Kenseth rewarded after big Dover gamble
Matt Kenseth’s win at Dover International Speedway on Sunday was more than just his 20th career Sprint Cup victory. With wins at both Texas and Dover this season, Kenseth now can be considered a lock for this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup.
Entering Dover, Kenseth was 10th in the point standings. In previous years that would make any driver sweat, as the cutoff was 12th. But NASCAR tweaked the rules this offseason to lock the top 10 drivers plus two “wild-card” drivers — those with the most wins ranked 11 to 20 in the standings —into NASCAR’s title-deciding playoff.
After Dover, Kenseth can breathe easy. He squealed with delight as he headed for the checkered flag in the FedEx 400.
“Good job, Jimmy (Fennig, crew chief), thank you boys,” Kenseth said. “We overachieved this week. That was awesome.”
A split-second decision by the driver and crew chief to take two tires while the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford sat on the jackstand in the pit box enabled Kenseth to vault from fourth place to first man off pit road. Mark Martin, whose team elected not to pit on the last caution, assumed the lead with 38 laps remaining.
After the race restarted on Lap 367, Kenseth hunted Martin down and passed him two laps later. Kenseth secured the point and had no one to challenge him to the finish. Martin, Marcos Ambrose, Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers rounded out the top five.
“I was sitting on the track and thinking that we should stay out and get clean air and try it because I knew we wouldn’t win if we took four (tires),” Kenseth said. “Jimmy wanted four, but as I was driving down pit road I thought maybe we could compromise. While I was on the jack I asked if he was sure we didn’t want to try two and he said to put on two.
“It was really Jimmy’s call and just a suggestion by me. It was tough to pass on top of that rubber out there. We had a lot of power and these guys did a good job with the car.”
It was that very horsepower that led Kenseth to comment that he would kiss engine builder Doug Yates if he had been at the track. With the exception of AJ Allmendinger, who ran in the top five before his engine broke on Lap 166, and Greg Biffle’s throttle linkage issues Lap 66, the Ford Camp was solid.
Third-place Ambrose posted his best finish of the season. Carl Edwards led 117 laps and extended his points lead to 24 over Jimmie Johnson. Biffle rebounded from 38th to finish 19th.
Still, it was Kenseth who made the greatest gains in the points. He jumped from 10th to sixth in the standings and now trails Edwards by 74 points. As only the third driver with multiple wins this season, along with Kevin Harvick and Busch, Kenseth is solid with 15 races to run before the Chase.
But for Kenseth, the objective is winning, not wild cards.
“Jimmy's goal, Jack's and mine and the team's is not to worry about that,” Kenseth said. “That's the last thing on my mind right now. On my mind is to try to be up there and leading on points going into the Chase, trying to make the Chase, be in championship form, be able to put together some more wins and go out there and race for a championship.
“We don't want to slide in off of wins if we're 18th in points or something. We want to go out there and race like this every week.”
They coulda been contenders
The Monster Mile wreaked havoc on both Allmendinger and Kasey Kahne, two drivers who appeared destined for solid finishes at Dover.
Allmendinger’s No. 43 Best Buy Ford began smoking several laps before he brought the car to the garage on Lap 166. Allmendinger ran in the top five all afternoon before his engine blew. He was scored 37th and dropped five positions in the standings to 16th.
“It was weird because it all happened at once and there was no sign of it,” said Allmendinger, who hadn’t suffered an engine failure since his rookie season in 2007. “I was getting under (David Ragan’s car) to lap them and we were running the leaders down. The track had gotten really slick. It was fun and you had to work really hard on finding the right line. It showed what drivers had to do.
“We were going to run them down and all of a sudden off of two it went. It was getting steadily worse. Doug Yates and all the guys at the engine shop do a great job. We had a ton of horsepower and this rarely happens. Honestly, it sucks. I really wanted this for us and Ford and Best Buy and everybody, the King especially,” he said, referring to team owner Richard Petty. “I hate this.”
Kahne was running in the top 10 for most of the race until his engine expired on Lap 331. Kahne finished 36th and lost three spots in the standings to 18th in points.
“Just had an engine problem right there,” Kahne said. “I over-revved it a little bit early on, so definitely that didn’t help. It’s disappointing. I thought we had a good day, a top-10 for sure.”
Matt Kenseth’s spotter, Mike Calinoff, called out to his driver as he approached the checkered flag:
“I told you we were coming to Dover to kick a monster's (expletive).”