Kenseth Begins Chase to Sprint Cup 12th in Standings
RICHMOND, Va. (September 7, 2008) – It was the final race before the Chase for the Sprint Cup was to begin and Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 DEWALT Ford Fusion was considered a “bubble” driver – not locked into the Chase and sitting only 92 points ahead of 12th place. There were numerous scenarios to consider, in order for Kenseth to clinch his fifth berth in NASCAR’s version of the playoffs, but the goal for Kenseth and team 17 was, as it always is, was to go out and do the best that they could and try to get the best finish possible. If they did that the points would take care of themselves - easier said than done. After starting ninth and spending 120 laps inside the top 10, contact with teammate, David Ragan on lap 121 caused significant damage to the No. 17. Kenseth was forced to pit several times to repair damages and ultimately finished Sunday’s Rock & Roll 400 in 39th place, two laps down to the leaders. Despite the disappointing finish, Kenseth still managed to secure a spot in the Chase.
It was a perfect afternoon, sunny with temperatures in the 80s when 43 engines roared after being locked up in team haulers taking shelter from Tropical Storm Hanna for a day and a half. The storm forced NASCAR to postpone all events scheduled Friday and Saturday, the Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series races, as well as time trials for both. Hanna moved through Richmond, Vir. in the wee hours of Saturday morning, bringing as much as four inches of rain and high winds with it. The rain didn't stop until late Saturday evening which gave all the teams an unexpected day off and moved Saturday night’s race to Sunday afternoon. Once the race did start, point leader Kyle Busch led the 43-car field to green and Kenseth rolled off ninth.
Throughout the first two runs of the race Kenseth reported that the No. 17 was experiencing “loose” handling conditions. Crew chief Chip Bolin and the No. 17 team worked to correct the handling problems during two scheduled pit stops with air pressure and chassis adjustments. By lap 114, Kenseth reported that the handling of his Ford was improving and he was running comfortably in eighth place.
However, just seven laps later the machines of teammates Kenseth and Ragan banged together, both slamming the outside retaining wall. Both cars incurred damage and were forced to pit. Kenseth made his way down pit road on two separate occasions under caution to avoid going a lap down. When green flag racing resumed on lap 127, Kenseth was scored in 32nd place, still on the lead lap. Though the No. 17 was not completely bandaged, Kenseth returned to the track to maintain position.
For 36 laps Kenseth held his position despite battling with a damaged car. However, on lap 167, a caution fell allowing Kenseth to pit once more for adjustments and more repairs to the DEWALT Ford. The race restarted on lap 169 and Kenseth was running 30th. However, on lap 171 Kenseth was black flagged and forced to pit under green to secure pieces of the hanging sheet metal. Kenseth went two laps down to the leaders because of this unscheduled stop and his day was pretty much over.
For the remainder of the race Kenseth would continue to make laps, however he would never regain his lost laps and ultimately finish the race in 39th place, two laps down to the leaders.
Jimmie Johnson held off a hard charging Tony Stewart to capture his second consecutive win of 2008 – his forth of the season. Denny Hamlin, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Mark Martin followed to complete the top five.
“That’s one of worst races I probably could have drove, so it was very frustrating and very disappointing,” Kenseth said. “I’m glad we’re in the Chase in a way, but in another way with the way we’re operating, I don’t think we’ll be a factor when we get there. We’ve just got to get rolling and get back into getting some good finishes and get working together and doing all that. None of our cars were very fast today. We really missed it on the short track stuff for some reason. I don’t know, David spun out getting in there and I spun out as soon as he spun, so I think there was some oil up there or something. I can’t remember ever spinning out going into a corner, so when he spun, I saw him and I just kind of froze and waited a second and my car just spun right with him. If he wouldn’t have spun in front of us, it would have been a different day. We weren’t that good, we weren’t gonna run with the leaders, but it was probably a top-15 car maybe.”
In the final race before the Chase to the Sprint Cup begins the lineup of the top 12 remained the same. Though the field has been reset, the 12 players remain the same and Kenseth will, for the fifth time be a contender. The series heads to Loudon, N. H., next week for the first race in NASCAR’s version of a playoff. Kyle Busch is ranked first; he’s followed by Carl Edwards, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Greg Biffle, Jeff Burton, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Kenseth and Clint Bowyer. The coveted championship will be decided in the next 10 races and with only 80 points separating first and 12th, anything can happen. Racing action from New Hampshire Motor Speedway will be broadcast live on ABC television and MRN radio affiliates beginning at 1:30 p.m. (EST) on Sunday, September 14. .