Daytona Beach, FL (July 7, 2012) – Returning to the site of his victory at the start of the season, Matt Kenseth traveled to Daytona International Speedway eager to go restrictor plate racing for the third time this season. Kenseth earned the win at Daytona in February and finished third at Talladega in April so he and his No. 17 Zest team had plans for another solid finish Saturday night. Kenseth earned his first pole award of the season and started from the front row and finished third after a green-white-checkered finish found him racing for the lead on the final lap.
Kenseth’s pole award, which he earned Friday afternoon, was his first pole of the 2012 season, and his first at Daytona. The field took the green flag for the Coke Zero 400 at 7:53pm EST as Kenseth led them off the line. Kenseth and his teammate, Greg Biffle, teamed up on the opening lap as the duo paced the field for the opening run. Green-flag pit stops cycled around lap 40, and Kenseth told crew chief Jimmy Fennig that he didn’t want any changes during the stop.
Fennig called his driver down pit road on lap 41 for four tires and fuel, and this time, Kenseth was behind Biffle as the pair once again, ran first and second to the field. The pair continued to dominate the field as the first caution of the night came on lap 81 due to the No. 22 car. Fennig opted for right-side tires only and told his team to pack the car fuel of Sunoco fuel. Kenseth told his team that he could use a little more grip and that the car was a little tight getting into the corner.
Kenseth restarted as the leader on lap 86 in his Zest Ford and a caution came shortly after the stop. Fennig told his driver to stay out, and Biffle lined up right behind Kenseth as the pair got ready for the restart. Once again, the Roush-Yates Engines’ horsepower showcased their prowess as the pair led the field. Just as Fennig was calling his driver down pit road for a routine pit stop, another caution came on lap 125, and Kenseth had to swerve back onto the track after hearing that pit road was closed right as he was about to approach it. The caution threw off the pit cycle and found Kenseth back in 23rd as the running order got jumbled up with the yellow flag.
Kenseth finally came down pit road on lap 127 for four tires and fuel, and lined up to restart 20th. Biffle had been assessed a penalty for pitting when pit road was closed and so he ended up starting back in the pack as well. Kenseth restarted 20th and just ten laps later, he hooked up with Biffle again, and was back in third challenging for the lead.
The No. 17 Zest Ford dipped back to sixth right before “the big one” happened on lap 153 which collected 14 cars. Kenseth remained unscathed, and was scored as the race leader for the green-white-checkered finish. Kenseth had his teammate Biffle to draft with, but Tony Stewart worked his way to the front on the final lap and ended up breaking up the Kenseth-Biffle duo to win the Coke Zero 400. Jeff Burton finished second while Kenseth rounded out the top-three finishers after leading for a race high of 89 laps at Daytona Saturday night. With his finish, Kenseth also maintains his lead in the driver point standings with a 25-point lead over Biffle who moved up to second.
“I guess you need to be happy when you finish that well,” said Kenseth following the race. “When you have restrictor plate cars that fast it doesn’t happen very often, and you sure want to figure out how to win with them. The last two restrictor plate races of Talladega and tonight I feel like you always second-guess your moves. I feel like we had one of the fastest cars here for all three speedway races this year, so I’m happy to get third. On the other hand, I’m incredibly disappointed because I feel like my team deserved to be down there holding the hardware and I kind of let them down. Overall, we had a really fast car. We had a pretty good race and made our way back to the front after the pit road caution during our scheduled lap to pit, and we were in contention, we just didn’t get it done that last lap.”
Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series travels to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the Lenox Industrial Tools 301. Pre-race television coverage begins on Sunday, July 15th at 12:00 p.m. EST on TNT. Radio coverage will be provided by the Performance Racing Network (PRN).
Lenox Industrial Tools 301
New Hampshire Motor Speedway (1.058-mile)
Sunday, July 15, 2012