Bristol, TN (August 25, 2012) – Bristol Motor Speedway has always been a short track where tempers flared due to the beating and banging action for 500 laps of racing, and Saturday’s IRWIN Tools Night Race lived up to all the excitement of years past. For Matt Kenseth and his No. 17 Valvoline NextGen team, the fought their way from the middle of the field to take the lead, but a battle with Tony Stewart found both cars tangle late in the race. The collision between the pair caused considerable damage to both cars and forced Kenseth to leave Bristol with a 25th-place finish.
After Friday’s qualifying was rained out, the field was set according to the NASCAR rulebook, which meant that Kenseth started 17th based off his lap times during the first practice of the weekend. The field took the green flag at 7:50pm EST to begin the 500-lap event. By lap ten, the first caution of the night came out and allowed Kenseth to radio in to his team about the Valvoline NextGen Ford’s handling on the opening laps.
Kenseth told crew chief Jimmy Fennig that the No. 17 was incredibly tight and sliding on the front tires. The team did not pit under that yellow and the race resumed with Kenseth 16th on the restart. He drove his way into 12th, but once again told his team that the car was still too tight in the middle.
A frantic call came across the radio on lap 68 however, when Kenseth told his team that there was an issue with the brakes. The team prepared in the pits, and a caution on lap 82 gave them the chance to pit under yellow to check out the problem. They pitted for a total of four tires and took fuel while also correcting the issue with the brakes.
Kenseth restarted 34th due to the time spent on pit road, and was a lap down to the race leaders. The Valvoline NextGen Ford continued to be tight, but a caution on lap 123 found Kenseth in the “lucky dog” position so that meant that he rejoined the field on the lead lap. Fennig opted to pit under the yellow for tires, fuel, track bar and air pressure adjustments.
The team knew that they would need to use pit strategy in order to make up lost track position to the race leaders. A caution came out on lap 149, Kenseth stayed out and restarted 11th when the field returned to green. Kenseth continued to fight a tight-handling race car, but he was able to break into the top ten and move up to sixth as more cautions came.
A caution on lap 225, set Kenseth up to restart second alongside his teammate, Greg Biffle, and by lap 254, Kenseth’s Valvoline NextGen Ford was scored as the race leader. Kenseth maintained the race lead over the course of the next run.
The beating and banging of Bristol picked up for Kenseth during a restart on lap 329. Kenseth was leading the field as the No. 14 of Tony Stewart challenged from second. The pair was fighting for position at the front of the field, and after repeated contact between the pair, they collided together off Turn 4 during lap 332. Both drivers sustained considerable damage to their race cars, and they went from the front of the pack back into the rear of the field and fell several laps down to the race leaders.
Kenseth was able to drive his No. 17 Ford back into the pits for repairs, but the team was forced to make several stops before the end of the race to fix damage to the car. Kenseth finished 25th Saturday night at Bristol, and drops to fourth in the driver point standings.
“I was running the top line, leading the race, and (Tony Stewart) got a run and he went into Turn one like I wasn’t there and just went straight to the fence. If I wouldn’t have lifted, like he chose not to do the next corner, we would have wrecked, so I let him have it. I got a run back again, drove all the way alongside of him, and we just kept going. I mean, I lifted down there or else we would have wrecked, and he chose not to lift and wrecked us both, so I don’t know. He’s already had two races this year that he’s pretty much taken us out of, and I told him after Indy that I was going to race him the way he raced me. If you look at it, we did the exact same thing, it’s just that he didn’t lift so I don’t really see where that’s 100 percent my fault or problem.”
Denny Hamlin claimed the win Saturday night at Bristol in the IRWIN Tools Race Night event, earning his third win of the 2012 season. Jimmie Johnson earned the runner-up finish, while Johnson’s teammate Jeff Gordon rounded out the top three finishers.
Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series will spend Labor Day weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the AdvoCare 500 Sunday night. Pre-race television coverage begins on Sunday, September 2nd at 6:30 p.m. EST on ESPN. Radio coverage will be provided by the Performance Racing Network (PRN.)