FONTANA, Cali. (February 25, 2008) -- On a wet and soggy weekend filled with delays and cancellations, Matt Kenseth and the No. 17 Carhartt/DEWALT Ford team found a way to overcome a handful of adversity to scrounge out a fifth-place finish in the Auto Club 500, which finally concluded on Monday afternoon. Soon after starting fourth on Sunday, Kenseth’s predominantly black Ford Fusion began to overheat, forcing him to pit road under green and losing a lap to the leaders in the process. But Kenseth got his lap back thanks to the “free pass” soon after and was able to work his way back up to 14th when racing stopped for good around 6:00 p.m. Pacific on Sunday. Though NASCAR tried to get the race back underway until 11:00 p.m. Pacific (2:00 a.m. Eastern) on Sunday evening, they could not get the track dried and the race was postponed until Monday, 10:00 a.m. Pacific. Thanks to excellent pit stops by the “Killer Bees,” Kenseth was able to come all the way back on Monday to lead for a period of time before settling in the top five. The No. 17 machine was a bit too loose to contend for a third straight win in the Auto Club 500, but Kenseth was still able to bring home a top-five finish, nearly 21 hours after the race began.
“Weepers” was the term of the weekend and it referred to places where water seeped through the seams of the two-mile oval’s pavement. After a lot of rain over the past week, and the rain that continued to fall on the Auto Club Speedway, NASCAR battled moisture all weekend.
A decent-sized crowd, much larger than what would return on Monday, waited out the rain to watch Jimmie Johnson lead the field to the green flag at 3:32 p.m. Pacific on Sunday at the newly renamed Auto Club Speedway. Since qualifying was rained out on Friday and the starting order was determined by the finishing order of 2007 Cup Championship, Kenseth rolled off fourth.
Though Kenseth briefly moved up to the second position, he quickly fell back through the top 10, but matters got a lot worse on lap 10 when he radioed to the crew that his No. 17 Ford Fusion was overheating and spitting out water. Kenseth dove onto pit road under green so that the crew could clean the grille of the racecar. In the process, Kenseth fell back to the 43rd position, one lap behind the leaders.
When an opportune caution flag waved on lap 15 Kenseth was the beneficiary of the “free pass” and was able to get back on the lead lap. Kenseth came down pit road and had water pumped into the No. 17 Ford under caution and after a hectic beginning, restarted 42nd on lap 19.
Soon after the restart, a four-car pileup off of turn two brought out the red flag for the first time on the afternoon as safety crews rushed to the aid of the drivers of the damaged machines. During the cleanup process, safety crews discovered more weepers off of turn two which continued to dump water onto the race track. In an effort to reroute the water, NASCAR ordered grooves to be cut into the pavement funneling the water off of the racing surface. One hour and seven minutes later, the race got back underway with Kenseth in the 34th position.
Kenseth began reporting the car as being too loose and getting looser as the car ran under green. The next caution flag flew when a light rain began falling on lap 40 and after a four-tires-and-fuel pit stop Kenseth emerged in the 22nd position. The rain quickly subsided and when racing resumed, Kenseth moved inside the top 20. While reporting the car as being too loose, Kenseth was still able to make his advance through the field and up the 13th position when he came to pit road on lap 71.
Ominous skies began to threaten rain again and on lap 82, the heavens opened up and rain fell hard on the two-mile oval. After a pit stop, in which Kenseth emerged in the 14th position, NASCAR put out the red flag for the second time on lap 88, at 6:20 p.m. Pacific. After the rain stopped again, NASCAR tried for nearly four hours to dry the track. But, moisture in the air, and weepers at several different points around the track eventually forced NASCAR to postpone the event to Monday. The call from NASCAR to postpone the race came at 11:00 p.m. Pacific (2:00 a.m. Eastern).
After a 15 hour and 50 minute red-flag delay, the field restarted on Monday at 10:03 a.m. Pacific with Johnson leading and Kenseth in the 14th position. This time, clear-blue skies ruled the day and allowed for a great day of racing. After the restart, Kenseth made his way back inside the top 10 on lap 116, but still reported the car as being too loose, especially on entry into the turns.
What Kenseth and the No. 17 Ford could not pick up on the track the “Killer Bees” were up to the task on pit road. The first stop on Monday came on lap 123 under green with Kenseth cycling to pit road in the 10th position, but thanks to a 12.42-second stop, returned to the track in the eighth spot. The next stop, under caution on lap 136, was a 12.11-second stop that gained Kenseth three spots and into the fourth position. Then, on lap 151, again under caution, the No. 17 crew turned out a 12.15-second stop that moved Kenseth up to the second position, first among teams that took on four new tires.
On the ensuing lap-154 restart, Kenseth drove around Daytona 500 winner, Ryan Newman to take the lead on lap 155. But, the lead was short lived as the handling on the No. 17 Carhartt/DEWALT Ford just wasn’t quite where it needed to be to contend for the win. Crew Chief, Chip Bolin, threw every adjustment imaginable at the car in an attempt to improve the handling, but never could quite get the car where it wasn’t “too loose” for Kenseth.
The final pit stop of the day occurred on lap 221 and after, yet another solid pit stop, Kenseth restarted seventh on lap 225. Over the final 25 laps, Kenseth was able to advance inside the top five to finish fifth, his first top-five finish of 2008 and sixth consecutive top 10 at the Auto Club Speedway.
“We got the sun today and I felt a little bit better about it,” Kenseth said. “We were just off all weekend. We really didn’t get enough practice time to figure out what we needed to fix. We really struggled with it all day, but we had a great day on pit road and Chip made a lot of good adjustments and we tried to get it better and we were able to salvage a good finish.
“We worked our way up there a little bit and the farther toward the front we got, the more clean air we got, the looser the car became. We had a really good pit stop and really drove hard up there. Ryan was on two tires to get our bonus points then after that, we were too loose to hang with the good guys today.
“I don’t think we were ever one of the top four or five cars. The guys did great pit stops and made great adjustments and it’s just about what we had. We had about a fifth-to-10th-place car and they figured out how to bring it home fifth.”
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Sunday, Mar. 2
About Roush Fenway Racing
Roush Fenway Racing operates 13 full-time motorsports teams, five in NASCAR Sprint Cup with drivers Matt Kenseth, Jamie McMurray, Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards and David Ragan; four in the Nationwide Series with Kenseth, Biffle, Edwards, McMurray, Ragan, Erik Darnell and Colin Braun; three in the Craftsman Truck Series with Darnell, Braun and Joey Clanton; and one in the ARCA RE/MAX Series with Ricky Stenhouse, Jr.