Matt Kenseth’s Chase hopes take hit after Charlotte incident
Joe Gibbs Racing’s Matt Kenseth started Sunday’s Bank of America 500 on the pole, but by Lap 177 his chances at victory slipped away, and his troubles were far from over.
Restarting deep in the field after a lengthy pit stop under the fifth caution of the day, Kenseth was working through traffic when he was racing in the middle of a three-wide situation off Turn 4.
Coming back up the track, Kenseth’s right rear made contact with the left front of fellow Chase driver Ryan Newman. The contact sent Kenseth hard into the outside wall and brought out the sixth caution of the day.
“I thought I was going to clear him, A, and then B, if I didn’t I thought I left him enough room, so I don’t know. I haven’t seen the replay,” Kenseth said of his incident with Newman. “I got turned so early I wasn’t even out to the wall yet. I thought I had room out there. Obviously we somehow ran out of space.”
After multiple pit stops for repairs, Kenseth was able to remain on the lead lap when the race went back to green flag conditions. When Justin Allgaier blew a motor on the restart and brought out the caution again, Kenseth told crew chief Jason Ratcliff the tire was rubbing significantly.
Taking advantage of the quick caution, Kenseth brought the No. 20 JGR Toyota back to the attention of the crew, concerned about the track bar mount. Despite the concerns, Ratcliff told his driver the mount looked OK and sent him back on the track after multiple stops for repairs.
Kenseth was the second of the Chase drivers to have an issue during Sunday’s Contender Round race at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Hendrick Motorsports’ Dale Earnhardt Jr. hit the wall twice, dropping him a lap down to the leaders.
With 150 laps to go in Sunday’s Bank of America 500, Earnhardt was 12th in the standings while Kenseth had fallen to 11th.
While things were looking up for Kenseth, he hit the wall once again just after a restart on Lap 200. Hitting pit road under green with 129 laps to go, Kenseth was penalized for having too many men over the wall and was forced to serve a pass-through penalty.
Hitting the wall again on Lap 240, Kenseth suffered the heaviest damage of the day, killing the right front of the No. 20 Toyota. Taking the car directly to the garage, the crew thrashed on the car making repairs, but Kenseth’s day was officially over.
“These are never the kind of days you want to have, for sure,” Kenseth said standing in the garage as the race continued around him. “It was just one of those days. We were real fast out front. We were real tight in traffic. We got behind on that first deal (with Newman) and didn’t catch the cautions right and it went green. I overshot my pit and that put us in the back. It was just one thing after another after another. We should have never been back there to start with. It was my mistakes that cost us today. We’ll just move on and get ready for Kansas.”
The multiple issues dropped Kenseth to 31st on the leaderboard, three laps down to the race leaders. One of the favorites to advance through the Chase to the Championship Four at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Kenseth will need to have flawless races at Kansas Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway if he wants to keep his title hopes alive.
While he remains confident about his chances to advance, Kenseth is not ready to predict a win next weekend at Kansas.
“I’ve never stood here after a race and been like, ‘I’m really confident we’re going to win next week.’ It’s way to hard to be that confident, but I’m just as confident as I was this morning,” he said. “We’ve had really fast race cars and even when we’ve been off a little bit, the guys have been figuring out how to get the finishes and get some wins. We’ll just go there, race as hard as we can and whatever happens, happens and we’ll do the same at Talladega.”