Stellar work in the pits helps Kenseth becomes first driver since 1997 to start season with consecutive wins
FONTANA, Calif. (Feb. 22, 2009) – Matt Kenseth held off a charging Jeff Gordon in the waning laps of Sunday’s Auto Club 500 to become the first diver in over a decade to start the NASCAR Sprint Cup season with consecutive victories. Kenseth was able to not only keep his No. 17 Carhartt Ford Fusion out in front of Gordon, but he was able to eventually pull away as the laps counted down.
The No. 17 team gave Kenseth the lead on pit road on three separate occasions during the race, the final coming under caution on pit road on lap 213 when Kenseth came in for four tires and one final adjustment. The Cambridge, Wis. native never looked back, holding off the No. 24 car, while following up last week’s Daytona 500 victory with his third career win at the Auto Club Speedway and his third there in that past four races.
“This was a great effort by this No. 17 team,” said a Gatorade-soaked Kenseth in the media center after the race. “Just a great team, great crew, great engines. You really need everything to go right to win these races. Our car handled really well all day, and we had excellent pit stops. Our fourth one from the end we were a little bit off and I started complaining and then all of sudden they got me three or four spots every stop.
“The pit stops were really important to our outcome,” added Kenseth. “Their adjustments were really important. We were a little off, and I don’t even know what they changed. (Crew chief) Drew (Blickensderfer) and (engineer) Chip (Bolin) came up with changing a couple of things and got it just good enough at the end. It wasn’t easy, but it was just good enough to hold them off.”
Kenseth led three times in the event, for a race-high 84 laps, with all three lead grabs coming via lightening fast work by the No. 17 team pit crew. He started the race in 24th, but wasted little time meticulously powering his Carhartt Ford through the field. He ran 224 of the race’s 250 laps inside the top 15. By lap 62 he was running inside the top-five, before moving into the lead for the first time on lap 145.
“I just feel great about the group we have assembled,” said Kenseth. “Everybody’s having fun, everybody’s loose and everybody’s performing at the same time.
“I think Drew has given the leadership and the start that they kind of need and Chip has all the extra time to work on the cars and keep up with the engineering and the data and sift through all that stuff, and they’ve been able to work great together so far.”
With the victory, Blickensderfer begins his tenure as the No. 17 crew chief two for two with wins at Daytona and California. The victory is Kenseth’s 18th career win at the Cup level and it marks the 5th time in the past eight seasons that Kenseth and the No. 17 Roush Fenway crew have posted multiple victories in a season. After two races Kenseth leads the Sprint Cup point standing by 81 points over Gordon.
Kenseth and the team return to action next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Las Vegas, Nev. for the Shelby 427. Green flag is set for 6 p.m. (EST) with television coverage being provided by FOX. Kenseth has two victories and four top-five finishes at the 1.5-mile track at Vegas.