Joliet, IL (September 17, 2012) – Sunday’s GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway was the first race of the 2012 Chase for the Sprint Cup, and Wisconsin-native, Matt Kenseth, was thrilled to start off the 10-race event in the Midwest. After a strong qualifying effort set up Kenseth’s Best Buy Ford to start from third, the team lost track position in the last half of the race after a shock fell off the No. 17 Ford, relegating Kenseth to finish 18th. Due to the disappointing finish on Sunday, Kenseth fell to 11th in the Chase standings.
The field took the green flag at 1:20pm CST as Kenseth’s Best Buy Ford began the 267-lap event. During the opening run, Kenseth radioed in to crew chief Jimmy Fennig that the No. 17 machine kept getting looser in and off the corners the more laps he ran. The car was also tight across the center due to the aero-sensitivity of the track. Fennig talked to his driver about possible changes for the first pit stop including air pressure and wedge.
Green-flag pit stops began to cycle through the field around lap 42. Fennig waited for the leaders to cycle through their pit stops so that Kenseth could get a bonus point for leading a lap before he called his driver down pit road on lap 48. The team serviced the car with four tires, fuel, air pressure and wedge adjustments. Shortly after the stop however, Kenseth called in over team radio that the Best Buy Ford was now looser in and off than it had been, and suggested to his team that they put the latest round of changes back into the car on the next stop.
Thankfully a caution came on lap 65 which allowed the team to make a round of sweeping changes to the car’s set-up including a pulled shim, as well as track bar and air pressure settings when they pitted for four tires on lap 68. Kenseth restarted 12th and had driven his way back into the top ten before another caution came on lap 101. Under this second caution of the race, Kenseth told his team that looseness continued to be his biggest challenge on the track and Fennig once again called for four tires, fuel, and air during the pit stop on lap 102.
The Best Buy Ford did seem to improve its front grip over the next run following the adjustments, but the looseness in and off the corners still challenged Kenseth as he fought to stay within the top 12 on track. Another round of green-flag pit stops cycled through the field, and on lap 148 Fennig opted to pit for four tires as the team put a spring rubber in the left rear in an effort to help tighten the car up. As Kenseth was exiting pit road, a caution came out which trapped him a lap down.
Fortunately, Kenseth was able to do the wave around, which meant that since he didn’t pit under yellow, he would remain on the lead lap. The Best Buy Ford restarted 12th on lap 158, but immediately following the restart, the team saw Kenseth drop through the field quickly. Just six laps after the restart, Kenseth was back in 24th as he radioed in to his team that it felt as though something was wrong with one of the shocks on the car. As the team was trying to assess what might have happened, a NASCAR official brought a shock down to the pit stall which they had found out on the track.
Kenseth’s Best Buy Ford was in fact missing the right front shock and the pit crew scrambled in the pit to prepare for the necessary repairs that they hoped would come under a yellow flag.
A caution came on lap 189, and Kenseth came down pit road for several rounds of repair work on his No. 17 machine as the team worked feverishly to install a new shock. The Best Buy pit crew made quick repairs and was able to keep Kenseth on the lead lap when the field restarted on lap 195. In the end however, Kenseth was able to drive his way up to 18th but ran out of time to make up any more ground before the end of the race.
“We just didn’t have a fast car to start with,” commented Kenseth following Sunday’s race. “We had a really good qualifying lap, and some good track position that I thought might help us sneak out a top-10 finish, which still isn’t good enough, but it would have kept us in the game. When we had that problem with the shock, we got so far behind, but thankfully we were able to stay on the lead lap. I was just stuck near the back and couldn’t go anywhere. “
Brad Keselowski earned the first win of the 2012 Chase Sunday afternoon at Chicago as he beat runner-up Jimmy Johnson to the finish. Johnson and his teammate, Kasey Kahne, rounded out the top three finishers in the GEICO 400. Kenseth’s 18th-place finish found him dip down to 11th in the Chase driver point standings.
Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the second race of the Chase, the Sylvania 300. Pre-race television coverage begins on Sunday, September 23rd at 1:00 p.m. EST on ESPN. Radio coverage will be provided by the Performance Racing Network (PRN.)