Solid Run Inches Kenseth Closer to Chase Berth
FONTANA, Calif. (August 31, 2008) -- If you ask Matt Kenseth, he’ll tell you that he runs better when he doesn’t qualify well and tonight he proved that to be true at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. After qualifying a less than stellar 37th place for the Pepsi 500, Kenseth, with the help of the R+L Carriers Ford Fusion team rallied back to finish fifth in the 250-lap event.
Pole winner, Jimmie Johnson led the 43-car field to the green flag at the start of Sunday’s Pepsi 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Auto Club Speedway. Kenseth in the yellow and green No. 17 R+L Carriers Ford Fusion rolled off 37th and settled in for what was sure to be a long night in Southern California.
The race was stalled for the first time on lap three. With little to lose and strategy in mind, Kenseth, running in 31st place made his way down pit road during this yellow flag period. Crew chief Chip Bolin directed the No. 17 pit crew to change two right side tires and top off Kenseth’s Ford with fuel. After the speedy stop, Kenseth returned to the track in 29th position on lap eight when green flag racing commenced.
Over the next run, Kenseth reported that his Ford was “too free”, so when caution fell on lap 19, he was back on pit road for some adjustments. Kenseth entered the pits in 25th place and after the No. 17 was serviced with four tires, fuel and a track bar adjustment, he rejoined the field in 24th position on lap 23 when green flag racing resumed.
Kenseth continued to report “loose” handling throughout the majority of the race and the No. 17 crew worked to correct the problem over a series of scheduled pit stops. Though the adjustments didn’t seem to remedy the handling problems, Kenseth inched his way up the leader board with each stop.
By lap 180, Kenseth was running 10th and reported that his R+L Carriers Ford was “getting better”. The No. 17 would see pit road twice more before the race’s conclusion – once on lap 180 and again on lap 217. With each scheduled stop the Killer Bees quickly fine-tuned Kenseth’s Ford and set him up for the final run of the race.
With just 28 laps remaining in the race, Kenseth in sixth place made a final charge to the front. Despite having a fast race car, lapped traffic would hinder Kenseth’s advance past fifth place.
Jimmie Johnson dominated 228 of 250 laps and held off a late-race challenge from Greg Biffle, who lost ground when the water temperature in his No. 16 Ford skyrocketed to 260 degrees when a paper wrapper stuck to his grille after a restart on Lap 223. Johnson beat Biffle to the finish line by 2.076 seconds. Denny Hamlin ran third, followed by Kevin Harvick and Kenseth finished fifth – his sixth top five of the season.
“We ran pretty good,” Kenseth said. “It’s just that these things are pretty frustrating. You can’t ever really go anywhere. Those top bunch of cars start there and they run there all day. It’s just hard to do anything with these cars, so it gets a little frustrating, but we had a great day on pit road. We were able to pass some cars and we got a good finish.
“I don’t even know where we’re at in the (point) standings, but, obviously, we’re probably in better shape than we were coming in, but until you’re locked in anything can happen.”
The solid run for Kenseth and company advanced their points standing from 10th to ninth – 674 points behind the leader, Kyle Busch and 92 points ahead of 12th place.
Next week, the Race to the Chase concludes at Richmond International Speedway as Kenseth and the No. 17 crew will have a final shot at being locked into the “Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.” The racing excitement of the Rock ‘n Roll 400 will be broadcast live on ABC television and MRN radio affiliates beginning at 7:30 p.m. (EST) on Saturday, Sept. 6.