February 15, 2008 8:57 AM

Kenseth Battles Handling Woes; Finishes 15th in Gatorade Duel 2; Lines Up 28th for Sunday's Daytona 500

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (February 14, 2008) -- Thanks to a 14th-place qualifying run on Sunday afternoon, Matt Kenseth rolled off 10th in the second of two qualifying races, known as the Gatorade Duel, on Thursday at Daytona International Speedway. On a cool, brisk day, Kenseth rumbled to the front of the 26 car field by lap 13, but battled a loose racecar that only grew more difficult to handle as the race wore on. Kenseth finished 15th, but was able to avoid disaster that may have damaged his primary car, which is still in tact for Sunday’s Daytona 500.

Kenseth started 10th thanks to a complex system that takes the times from Sunday’s qualifying session and determines the starting lineup for each of the twin 150-mile qualifying races on Thursday afternoon. Basically, Kenseth started 10th because he was ninth fastest among cars that finished in the even slots in the final 2007 owners point standings; which all started behind pole-sitter Michael Waltrip, who qualified second on Sunday. …Again, complex.

He may have started 10th, but by the time the field circuited once, Kenseth had advanced to the sixth position. By lap nine, Kenseth was running third, but reported the car as being “pretty loose” upon exiting the corners. Despite the handling concerns, Kenseth took the lead on lap 13 and was still running up front when four cars got together exiting turn four on lap 15.

Under caution, Kenseth came to pit road and for the first time in 2008, the “Killer Bees” went to work. Four tires, fuel, and several adjustments later, Kenseth peeled out of his stall with a 12.50-second pit stop, and retained the lead. Kenseth remained up front until lap 25, when he was ganged up on and passed going into turn one.

The next caution flag flew on the same lap as Kenseth was passed for the lead when a car blew an engine and spilled oil around the entire track. The race was red flagged with Kenseth in third, but on the ensuing restart, he moved back into second. But, as Kenseth ran high on the racetrack, the car began to lose the handle again, and Kenseth fell back. From lap 30 to lap 40, Kenseth fell from second to 10th and by the time he reported the car being extremely loose on lap 47, he was running in 12th place.

Just 12 laps shy of the finish, Kenseth reported that his right-rear tire might be going flat. Ten laps later, just two laps from the end, Kenseth alerted the crew that he was coming to pit road as the tire was about to rupture. But, with a fortuitous break, a blown tire by a competitor, Kenseth was able to pit under caution and keep his track position. Kenseth indeed had an issue with the right-rear tire, but returned to the track after four tires and fuel in the 16th position.

After another red flag for track cleanup, Kenseth restarted 16th, but was only able to improve one position over the final two circuits as the field finished with a two-lap, green-white-checker dash. Kenseth finished 15th and will start Sunday’s 50th running of the Daytona 500 in the 28th position.

“We learned a lot,” Kenseth said. “Our car had a lot of speed, actually, and had ourselves, I thought, in pretty good position, and did a pretty good job on pit road. We just had some handling issues. So, we think we know what we’ve got to work on tomorrow to get better in practice tomorrow.”

“Yeah, but if everybody’s experiencing them then you’ve just got to work on the car and get it handling better. We were really off on our handling today. We could only run about 10 laps very good and then it didn’t handle well, and we were tearing up tires and everything. We just kept getting our car too loose. We were just a step behind, so we’ll keep working on it tomorrow and we’ll have it good by Sunday.”

Daytona 500
2.5-mile Daytona International Speedway
Daytona Beach, Fla.
Sunday, Feb. 17, 2008
2:00 PM Eastern – Fox/MRN

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