Hampton, GA (September 2, 2012) – Entering the weekend at Atlanta Motor Speedway, NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series had two more races left before the 2012 Chase field was to be set. For Matt Kenseth and his No. 17 team, they clinched a Chase berth in Sunday night’s AdvoCare 500 and earned a top-ten finish with their Ford EcoBoost Fusion in the process.
Kenseth began the 325-lap event from the fourth starting position as the field took the green flag at 7:51 pm EST. By lap 15, Kenseth found himself starting to drop back into the line-up, and he radioed in to crew chief Jimmy Fennig that the No. 17 Ford was slow across the middle and loose off in the corners. Fennig and Kenseth discussed a few possible changes for the first pit stop of the night, but by lap 30, Kenseth had dipped down to 11th.
The first caution of the evening came on lap 39, and Kenseth once again reported into his team about the car’s handling. Kenseth asked for more rear grip and that the center of the corners needed help as well. Fennig opted for four tires, fuel, wedge and air pressure adjustments on the stop, and Kenseth restarted in ninth.
The Ford EcoBoost Fusion maintained track position for the start of the run, but looseness in and off combined with tightness in the center, found Kenseth drop back to 12th. Kenseth told his team that the car’s handling kept getting looser as the runs went on. The looseness on entry and exit seemed to be the biggest challenge for Kenseth at the time, and Fennig made adjustments to air pressure settings and made sure that the team did four-tire pit stops in order to give his driver as much help as they could at the time.
Despite the handling challenge, the No. 17 pit crew earned Kenseth positions coming off pit road which helped set him up on the restarts, but ultimately, the car’s handling found the driver drop further back within the top ten. Even with the adjustments that the team serviced the Ford EcoBoost with, Kenseth told the team that the car kept getting worse, and was even loose on the gas on lap 220. Kenseth also told Fennig that he needed help with adjustments on the front end so that the nose of the car wouldn’t slide around as much as it had been in the turns.
A caution on lap 242 allowed Fennig to make a sweeping round of changes to the No. 17 machine as the team pulled a shim, adjusted the air pressure and track bar settings, as well as serviced the car with four fresh tires and fuel. In the end, even though the changes helped Kenseth the most out of all the other adjustments, it wasn’t enough to advance much further up on the charts. Kenseth finished ninth Sunday night after a late-race caution set up a green-white-checkered finish.
“There were times when we found the right balance, but we were just slow,” Said Kenseth after the race. “We qualified well and raced about the same as we practiced. We were just way off on speed compared to the good guys tonight. The last four out of six weeks have been disastrous for us. Today, we got a good finish because we had really great pit stops and that’s the only thing that saved us. We should have run back by Greg (Biffle) somewhere, but we just had good stops and hung on to the lead lap.”
Denny Hamlin earned his second consecutive victory Sunday night after winning last week at Bristol. Hamlin held off Jeff Gordon on a green-white-checkered restart to earn the win in Sunday’s AdvoCare 500. Hamlin’s win at Atlanta was his fourth of the season, while Gordon went on to finish second. Brad Keselowski rounded out the top three finishers Sunday night and Kenseth finished ninth securing his place within the top ten heading into the Chase.
Next weekend, the Sprint Cup Series will travel to Richmond International Raceway for the Federated Auto Parts 400, and the final race to set the field for the 2012 Chase. Pre-race television coverage begins on Saturday, September 8th at 7:00 p.m. EST on ABC. Radio coverage will be provided by the Motor Racing Network (MRN.)