News & Media

Roush camp full of confidence headed to 500

February 19, 2011, Joe Menzer,

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Duel experience, cooling system in FR9 engines puts team in good spot

Perhaps never before has a final practice before a big race revealed so much by so little.

With six race teams electing not to participate at all in Saturday's Happy Hour session at Daytona International Speedway, and many others taking part in only a nominal way, there was a distinct feeling that no organization is more confident heading into Sunday's 53rd running of the Daytona 500 than Roush Fenway Racing.

"The cooling system is one of the biggest things that we focused on. Right now, if you can push somebody longer or have a couple [more] horsepower, you're going to want to push somebody longer. So I think that was a good choice and it was by design."


You might say they have been the epitome of cool since Thursday's Gatorade Duel. Even though Roush Fenway Fords won neither 150-mile qualifying race, they did impress the field with their ability to push longer and harder than anyone else in a two-car draft.

And for that, credit is going to Doug Yates and the builders of the new FR9 engines that are powering the Fords these days. Team owner Jack Roush has long touted the FR9's advanced cooling system as one of its more unique and important features. But it wasn't until Matt Kenseth, driver of the No. 17 Ford in the Roush Fenway camp, pushed Kevin Harvick seemingly endlessly during Thursday's first duel that the racing world truly witnessed what he has been boasting about.

"Obviously, it's in the driver's hands. They've got to watch their gauges closer than ever," Yates said. "So it's up to the driver to get the nose to the air. But as you could see, Matt [Kenseth] could push the 29 [car of Harvick] for a long time. I think he could have pushed him the whole race just by ducking out of line a little bit now and then [to get fresh air to the nose]."

Kenseth was not all that impressive -- or active -- during Saturday's final practice. But it hardly mattered, and everyone knew it. He proved what he could do during Thursday's duel.

For the record, Kenseth ran just 15 laps during Happy Hour, with a fast lap of 194.053 mph that ranked 30th on the speed chart out of 37 cars that participated. Of the rest of his Roush Fenway teammates, David Ragan was the fastest. He ran 19 practice laps, with a top speed of 199.353 mph that ranked eighth.

Among those who elected not to participate in the final practice were five-time defending Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Mark Martin. The only one of the four Hendrick Motorsports drivers to participate was Dale Earnhardt Jr., who took eight laps in the backup car he was forced into when he wrecked his primary after winning the pole. Earnhardt's fastest lap Saturday was 195.135 mph, which ranked 25th.

Topping the speed chart were Richard Childress Racing teammates Jeff Burton, winner of Thursday's second duel, and Clint Bowyer, who both ran just 11 laps and posted a top speed of 200.316 mph. They were followed by Brad Keselowski (199.751 mph), Robby Gordon (199.743 mph) and Speedweeks sensation Kurt Busch (199.459 mph). Busch won both the Bud Shootout and Thursday's first duel.

But those who ran the top speeds spent more time in two-car drafts on the track. And if Thursday's events proved anything, it proved that cars easily can post lap times of 5 mph or more faster by working in two-car tandems.

Daytona 500

Race Lineup
2.Jeff Gordon Chevrolet
3.Kurt Busch Dodge
4.Jeff Burton Chevrolet
5.Regan Smith Chevrolet
6.Clint Bowyer Chevrolet
7.Kevin Harvick Chevrolet
8.Michael Waltrip Toyota
9.Matt Kenseth Ford
10.Kyle Busch Toyota
11.Kasey KahneToyota

The potential problem with that is keeping the engines cool, especially for the cars pushing from behind in the two-car drafts. And while many of the other teams were having their cars switch out after every handful of laps, Kenseth in particular was able to push from behind much longer without worrying about overheating issues.

Kenseth downplayed the supposed advantage.

"I don't think our stuff is any different or we have any advantage over anybody necessarily," said Kenseth, who won the rain-shortened 2009 Daytona 500. "There were probably a few circumstances [Thursday] where I got some air in there and kept it kind of cool, or maybe didn't take care of that engine as much as I would the 500 engine -- because I knew we were going to change engines [before the 500] anyway and I didn't care if it got overheated. It was more important for me to keep our car in position to get a decent starting spot for Sunday."

Kenseth ended up finishing fourth in his duel and will start on the inside of Row 5 in the ninth position Sunday. He will line up right behind Harvick, the man he pushed throughout Thursday's duel.

Yates, meanwhile, has been beaming like a proud father. Kenseth may be downplaying the FR9's cooling system, but others throughout the garage have continued to come up to Yates since Thursday to congratulate him and pick his brain.

"Just the talk in the garage and listening, it's interesting the guys that approach you and ask you questions when you're doing well," Yates said. "So it's clear that our guys are doing a good job with the cooling systems, and that the engines are doing a good job.

"The cooling system is one of the biggest things that we focused on. Right now, if you can push somebody longer or have a couple [more] horsepower, you're going to want to push somebody longer. So I think that was a good choice and it was by design. We didn't know that this day would come and we'd be racing two-by-two, but I think the design group and Ford did a good job in working on that part of the engine."