Avondale, AZ (November 11, 2012) – With two races remaining until the 2012 Champion is decided, NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series traveled west to Phoenix International Raceway for Sunday’s AdvoCare 500. Matt Kenseth and his No. 17 Ford EcoBoost team fought a tight-handling car Sunday at Phoenix and were forced to finish 14th after some damage from a late-race caution forced the team to pit before a green-white-checkered finish.
Kenseth began Sunday’s event from 22nd in his No. 17 Ford EcoBoost Fusion. Within the opening laps of the race, Kenseth had improved to 18th before the first caution of the day came on lap 17. Kenseth used the break in action to call in over radio communications to his team that his No. 17 Ford was too tight in the center and needed more grip. Crew chief Jimmy Fennig decided to stay, which found Kenseth restarting 13th.
Kenseth maintained his position on the track despite the fact that his Ford EcoBoost Fusion remained too tight. A caution on lap 52 found Fennig calling his driver down pit road for four tires, fuel, and air adjustments under the yellow. Kenseth restarted 17th and wasn’t able to advance his way through the field but held on to 17th
Fennig asked his driver to report back on the car’s handling after the adjustments. Kenseth told his team that overall the handling was better following the changes, but that the car was low on rear grip and got tighter as the run went on.
Green-flag stops cycled through the field around lap 120 and when Kenseth pitted on lap 131, Fennig opted for tires, fuel, air and track bar adjustments. Kenseth continued to fight a tight-handling Ford, however. A caution on lap 167 allowed Kenseth to take right-side tires and fuel placing his No. 17 Ford EcoBoost in ninth for the restart. The No. 17 Ford took off okay following the stop, but Kenseth told his team that the tightness continued as the run went on.
Fennig and his team made wedge and air pressure adjustments, but nothing seemed to help improve the car’s handling. Lap 300 found Kenseth in ninth as he told his team that the car had started out loose, but hadn’t come around and tightened up like it had in previous runs.
With only a handful of laps remaining in the race, a multi-car crash during lap 311 between Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer caused an incident both on and off the track. The melee forced NASCAR to bring out the red flag for almost 15 minutes as officials cleaned up the track. Kenseth’s No. 17 Ford had sustained some damage on the left front of the car and so under the red flag, Fennig discussed with his driver whether or not to pit for tires once the race returned to yellow.
In the end, Kenseth pitted for four tires as the team also made sure that the front fender of the car was not causing a tire rub. The stop found Kenseth restarting 16th for the green-white-checkered finish and he was able to cross the line in 14th for all his efforts.
Kevin Harvick won Sunday’s AdvoCare 500 at Phoenix International Raceway earning his first victory of the season. Harvick went on to beat Denny Hamlin to the checkered flag after Hamlin’s teammate, Kyle Busch, had dominated most of the race but was forced to finish third. Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman rounded out the top-five finishers at Phoenix. Kenseth’s 14th-place finish found his drop one position in the Chase point standings to sixth as the series moved on to the final race of the season.
Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series returns to Homestead-Miami Speedway for the tenth and final race of the Chase, the Ford EcoBoost 400. Pre-race television coverage begins on Sunday, November 18th at 2:00 p.m. EST on ESPN. Radio coverage will be provided by the Motor Racing Network (MRN.)