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MOTOR RACING

Matt Kenseth is happily unprepared for Daytona 500 win

Worried about jinxing his chances, he came without a change of clothes to this year's event. He had to fly home to pick up some things for day-after festivities.

February 17, 2009|Tania Ganguli

DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. — One year Matt Kenseth showed up at the Daytona 500 with extra clothes for after the race.

The Daytona 500 winner, after all, has to stay the next day for the winning car's enshrinement, and then spend a few days in New York doing talk-show interviews. Feeling good about his chances, Kenseth was prepared.

Then he went out and ran one of his worst Daytona 500s.

Having learned his lesson, this year Kenseth intentionally didn't come prepared. He was so unprepared that he didn't even have a change of clothes for the morning. After he won his first Daytona 500, Kenseth flew home to get some clothes, then flew back to Daytona for his championship festivities that began Monday morning.

That was better than jinxing his chances of a win.

It's hard enough to win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, as Kenseth found out last year. He was one of three Chase drivers to not win a race last season. Already in 2009, all three of them -- Kenseth, Jeff Gordon and Kevin Harvick -- have been to Victory Lane.

"That's pretty cool; I hope it keeps happening," Kenseth said. "It's really hard. It's really competitive. Everything's got to go right to be able to win these races. . . . When you get [Jimmie Johnson, Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch] that won over half the races between them three, it's really hard. Everything's got to go right."

The strain of losing wears on drivers. It means helplessly searching for answers week after week.

It means people wonder whether you've just lost it.

That's what happened with Harvick, who won the Daytona 500 in 2007 but didn't win again until the 2009 Budweiser Shootout. He joked about the Daytona 500 jinx. Ryan Newman never won in 2008, either, after winning the season-opening points race.

Harvick's wife, DeLana, even teased him about it

"That's what she said," Harvick said with a smile. " 'I want you to do good this year in the 500, but you don't need to win.' "

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tganguli@orlandosentinel.com

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