DAYTONA BEACH, FLA. (July 5, 2008) – Fireworks started and ended the Coke Zero 400 Saturday night, both on and off the track as Matt Kenseth and the No. 17 R+L Carriers Ford Fusion team raced their way to a third-place finish – a career best for Kenseth in 18 starts. Kenseth took the green flag in the 19th position after laying down a lap time of 48.799 seconds during Friday afternoon’s time trials at Daytona International Speedway. For much of the 162-lap (extended by two laps for a green-white-checker finish) event, Kenseth battled a loose-handling car, however with aggressive adjustments made in speedy, scheduled pit stops, the No. 17 crew was able to keep Kenseth running up front and make the No. 17 Ford a competitive machine. By the end of the race, Kenseth was in contention for the win. However, in the final green-white-checkered re-start after an exciting night of racing, a caution would be thrown on the final lap, freezing the field and Kenseth would finish the race in third place. The top-three finish boosted Kenseth four spots in overall point standings – he is now ranked ninth.
Paul Menard started from the pole for this first time in his NASCAR Sprint Cup career. Kenseth rolled off 19th,and soon made a charge for the top 15, despite reporting that the R+L Carriers Ford was handling “extremely loose.”
A caution on lap l9 came none too soon for Kenseth, as the loose handling conditions had worsened and the No. 17 was in desperate need of adjustments. Kenseth entered pit road in 15th position and crew chief Chip Bolin called for track bar and air pressure adjustments to alleviate the loose handling issues. Kenseth also received four tires and fuel before rejoining the race in seventh place on lap 24.
Over the next two runs, Kenseth continued to report to struggle with loose handling conditions, nonetheless he managed to make gains on the track and by his third scheduled pit stop, under caution around lap 90 he was running inside the top five. However, after the swift stop performed by the ‘Killer Bees’, Kenseth began to experience trouble and fell from second place on lap 78 to 34th position on lap 96.
During this run, Kenseth reported that the No. 17 was “terrible loose” and that he may have a flat tire. Even with the ill-handling race car, Kenseth remained on the track and avoided an accident. On lap 109, a much needed caution fell permitting Kenseth to make his way down pit road. In just under 13 seconds, the No. 17 crew bolted on four fresh tires, filled the R+L Carriers Ford with fuel and adjusted the track bar and air pressure on Kenseth’s Ford. After examining the tires from the previous run, numerous blisters and tears were discovered and thought to be the culprit to the ill-handling Ford. All fixed up with just 46 laps remaining, Kenseth took the green flag in 28th place and once again made his charge to the front.
Kenseth would make his final pit stop of the night around lap 124 under caution. He entered the pits in 23rd position for four tires, fuel and a wedge adjustment. He restarted the race with 32 laps remaining in 13th place.
Throughout four caution periods Kenseth worked his way up fourth and that is he where he took the green flag for the final green-white-checker restart. In a wild finish so typical of races at Daytona, Kyle Busch won by a hair over hard-charging Roush Fenway Racing driver Carl Edwards with a chain-reaction accident behind them sending up a cloud of smoke that covered the track. Kenseth avoided the trouble and captured the checkers in third place. Kurt Busch and another Roush Fenway Racing teammate, David Ragan followed to complete the top five.
“It was crazy. You never know what’s going to happen on one of those green-white-checkers,” said Kenseth. “You’re pretty sure at a plate race with a green-white-checkered there’s going to be wreck and you hope that you’re not in it, basically. I was trying to push Carl because we had such a good restart and Kurt (Busch) was behind me pushing me like crazy, but he was trying to look different directions on Kyle (Busch), and Kyle was blocking like crazy and he was all over the straightaway. I was scared to hit him; I thought he was going to spin out. And finally I did give him a little shove and he got sideways and Kyle went up to block him and got sideways, and I was right in the middle of it and was going to wreck, so I had to get out of the gas. If Kyle could’ve gotten straight and if we could’ve gotten a farther-back run on Kyle, I think we both could’ve gone by him, and maybe race for the win, but we couldn’t quite get that figured out exactly right. So, anyway, happy with the finish. I think that’s the best I ever finished at Daytona. The guys made great adjustments, and we were pretty competitive, so it feels good.”
The stellar third-place finish for Kenseth and company boosts their points standing from 13th to ninth – 520 points behind the leader, Kyle Busch and 21 points ahead of 12th place.
Next week, Kenseth and the No. 17 crew will travel to Joliet, Ill. for LifeLock.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. TNT television and MRN radio affiliates will carry the live race broadcast beginning at 8:00 p.m. (EST) on Saturday, July 12.