Box Score Info:
RACE: NASCAR Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series; Apache Warrior 400
TRACK: Dover International Speedway
DRIVER: Matt Kenseth
CAR: No. 20 DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ Toyota Camry
POINTS POSITION:3,005 total points for the season: 11th in the Playoffs driver point standings following the race
The 2017 NASCAR Playoffs entered the third and final race of the Round of 16 this weekend as the series traveled to Dover International Speedway. “The Monster Mile” with it’s challenging high-banked concrete surface can often change a team’s day in the blink of an eye. Matt Kenseth and his No. 20 DEWALT FLEXVOLT team entered the weekend sixth in the driver point standings with a comfortable cushion as four Playoffs drivers faced elimination following the race. Kenseth earned the fourth starting position in Friday’s qualifying session, but handling challenges throughout the race on Sunday, combined with a pit road speeding penalty, found Kenseth finishing 11th. The finish was enough to lock him in to the second round of competition in the Playoffs, the Round of 12, which will begin next weekend at Charlotte.
Sunday’s Apache Warrior 400 took the green flag at 2:17 p.m. EST as Kenseth rolled off from fourth along the outside lane. On the opening lap, the No. 20 DEWALT FLEXVOLT Camry jumped up to second and was able to maintain that position for the first 15 laps of the race. As the run went on, Kenseth began to fade and ended up in seventh on lap 41. On lap 47, Kenseth finally keyed up the team radio and told crew chief Jason Ratcliff that his No. 20 Camry was “cattywampus” and was “loose on the throttle and all on the right-front.”
The first round of green-flag pit stops began to cycle through the field around lap 80, and Ratcliff called his driver down pit road on lap 83 for four tires, fuel, and an air pressure adjustment. As cars were cycling through stops, the No. 33 brought out the caution after he collided into the safety barrels at the entry to pit road. The race was red-flagged for just over 15 minutes as track safety workers cleaned up the debris, but the untimely caution during a cycle trapped Kenseth and many others a lap down to the leaders. Kenseth took the wavearound once the race returned to yellow to get back onto the lead lap, but lined up in 12th for the restart to begin lap 93.
Stuck back in traffic, Kenseth told his team that the DEWALT Camry was “plowing like crazy off the right-front” and that the car overall was just “tight in traffic.” Stage 1 came to an end following lap 120, and Ratcliff called his driver down pit road under the caution for service. Four tires, fuel, along with air pressure and wedge adjustments were made, but Kenseth was tagged with a speeding penalty in section 3, which meant he had to drop to the rear for the restart.
The race returned to green to start lap 128 as the race began Stage 2 with Kenseth scored in 28th. Knowing that he had his work cut out for him, Kenseth fought for a position at a time to make up the lost ground. By lap 155, the DEWALT FLEXVOLT Camry had driven up to 18th as Kenseth told his team that the car felt “more tied together this run” but he also reported that “the ride got rougher quicker on this run.”
A caution at lap 167 allowed Kenseth to hit pit road for service, but the tight-handling continued to challenge the driver of the No. 20 Camry. Stage 2 ended following lap 240 with Kenseth scored in 14th at the time. Under the caution, Ratcliff once again made the call for a four-tire stop with adjustments as the team kept working on trying to help Kenseth out with anything that might alleviate the handling woes. A speedy pit stop found Kenseth gain three spots exiting the pits as he lined up in 11th for the restart.
Once again stuck back in dirty air, Kenseth continued to fight handling over the following run as he told his team that he was lacking the security he needed in order to be able to turn. The DEWALT Camry dipped back into 14th as Kenseth continued to do the best he could without being able to get into the corners of the track the way that he was hoping to.
A final round of green-flag pit stops began to cycle through the field around lap 318 and Ratcliff called his driver in for service on lap 327. Another four tires, fuel, and adjustments were made, and Kenseth cycled into 10th once everyone had completed their stops. In the end, Kenseth crossed the line in 11th and the finish was enough to advance the team into the second round of the Playoffs.
Kenseth’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch, made a late pass for the lead and drove off with his second consecutive Playoffs win. Chase Elliott, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex, Jr., and Kyle Larson rounded out the top-fve finishers in Sunday’s elimination race as they all advanced into the Playoffs. The Round of 12 will begin next weekend at Charlotte Motor Speedway for the first of three races in the next round of Playoffs competition. Kenseth enters the Round of 12 ranked 11th in the point standings.