Box Score Info:
RACE: Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500
TRACK: Atlanta Motor Speedway
DRIVER: Matt Kenseth
CAR: No. 20 DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ Toyota Camry
POINTS POSITION: 741 total points for the season; 16th in the driver point standings following the race
After a disappointing start to their 2017 season, Matt Kenseth and his No. 20 DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ team traveled to Atlanta Motor Speedway, eager to get a strong finish under their belts. Atlanta was the first true test for teams to see how the season’s new rules package and format changes would work at a non-speedway race track. After starting from 16th in Sunday’s 325-lap event, Kenseth got hit with two pit road speeding penalties early in the race that dropped him a lap down to the leaders. The team fought all race long to get the No. 20 into position for the free pass, but cautions never fell their way until an incident on lap 263 brought out the yellow, and Kenseth was finally back on the lead lap. Kenseth was able to use the remainder of the race to fight his way as high as second, but ultimately drove off with a top-three finish, despite the challenging day.
The Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway took the green at 2:48 p.m. EST as the DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ Camry rolled off along the outside lane in 16th. Sunday’s race was separated into three stages of competition where stage 1 concluded after lap 85, stage 2 concluded after lap 170, and stage 3 ended with the checkered flag after lap 325. Kenseth was stuck in the middle of the field on his opening run of the race. At lap 33, he told his team that the No. 20 Camry was tight at the start of the run but then got loose.
Crew chief Jason Ratcliff called his driver down pit road for the team’s first stop of the day on lap 36 for four tires and fuel. Unfortunately, Kenseth was penalized with a pit road speeding penalty and he was forced to do a pass-through penalty. The penalty found Kenseth fall a lap down to the leaders as he fell back to 35th at the time.
Kenseth and Ratcliff discussed strategy around lap 55 as teams were looking ahead to what they were going to do at the end of stage 1. Ratcliff told his driver that their only option was to conserve tires and stretch their run until the stage 1 caution came. Kenseth was able to do just that, and had driven his way into 24th by the time the opening stage concluded.
Tightness seemed to be the biggest challenge at the time for Kenseth as the team prepared for their second pit stop of the afternoon. Under caution, Ratcliff called for a four-tire stop, but this time with adjustments in order to help the DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ Camry in the turns. Following the team’s stop, the call came down from the tower that once again, Kenseth had been hit with a speeding penalty in a different section of pit road.
Kenseth lined up in 27th for the restart at lap 94 as the race returned to green to begin stage 2. The No. 20 Toyota was able to move up to 18th over the next run before the team opted to pit at lap 128 for four tires and fuel. Kenseth maintained his positioning in 18th throughout stage 2, even though he continued to fight tightness in his race car. When the caution came to end stage 2, Kenseth asked his team for assistance in getting the center of the DEWALT Camry to turn better.
On lap 174, Kenseth hit pit road for a four-tire stop with adjustments and lined up in 17th for the restart to begin lap 178. Kenseth began to pick off positions ahead of him one at a time, and was up to 12th by lap 211 before he cycled through a four-tire stop at lap 212. Still fighting some handling challenges in his race car, Kenseth and his team kept fighting to put themselves into the ‘lucky dog” position, but cautions weren’t coming when the team needed them to. Finally, a caution came out during lap 263, and Kenseth was scored at the “lucky dog,” meaning that he was once again on the lead lap.
The DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ Camry lined up in 13th for the restart to begin lap 270, and just nine laps later, another caution came. Ratcliff called his driver in for four new tires only on their lap 280 stop, and the crew was able to help Kenseth gain four positions leaving pit road to restart in ninth.
Over the next run, Kenseth drove his way from ninth up to fifth before a caution came at lap 309. Ratcliff made the call for four tires only on the team’s stop under yellow, and the DEWALT Camry left the pits in third. With just ten laps remaining in the race, Kenseth maintained his positioning within the top three, and crossed the line in third.
Brad Keselowski edged out Kyle Larson for the victory on Sunday at Atlanta with Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, and Chase Elliott rounding out the top five finishers. Kenseth earned his first top-five finish of the 2017 season in his DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ Camry and improved to 16th in the driver point standings as the series starts its NASCAR Goes West series of races next weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Kenseth's Post-Race Thoughts:
How was your Camry today?
“Yeah, our DEWALT Camry was really fast. We just sped on pit road there some – all our lights were right, so I don’t know. We must have – something happened there and that got us behind. Then we were trying to get caught up and it happened again, so we just had to forgot about our indications, just go real slow down pit road and finally came back from it all. Just couldn’t get rolling in that top lane. It’s such a disadvantage on restarts and we were going to line up third and I was like, ‘Man, I don’t think anybody is going to beat Kevin (Harvick). He led all day, but we might at least have a shot,’ but I ended up second and those two first guys cleared me and I just couldn’t get around them in that many laps.”
How were you able to come back?
“Yeah, it was a good comeback. It was an uphill battle all day. For some reason, our speed was off on pit road and we got two penalties there that put us behind. The way the cautions fell and everything, and it took all day to get our laps and get back in position. Everything kind of when our way at the end, except for that outside restart hurt us, but we had a good car and glad we got a decent result.”
Were you aware the extra timing lines might lead to the pit road speeding issues?
“Yeah, everybody’s got the map, but I don’t know what happened there because I was plenty safe from how we set everything, which is the same as last year. I was plenty safe when we got caught and when we went out the second time, I was still playing it safe and we got caught again leaving under that yellow, so there was something that just didn’t jive to our calculations for whatever reason.”
Do you think Atlanta Motor Speedway should be repaved?
“Heck no, don’t ever repave. I don’t think you should ever repave a race track. I know there’s a certain time where you have to do it or it’s going to fall apart, but like Michigan and some of those places, man, they’ve been tough since they paved them. They were some of the most fun tracks at least for us to race around and to pass and to do all that stuff and certainly it’s challenging when they pave it, but I think they should pave it the year after I retire.”