Box Score Info:
RACE: NASCAR Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series; Tales of the Turtles 400
TRACK: Chicagoland Speedway
DRIVER: Matt Kenseth
CAR: No. 20 DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ Toyota Camry
POINTS POSITION: 2,039 total points for the season: 9th in the Playoffs driver point standings following the race
The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Series Playoffs kicked off the 10-race run to the Championship this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway. Matt Kenseth made the 2017 Playoffs field and entered the first weekend of competition ranked 15th in the standings. Kenseth and his No. 20 DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ team earned a top-10 starting position in Friday’s qualifying session and he was able to remain within the top-12 throughout the race on Sunday. Kenseth and his team fought handling during the race at a track that was difficult for drivers to pass and make up positions. Kenseth went on to finish ninth on Sunday at Chicago and left the weekend ranked ninth in the Playoffs point standings.
The Tales of the Turtles 400 took the green flag at 2:08 p.m. CST to begin the 267-lap event at the 1.5-mile track. Kenseth improved to eighth on the opening laps as he quietly focused on the task at hand. On lap 24, Kenseth told crew chief Jason Ratcliff that the DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ Camry was loose on entry and “needs a bit more security in the back.” Ratcliff made the call to use strategy to pit halfway through Stage 1, and so on lap 39, he called his driver into the pits for the team’s first stop of the day for four tires and fuel.
Kenseth improved to seventh by lap 55, and by lap 69, Kenseth gave his team more feedback in regards to what he was experiencing behind the wheel. Kenseth reported that the No. 20 Camry had started out tight, but then the entry went away as the run went on. Stage 1 came to an end following lap 80, and the team prepared for a pit stop under the caution that followed. Four tires and fuel, along with air pressure and wedge adjustments were made.
Kenseth lined up in seventh to begin lap 88 and Stage 2, but on the restart, he got shuffled back into 11th. In the run that followed, Kenseth told his team that the adjustments hadn’t helped the rear of the car as much as he needed. On lap 115, the report for Kenseth was that the DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ Camry was “plowing” tight.
Green-flag stops began to cycle with Kenseth hitting pit road on lap 121 for four tires, fuel, and another round of adjustments. Kenseth improved to ninth and told his team that the No. 20 machine was still tight in the center and a little loose off. A caution at lap 160 allowed Ratcliff to make another series of changes to the DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ Camry.
Over the next run, Kenseth once again quietly focused, but on lap 201 told his team that the overall balance of his race car was decent, he was just fighting a little more looseness than tightness. A caution at lap 210 let the team continue to work on getting the handling where Kenseth needed it to be to help maintain track positioning. A speedy four-tire stop allowed Kenseth to gain two spots exiting the pits as he lined up in seventh for the restart.
Martin Truex, Jr. earned the victory Sunday afternoon at Chicago as he earned his fifth win of the season. Chase Elliott, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, and Kyle Larson rounded out the top-five finishers. In the end, Kenseth crossed the line in ninth and earned a top-10 finish to kick off the first race of the 2017 Playoffs. Drivers in the Playoffs will have two more races before the field is narrowed down to 12 drivers. Kenseth currently sits ninth in the standings as the series travels to New Hampshire Motor Speedway next weekend.