News & Media

Kenseth left wondering what might have been

May 20, 2012, Joe Menzer,

CONCORD, N.C. -- Losing race off pit road to Johnson ends up dooming RFR driver on final restart

When he failed to win the sprint off pit road with Jimmie Johnson following the final mandatory pit stop during Saturday's Sprint All-Star Race at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Matt Kenseth knew he was in serious trouble.

That meant Kenseth had to line up on the outside lane for the restart for the last 10-lap segment.

"That outside lane seemed to be trouble for everybody on the restarts, and I had more trouble than most for some reason," Kenseth said. "It was extremely, extremely frustrating because it's been a year and a half that we've been struggling on the restarts at this size of [1.5-mile] race tracks. When I restarted on the bottom earlier in the race, I got going fine. But on the outside, my wheels just kept spinning, and they'd drive by me because I just couldn't get it to go."

That's exactly what happened. Kenseth couldn't get up to speed on the restart, and Johnson jumped ahead in his No. 48 Chevrolet. He eventually checked out, not only on Kenseth but on the entire field. Kenseth ended up settling for third when earlier he seemed like he might have the car to beat.

"Really I just need to work on my restarts in that lane," Kenseth said. "My restarts seemed to always look bad. But here, especially, for some reason that outside lane would really restart hard and my wheels would spin. I was on the inside every other time and that outside pole guy would go two or three cars back.

"So I knew it was coming, but honestly I just didn't know what else to do. I thought I got in the gas early and Jimmie did the right thing. There was oil-dry there, and he ran me up in the oil-dry and I just couldn't get any traction. I just couldn't get going. By the time I got in line I was fourth and with just 10 laps to go, you're pretty much done."

The race was divided into four 20-lap segments that led up to the 10-lap finale, 90 laps overall. The winners of the first four segments headed to pit road for the final stop one through four, putting Johnson and Kenseth in the unique position of riding around together in the back after winning the first two segments. That was designed to preserve their cars for the final 10-lap push -- and that crucial race off pit road to determine who could claim the favorable bottom lane for the final restart.

"I had a really fun race with Denny [Hamlin] for that second race-segment win. I had a really good time there. I had to work him real hard to get by," Kenseth said.

"After we had that win, we knew we were going to come onto pit road [before the final 10-lap segment] second, so we really were just trying to play the positioning game to make sure we had the best tires on and have the car right for the end. ... After Jimmie won the first segment and we won the second, we kind of just rode around and tried to save the car so we had something for the final 10."

It might have been essential for Kenseth to do that, considering his two Roush Fenway Racing teammates, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, lost their engines earlier in the race. Biffle's engine blew in rather spectacular, scary fashion, chasing Biffle from his cockpit as flames erupted around him. Edwards' car also appeared to briefly catch fire.

"I learned how hard you can push Doug Yates' engines," said Edwards, whose engine cut loose after only 25 laps. "I had red warning lights on the dash the whole time. We had [the front grille] taped up too much, trying to get too much down force, and we just broke it. We went all-out and it didn't work."

Kenseth admitted he was concerned after learning his two RFR teammates were out of the race. Biffle lost his engine and retired to the garage after 67 laps.

"Well, you always think you're next," Kenseth said. "But we were able to be a little easier on our stuff after winning that second segment. We were able to pace ourselves and be a little easier on the engine. ... You're always worried when you see your teammates break, but there's nothing you can really do about it."

In the end, that's precisely how Kenseth ended up feeling about having to face the final restart on the difficult outside lane.

"I'm really disappointed because you win that second segment and you work really hard for it," Kenseth said. "And then you wait 40 more laps to make a run to try to win the race, and you're lined up on the front row, only to end up third because you can't get going on the restart.

"That's really frustrating. I feel bad for our guys. They did a great job to give me a fast car and put us in the best position to make a run for the win, and I feel like I really failed 'em. But overall, I feel good about the [Coca-Cola] 600 [coming up May 28 at the same track]. I feel good about our car on long runs, especially if we don't have any restarts like that on the outside with 10 to go."