Kansas City, KS (October 22, 2012) – Matt Kenseth and his No.17 Zest team survived a wild race Sunday afternoon to earn their third victory of the season in the Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway. With a brand new layer of asphalt down, Sunday’s race proved to be challenging to several teams as it became a race to survive all 400 miles. Kenseth and his team battled back from damage to their car after slapping the wall on lap 173 to earn his primary sponsor Zest their first Sprint Cup Series win and Kenseth’s first career win at Kansas.
Due to the repave at Kansas Speedway, teams came into town early for two days of testing prior to the weekend’s regularly scheduled practices. The extra track time proved helpful to teams since the repave found everyone starting back at square one. Kenseth topped the speed charts in final practice and earned the 12th starting position in his No. 17 Zest Ford for Sunday’s race.
The field took the green flag at 1:22pm CST on Sunday. During the opening run of the race, Kenseth called in over team radio to crew chief Jimmy Fennig that the car was low on grip and was more tight than loose. The first caution of the afternoon came on lap 32 for debris, and Fennig made the call for two tires, fuel, track bar, and air pressure adjustments under the yellow.
The stop allowed Kenseth to restart ninth and just three laps later, Kenseth was in sixth chasing down a position in the top five before another caution came on lap 41. Kenseth told his team that the Zest Ford took off well, but that it became “aero-loose” during the run. Kenseth drove his way into the top five on lap 60 and maintained that position until the third caution of the day came on lap 70. Several teams opted to take two tires under the caution, but Fennig opted for four since there had already been a few teams blowing out tires early on. The stop found Kenseth restarting ninth on lap 77, but once again, Kenseth showed the strength of his Zest Ford as he drove his way back up into the top five.
Green-flag stops began to cycle around lap 119, but a caution came on lap 122 and allowed the Zest team to move up to second and pit under yellow. Kenseth continued to fight some loose-handling conditions on the track, so the team made track bar and air adjustments to help tighten up the No. 17 Ford. Kenseth restarted in second to begin lap 128 and launched himself into the lead on that lap. Kenseth led until a caution on lap 155 when Fennig called him into the pits for a two-tire stop for fuel and adjustments which found him restarting sixth.
During a restart on lap 173, the No. 43 spun and Kenseth slapped the wall after he was forced to check-up which caused a tire rub on the right side of the car. Fortunately, a caution came on lap 176 and allowed Kenseth to come into the pits for repairs. The Zest crew was able to repair the fenders and change out the tires to get Kenseth’s No. 17 machine back on the track to restart 24th.
Kenseth and his team faced a combination of patience and attrition over the next few runs as the Zest Ford had to drive its way back through the field. Kenseth got back up to tenth on lap 198 and was back in the race lead after a caution on lap 214 allowed him to pit for the final time on lap 218. Kenseth led the field to the checkered flag earning his first career win at Kansas Speedway and his third win of the 2012 Sprint Cup Series season. Kenseth improved to ninth in the Chase driver point standings with four races remaining.
“Our Zest Ford was pretty darn good and was fast today,” stated Kenseth following the race. “Jimmy (Fennig) and those guys made great adjustments overnight, but I thought it was over when I got into the fence when Aric (Almirola) wrecked under Mark (Martin). I was watching them, trying to make sure I didn’t hit them and I flat-sided the car pretty bad. It ended up working in our favor though and they fixed the body as good as it was when we started. We had to take less gas in that last pit stop and this No. 17 pit crew put me out front.”
Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series travels to Martinsville Speedway in Virginia for the seventh race of the Chase, the Tums Fast Relief 500. Pre-race television coverage begins on Sunday, October 28th at 1:00 p.m. EST on ESPN. Radio coverage will be provided by the Motor Racing Network (MRN.)