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Matt Kenseth’s spotter talks about return to track, void he can fill

The NASCAR America team reflects on their conversation with spotter Chris Osborne and his impact on the Matt Kenseth team.

Chris Osborne, the spotter for Matt Kenseth and Daniel Suarez, will make his return this weekend at Martinsville Speedway after missing the season’s first five races while recovering from injuries suffered in a December car crash that also injured his wife and son.

Although Osborne had hoped to be cleared to begin work earlier this month, he told “The Morning Drive” on Tuesday he’s ready for this weekend.

Osborne suffered a compound fracture of his right leg in the crash. His wife suffered nine broken ribs and broke her right hip, shoulder and elbow. Osborne’s son, Austin, suffered a partially collapsed lung, cracked sternum, concussion, broken nose and lost a few teeth.

N.C. State Highway Patrol cited the driver of the other car, Michael Dale Kellison, with driving while impaired, careless and reckless driving and having an open container in his vehicle. His court case Monday was continued to May 3.

While Osborne has been out, Kenseth has been fast but has yet to score his first victory of the season.

Kenseth was in position to win the Daytona 500 when he decided to go from the bottom lane to the top lane with about a mile left to block teammate Denny Hamlin’s charge. Hamlin, who got a push from Kevin Harvick, steered underneath Kenseth and nipped Martin Truex Jr. at the finish line to win the race.

The following week, Kenseth led 47 laps early but was penalized for an infraction on pit road. As crew chief Jason Ratcliff disputed the call with NASCAR, Kenseth was not informed of the violation.

NASCAR stopped scoring Kenseth for a lap before he came down to pit road after being informed of the penalty. Kenseth lost another a lap in the process and was two laps down. The race went green for the first 210 laps, giving Kenseth no chance to get his laps back and he wasn’t a factor, finishing 19th.

Kenseth’s bad luck continued at Las Vegas when he slid up the track into the path of Chase Elliott, ending the race for both. Kenseth finished 37th. Kenseth placed seventh at Phoenix and 19th at Auto Club Speedway.

Asked on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio by NBC Sports’ Nate Ryan about what it had been like to watch what has happened to Kenseth this season, particularly at Daytona and Atlanta, Osborne said:

“That’s been a mental struggle as well. I’ve watched each and every race. I’ve watched all the practices, the qualifying sessions for each division. I’ve watched all the races, and I listen to the in-car stuff as well through the course of the race.

“I can’t sit here and tell you that there is a guarantee that any of those finishes would have been any different had I been on the roof. All I can tell you is I know the chemistry myself and Matt Kenseth has and myself and Daniel Suarez. For myself and Matt, there’s just that continuity, if you will, between a driver and spotter just like there is with each and every team on the circuit. There’s things that I know he’s thinking about before he ever says it. I know what he’s looking for. I know what kind of information he wants.

“In the situation like that at the Daytona 500, it would have been a situation where I would have been on the button (talking to Kenseth) for the last lap for sure from the middle of the backstretch to the start/finish line, and I would have never let off. I would have been constantly giving him information on everything that was going on behind him in the lower lane and with the run with (Hamlin) and (Harvick) and those guys on the top.

“Hindsight is 20/20. We would have won the Daytona 500 if we could go back and change things. So would (Truex). In reality, it’s just a situation of knowing what is expected of you. Lorin Ranier came in and done an exceptional job at Daytona and Speedweeks. It’s just the first time he and Matt had worked together in a lot of years. They had worked together way back in the early stages of Matt being at Roush for a few races but it had been a long time.

“Then Curtis Markham coming in and filling out the rest of the four-race schedule until California last week, he’s done an exceptional job as well, but you know in those situations, had I been on the roof at Atlanta I would have just told Matt. I wouldn’t have waited on somebody to tell me that I should or shouldn’t be telling him.

“When the (NASCAR) tower tells you that the 20 car is receiving the black flag and what the penalty is for, it’s not my responsibility on the first time by to tell him he has to pit, but it’s as much my responsibility as it is Jason Ratcliff’s or anyone else to tell him the situation just so he’s aware of what is going on and he can start looking for the black flag.

“When they tell you they’re going to display the black flag with the white cross, the talking is over then. You have to come down pit road and serve your penalty because you’re only hurting yourself after that. So it just goes back to the communication thing and knowing what is expected of you, knowing what the driver wants from you and feeding him that information.

“It doesn’t matter if it’s in the Daytona 500 on the track, if it’s penalties being served, if it’s pit stop stuff, whatever it is, that’s what I’m up there for: No. 1 for safety, but No. 2 to communicate with the driver and keep him aware of situations on the race track because, obviously, when they’re strapped in that race car, they know what is going on around them, but they don’t know anything outside of that until they’re told.’’

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