After last week’s disappointing race at Martinsville, Matt Kenseth and the No. 17 DEWALT Ford Fusion team headed into Texas Motor Speedway this weekend looking for a little redemption. Since Kenseth typically runs well at the 1.5-mile Texas track, posting four top fives in his last five starts, the No. 17 team was hoping for another solid run. Over the course of the extended 339-lap event, Kenseth and crew spent 334 of 339 laps in the top 15, posted 28 of the race’s fastest laps and led 68 laps. Despite the impressive stats, handling problems and a late-race gamble that didn’t pay off left Kenseth with a solid, but disappointing, ninth-place finish in the Samsung 500.
Kenseth and the No. 17 DEWALT team enjoyed their best starting position of the season with a qualifying effort of eighth. Though Kenseth reported that his Roush Fenway Racing machine was experiencing “loose” handling conditions, he gained and then maintained sixth place throughout the first portion of the race.
Crew chief Chip Bolin and crew made numerous adjustments to the DEWALT Fusion throughout the day. In spite of their efforts, Kenseth still reported that the No. 17 was handling “tight in the center, loose off”. Though he was not satisfied with the handling of his Ford, Kenseth’s on-track performance didn’t suffer, as he continued to maintain sixth position and turn laps comparable to the race leaders’.
By the caution on lap 108, Kenseth had worked his way up to third place when he entered the pits for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. With the express servicing of The Killer Bees, Kenseth exited the pits as the race leader. He would maintain the top running position throughout two more pit stops under caution and a total of 68 laps.
On the lap 180 restart, Kenseth relinquished the lead and by lap 189 he had fallen back to fifth place. Though Kenseth reported that the DEWALT Ford was handling “better”, long green flag runs separated the field and he started loosing ground on the leader. A much needed caution fell on lap 294 and Kenseth was scored in sixth place. Bolin called Kenseth to pit road for a final time for four tires. Kenseth restarted the race with 35 laps to go in seventh place.
By the race’s final caution on lap 329, Kenseth had worked his way back up to fifth position and pit strategy would become key at this point. With just 10 cars on lead lap, a pit stop would be a gamble – come in and risk losing track position or stay out and risk being passed by cars with fresher tires. Bolin directed Kenseth to stay out and on the restart Kenseth fell victim to the competitors with fresher tires. In the final green-white-checker finish, Kenseth was passed by the sixth place car of Clint Bowyer. Bowyer lost control of his car and in attempt to avoid a larger accident Kenseth was passed by several competitors at the line. He ultimately finished the race in ninth place - a solid, but disappointing finish.
“Tires would have helped a lot at the end,” said Kenseth. “When you’re the first one on old tires and everybody’s got new tires behind you, they’re going to eat your lunch. It was a 50-50 call and we were right in the middle, and we tried it and it didn’t work.”
Before an estimated crowd of 190,000, Carl Edwards won the Samsung 500 – his third of 2008. Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman and Denny Hamlin followed to complete the top five.
The ninth-place finish in Texas boosted Kenseth and the No. 17 DEWALT team from 15th to 13th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver point standings. Kenseth is currently 245 points behind point leader Jeff Burton.
Kenseth and the No. 17 DEWALT team will head to Phoenix International Raceway next weekend for the Subway Fresh Fit 500. FOX television and MRN radio affiliates will carry the live race broadcast beginning at 8:30 p.m. (EST) on Saturday, April 13.