The Hot Pass: Kenseth finds right chemistry
There was a sense of satisfaction on the faces of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing team following Sunday’s race at Auto Club Speedway.
No, the defending team did not return to Victory Lane. No, Ford’s overall performance was not up to its usual winning ways in the February Fontana romp.
But the newly aligned partnership of Matt Kenseth and Todd Parrott was the top finishing Fusion with a seventh-place result, which is better than his 9.2 average finish at the track.
After last fall’s 13th-place run at Fontana, posting a top 10 finish was a step in the right direction.
“It was up and down,” Kenseth said. “We didn’t really run great. We actually ran about how I expected to run, honestly, which was pretty good.
“It was a lot better than we did here at California last time, and I feel like we made some improvement on our cars over the winter and got everything a little closer.”
Given Kenseth’s start to 2009 — with consecutive wins at Daytona and California — the shrewdest pundits could not have predicted that the 2003 champion would be outside of the Chase for the Sprint Cup zone in September. But as Hendrick Motorsports and Joe Gibbs Racing continued to advance with the new car, the Roush Fenway Fords were left in the dust. The only other win by the RFR troops in 2009 was Jamie McMurray’s victory at Talladega in November.
However, the lack of chemistry through the transition of the No. 17 team over the past two seasons finally caught up with Roush Racing. Robbie Reiser was the founder, leader and heart and soul of that team. Despite Chip Bolin’s extensive engineering background and the success that Drew Blickensderfer enjoyed with Kenseth and Carl Edwards on the Nationwide Series side, leading a championship team and calling 500 mile races is a completely different animal.
Jack Roush needed someone with the demeanor and life skills of Parrott to pull that team back together. He needed a crew chief that knows how to win titles and will command respect from his men and his driver.
“He’s got the presence and the wherewithal and the experience to manage this band of pirates that Robbie Reiser has assembled over there,” Roush said of Parrott. “That may be too much for a young man or may be too much for me.”
Although Roush has stated that “Todd’s position is interim on the 17 team” it would be beneficial for the organization to take an all-in approach. At 46, Parrott has 15 years experience as a crew chief. He led Dale Jarrett to the Cup title in 1999 — the first and only championship for Robert Yates Racing and the first for Ford Racing since Alan Kulwicki in 1992. Parrott has built winning cars for both the Daytona 500 and the Brickyard 400 — the latter, a trophy Roush has yet to put in his case.
Parrott’s experience with super speedway cars makes him equally attractive to Roush in a research and development role, but moving veterans Jimmy Fennig and Mike Beam into that department should lighten the load. It makes sense for Parrott’s concentration to be on 36 races for the No. 17 team and not just four restrictor plate track events.
On Sunday, Parrott was pleased with the team’s initial outing together.
“We kept tweakin’ on the car and got it closer for him throughout the day,” Parrott said. “All in all the guys in the pits did a great job. This ol’ worn out crew chief came back and made some pretty decent calls and we got a good finish.
“I’m really, really proud of the whole bunch and I’m happy, real happy.”
Happiness was an element that has been missing around the No. 17 crew in the last year. Kenseth entered Las Vegas as the favorite — going for his third consecutive win of the season before his engine blew up six laps into the race.
This weekend in Las Vegas, expect Kenseth to be a contender again. In 10 starts at the 1.5-mile track, Kenseth has two wins and has led the most laps (438). A solid finish this weekend could spark the turnaround Kenseth needs.
“I’m feeling great as far as the two finishes that we’ve had,” Kenseth said. “It sounds dumb me saying that since we won the first two last year, but to get out of Daytona with all the troubles we had and finish eighth, and then to come here in Todd’s first weekend and finish seventh is pretty good.
“I still think we’ve got some work to do to get all of our cars better as a group, but I thought overall that our team did a good job. I’m eager to get a chance to race at Las Vegas.”
In case you missed it: Roush Fenway Racing announced on Tuesday that Blickensderfer will return to the Nationwide Series as crew chief for the No. 60 Ford and driver Carl Edwards.
Earnhardt Childress Racing engineers discovered faulty screws in the bottom end of the engines led to failures for both Kevin Harvick in the Nationwide Series on Saturday and Juan Pablo Montoya in the Sprint Cup race on Sunday.
“When you’re pushing this hard something is bound to happen,” said Danny Lawrence, trackside manager for ECR. “We feel confident that we’ll be able to fix the problem.”
Lawrence said the shop has identified the faulty part and replaced it on the current engines. He doesn’t expect any further complications.
For Montoya, who shared the front row with teammate Jamie McMurray at Auto Club Speedway, it was his first engine failure since switching to Chevrolets at the start of 2009.
Missing from action
Daytona 500 winning owner Chip Ganassi missed the race and California and will be MIA for this weekend’s action at Las Vegas. Apparently, Ganassi broke his ribs during a skiing accident last week and is on a 10-day disable list. Ganassi’s doctor has advised him not to fly.