TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 26, 2009) – Matt Kenseth won the first restrictor plate race of the year earlier this season at the Daytona 500, and with a handful of laps remaining in Sunday’s Aaron’s 499 he and his No. 17 DEWALT Team were poised to do so again at Talladega Superspeedway.
Kenseth was sitting in the catbird’s seat, running in second position with 10 laps remaining, when he blew his right-rear tire just moments after the race’s ninth and final caution. He was forced to come down pit road early, and would have to start the race’s final restart at the tail end of the longest line in 20th position. He was able to pick up three spots in the final six laps for the 17th-place finish.
“Right after that caution came out, when we were running second to Ryan (Newman) there, we blew a right-rear tire,” said Kenseth. “We must have had it rubbing on the quarterpanel and it just blew then. I guess it was somewhat good fortune that it didn’t blow under green so we didn’t wreck, but it just seems like we can’t get anything to go right. We worked hard to try to position ourselves and had ourselves in a good spot to at least challenge for the win and didn’t make it again.”
Kenseth, who led twice in the race for nine laps, had worked his way back to the front of the field for the final laps of the race, taking the lead on lap 172 and leading the next five laps before dropping back to second. The team was in position to make a run at victory, but the blown tire effectively put an end to Kenseth’s bid for a win.
“It’s discouraging because we had a much better car than that and we showed it all day,” said crew chief Drew Blickensderfer. “We led the race twice and were in a really good position there at the end to compete for the win.”
The DEWALT team qualified 13th on Saturday and started the race on the inside of the seventh row. They needed only five laps to draft their No. 17 DEWALT Ford Fusion all the way to third position. Kenseth and the No. 24 car of Jeff Gordon made contact on lap seven causing Gordon to lose control and collecting several competitors in a 14-car accident.
Kenseth, however, escaped the incident with minor damage and maneuvered in and around the top five for the next 40 laps, before taking the lead on lap 50 – marking the 14th time in 19 races he has led at Talladega.
With the finish, Kenseth remains 12th in the Sprint Cup point standings, 236 behind first and 18 out of 10th.
The team will return to action next weekend at Richmond International Speedway for the second night race of the season. Kenseth has finished top 10 in exactly half of his 18 career starts at the ¾ mile track, where he picked up a victory in the fall of 2002.