News & Media

Penalized push sprang from good intentions

September 23, 2011, David Caraviello,

LOUDON, N.H. -- Yeley trying to do solid for Kenseth; result was a finish one lap down for Chaser

As soon as Matt Kenseth ran out of fuel at the end of Monday's rain-delayed Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway, he started yelling over the radio. "Get somebody to push me! Get somebody to push me!" he told his team -- until crew chief Jimmy Fennig reminded his driver that it would be illegal under NASCAR rules for his slowing vehicle to receive assistance from another car on the final lap.

"Oh, yeah," Kenseth responded. "Make sure nobody pushes me!"

"It's disappointing when you go to one of your better places and you feel like as a team you did everything right, and when it's all said and done you finish 21st."


Too late. Kenseth got a push from J.J. Yeley that helped the Roush Fenway driver cross the line in eighth place Monday, but NASCAR later invalidated that finish and placed the No. 17 car as the first car a lap down under penalty. The result was a 21st-place finish that might be a serious blow to Kenseth's championship hopes, given that it places him 24 points behind current leader Kevin Harvick.

"I guess you just forget about it," Kenseth said Friday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. "There's nothing we can do about it now. The most disappointing part for me is, I felt like as a team we executed. We did everything just right from qualifying to practice to the race. We made the best adjustments at the end, we got off pit road first at the end, we took the lead at the end. We did all that stuff, we just didn't have good enough fuel mileage to be able to pull it off. It's disappointing when you go to one of your better places and you feel like as a team you did everything right, and when it's all said and done you finish 21st. That's disappointing."

Kenseth led 46 laps Monday, and near the end had to surrender the lead to eventual winner Tony Stewart in an attempt to save fuel. As for the push, Kenseth said it's very easy for drivers to forget about the rule, given that cars are allowed to push each other for most of the race. Without the push from Yeley, he estimated, he probably would have finished about where he ended up under penalty.

"That's a deal where we might have finished a little better if I could have coasted back to the start/finish line. But if we could have made it back to the start/finish line, that's where I would have finished anyway," he said "... I don't think anyone even got to J.J. to ask him. He was just trying to do me a favor, which is really nice of him. A lot of people wouldn't do that. It's easy to forget about that. Charlotte, for instance, there was a teammate pushing a car around the track for four laps under yellow to save gas without his engine running. So there's just so much of that that goes on, it kind of slips your mind."

Yeley was running three laps down Monday, and said he could see Kenseth and the other leaders coming up on him as they approached the start/finish line. He dropped down to the apron to let them pass, but coming out of Turn 2 found himself underneath a No. 17 car that was beginning to slow down. Yeley had also lost speed because of pulling down off the race track. "I was basically trying to just get out of the road," Yeley said. "I pulled up behind [Kenseth], downshifted, pushed him, and got him back to some kind of speed. I got him to Turn 4 and dumped him off."

Under NASCAR rules, a vehicle that can't finish under its own power cannot receive help on the final lap. Yeley admits, he hasn't been a full-time driver since 2008, so he might have been fuzzy on the exact interpretation. After Monday's race, he went to the NASCAR hauler of his own volition to explain to series officials that despite the two drivers' manufacturer connection, no one had asked him to give Kenseth the push.

"At that point, we knew they were going to penalize him," Yeley said. "It was just to let them know, no one asked me to do it. I took it upon myself. He's in the Chase, he's right there, he ran out of fuel. Now, obviously, because of the Ford connection, it looks more suspicious. At the same time, not to say I wouldn't go help someone else. ... It was just one of those deals, a racer trying to help out a guy who needed it."

Kenseth said he wasn't upset when he found out about the penalty. But he also wouldn't mind if NASCAR took another look at the rule, given how one car pushing another can play a role in an event's outcome, even before the final lap.

"I knew that was going to happen," he said. "I didn't know what the penalty was for sure, but I knew we were in the wrong for what the rule book says. But it's probably something that does need to be looked at. What's to stop you, last race of the year and the guy leading the points runs out of gas, [from getting] one of your teammates to push him for you? That, and the under yellow stuff, if a teammate is wrecked, or you can hire somebody that pushes you around so you can make it on fuel .... There are a lot of things with this style of racing that could happen. I know we don't need more rules now. I don't like more regulations or more rules, either. But that's probably something they should think about, because it does change the outcome of the races somewhat unfairly."

For Yeley, the action hasn't come without criticism -- including calls to his Front Row Motorsports team asking what the driver of the No. 38 car was thinking. Some angry callers wanted to know if Yeley was trying to get Kenseth penalized. At the time, though, Yeley said he didn't realize he was doing anything illegal. He was just trying to help out another driver.

"The rule cut-and-dry, without interpretation is, no assistance on the white flag," Yeley said, "and we get that now."