ninth after leading 207 of 400 laps. Carl Edwards, who led 117 laps, but took four tires also, restarted 11th and finished seventh, and Johnson said he knew he was "in trouble" once he gauged the volume of cars taking just two tires. Knaus apologized over the team radio for the call.
"At the time, we had done four [tires] all day and we saw some two [-tire stops in the Nationwide race] and it didn't pan out," Johnson said. "Four looked like the call, so I have his back, it is no big deal."
"Today I'm really excited about because we had a really good day at Darlington," he said. "Didn't work our way at the end, finished 13th. Terrible luck. I'm really excited that our team is learning, they're learning me, I'm learning them. I'm learning how these cars work.
"This result today I'm really excited about because I think it's going to lead to a great Charlotte, Pocono, Indy, all these great big tracks coming. I feel like our team is suited to those tracks. We've just had some rough luck so far this year. We've had accidents and incidents outside our control that has hurt our points.
"We're really working well together," Bowyer said. "Getting a little bit of confidence. Shane (Wilson, crew chief) is getting a little bit of confidence in himself. I'm getting some more confidence in myself. Just making better decisions."