Two-tire stop with 30 laps to go saves day for No. 20 JGR team
SPEEDWAY, Ind. -- Both driver and crew chief said they were pleased with their team’s finish in Sunday’s Samuel Deeds 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but both also acknowledged the need for improvement.
“We didn’t have that good of a car today,” Matt Kenseth said on the heels of his fifth-place result in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event.
“We’ve got to get better as a group,” added crew chief Jason Ratcliff.
Kenseth, a four-time winner this season in the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, parlayed track position from a two-tire stop with 30 laps remaining in the 160-lap event into his fifth top-five finish of the year.
It was a "great call," he said, one that kept him within earshot if not eyesight of the leaders. Eventual race winner Ryan Newman had checked out on the field, with only the No. 48 Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson looming in the distance.
Kenseth, along with Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart, fought to maintain their positions in the top five. Kahne wound up third, Stewart fourth.
“We were just hanging on to what we could," Kenseth said. "We're just a little off on speed, we've got to work on that a little bit … hopefully be a little better next week (when the series heads to Pocono Raceway)."
In a race that went green for the first 59 laps, and was slowed by only three caution periods, Kenseth battled a foe familiar to most of those in the field, the battle for track position, gaining a spot or two here, losing one there.
"I was getting passed a lot more than I was passing," he said. "It's not easy passing here no matter what kind of car you have. I thought it was probably a little bit better, like it's been at all the tracks this year."
It didn't help, Ratcliff said, that the car was likely at its worst when his driver needed it the most. Gains made during the race were negated when cloud cover changed track conditions.
"The guys on pit road did a spectacular job. Flawless pit stops," Ratcliff said, noting that the two-tire stops were in fact so fast that "we could hardly get enough fuel in the car."
The on-track speed issue is a bit of concern, he said, noting the pace displayed by the Hendrick Motorsports and Stewart-Haas Racing teams Sunday.
"Those guys are fast right now," Ratcliff said.
Hendrick horsepower was very evident -- the top four and seven of the top 10 at the finish had HMS engines under the hood.
"These big race tracks like this, that's kind of been our bread and butter," Ratcliff said. "That's where we've won our races this year; that's where we've run well. We're just lacking some speed.
"I think everyone at the shop is doing a good job … I think the bodies are really good; I think the setups, we're making progress there. I think what we need at these big race tracks, we're missing some speed somewhere.
"It's not much. We'll find it."
Kenseth maintained his sixth-place position in the points standings as the top eight spots remained unchanged. Kahne improved one spot, to ninth, while Gordon climbed two positions to 10th.