Kenseth 7th at Homestead; finishes 5th in championship
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series; Ford EcoBoost 400
Matt Kenseth Race Summary
No. 20 DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ Toyota Camry
Started: 7th • Finished: 7th • 268/268
2,330 total points for the season; 5th in the driver point standings following the race
Kenseth Earns Seventh-Place Finish in Season Finale at Homestead; Ends Up Fifth in the 2016 Driver Point Standings
· NASCAR closed out the 2016 season this weekend with the Championship-deciding race on Sunday at Homestead-Miami Speedway. After being eliminated from the Chase following last weekend’s race in Phoenix, Matt Kenseth and his No. 20 DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ team went to South Florida eager to end their season on a high note. Kenseth started Sunday’s 400-mile event from seventh, and despite several handling challenges from his No. 20 Toyota, the team ended up with a seventh-place finish Sunday night. Kenseth finished the 2016 Sprint Cup Series season fifth in the driver point standings as well after accruing two wins, eight top-five finishes, 19 top-10 finishes, and one pole award throughout the year.
· Sunday’s 400-mile event began at 3:24 p.m. EST as the DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ Toyota started from seventh. Over the opening run of the race, Kenseth maintained his positioning within the top-10. When crew chief Jason Ratcliff checked in with his driver regarding handling, Kenseth told the team that he “needed more rear grip on throttle” as well as “more grip in the middle.” The first caution of the race came at lap 27 due to the No. 21 car, and Ratcliff called his driver down pit road for four tires, fuel, and adjustments.
· Kenseth lined up in sixth for the restart as the race returned to green to begin lap 32. Over the next run, Kenseth radioed in to the team that the DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ was worse following the first round of adjustments. “Tight in the center and initial drive” was the feedback from Kenseth to his team as the No. 20 fell back into tenth at the time.
· The race’s first round of green-flag pit stops began to cycle around lap 67, and Ratcliff made the call to pit on lap 69. The team made another round of adjustments, but Kenseth continued to battle loose-handling conditions. A caution at lap 80 allowed the team to further work on handling since Kenseth told the team that he needed some help with getting more speed in the middle of the turns.
· The DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ Camry restarted in tenth to begin lap 86, and by lap 93, Kenseth was back up to seventh. Another cycle of green-flag pit stops began at lap 117 and Kenseth told Ratcliff that that No. 20 had “a pretty decent compromise” in improved handling. The team performed a four-tire stop on lap 119, and Kenseth was able to improve his positioning on the track. By lap 136, he was scored in fifth as he told his team that his race car was turning better and had more rear grip.
· By lap 160 though, handling had once again changed in the DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ Toyota as Kenseth told the team that the car felt as though it was “all balled up on the right-front.” The tightness in the middle and off the right-front tire meant that the No. 20 was slowing up in the center as well for Kenseth. Fortunately, a caution for debris allowed the team to work on their Camry.
· Following a caution for the No. 21, Kenseth restarted in 11th to begin lap 213, and was able to improve to ninth as he told his team that the No. 20 fired off well, but then started to get loose. Despite the loose-handling, Kenseth continued to improve one position at a time, and by lap 237, he was back into seventh before a caution came at lap 252. The field lined up and returned to green to begin lap 258, but on the restart, a multi-car wreck was triggered after Joey Logano and Carl Edwards battled for position out at the front of the field. Nine cars were damaged in the collision including the No. 19 of Edwards who was in the Championship hunt. The race was red-flagged for over 30 minutes for clean-up.
· When the race returned to yellow, Kenseth was scored in fifth for the restart to begin lap 263. Following the green, the No. 17 brought out the caution on lap 264 and set the race up for a green-white-checkered finish. The DEWALT FLEXVOLT™ Camry lined up in sixth as the race returned to green, and when the checkered flag waved at the end of lap 268, Kenseth was scored with a seventh-place finish.
· Jimmie Johnson captured the 2016 Championship honors Sunday night as he earned his seventh career Sprint Cup Series Championship as well as the race win. Kenseth’s top-10 finish was his 19th of the 2016 season as he closed out the year fifth in the driver point standings. Joe Gibbs Racing’s four Sprint Cup Series drivers ended up third, fourth, fifth, and sixth in the point standings for the season, while Toyota secured its first Sprint Cup manufacturer’s title in its tenth year in the series.
Matt Kenseth’s Post-Race Thoughts:
What happened on the restart that put you in the wall?
“I don’t really know what happened, I just got through the gears and it was the last restart of the day and I knew they had more than a car length behind me so I just got going and tried to get going early. The spotter said I was clear and I came to the bottom in turn one because I certainly wanted to be at the bottom and be in front of him going into turn two and then I was in the wall. I don’t really know any more than that.”
How would you rate your Chase overall?
“The effort was good and I think we had a solid Chase. It’s really disappointing that we don’t get to go to Homestead and race for a championship, but the guys did everything perfect today – it’s the best car I’ve had at Phoenix probably ever. They had good pit stops today and we were competitive. We all as a group did the job that we needed to do to be in position to win that thing. It’s unfortunate the way it worked out.”
Was it tough to finish the race knowing your championship hopes were gone?
“It was a tough 15 minutes. I’m proud of my race team. They did a good job – that’s the best car I’ve probably ever had at Phoenix, probably ever. Good pit stops and good executions and did everything we needed to do, just came down to a mistake there at the end that got us. Obviously it’s more than disappointing, we still had the race in control even on that last restart and I ended up giving it away.”
What type of communication was exchanged between you and your spotter Chris Osborne during the restart?
“I don’t know, the 88 (Alex Bowman) was laying way, way back for that restart, more than a car would so I got going early on purpose and I looked at him at the start-finish line and I thought we were doing okay and I looked back and it looked like he had a little run on me, maybe not and shortly thereafter Chris (Osborne, spotter) cleared me so with the glare I started looking to the corner to approach the corner and I got turned out of the way. He hollered ‘inside’ at the same time I got turned towards the fence so I really don’t know what happened. I was just going off the information I had to try to get the best corner I could and lead more laps.”
2016 SEASON SUMMARY: