matt kenseth

How the final call for two tires cost Matt Kenseth a victory at New Hampshire

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LOUDON, New Hampshire – It was a calm, cordial postrace debriefing in front of the No. 20 Toyota at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

No angry gestures from the driver. No shaken fists in frustration by the crew chief.

A lot has happened to Matt Kenseth and Jason Ratcliff over the past week – they both learned they were losing their jobs at Joe Gibbs Racing, and on Sunday, they lost a race – but the pair seemed to take it in stride despite the gut-wrenching reality they missed a golden opportunity to qualify for the playoffs in their final season together.

If Kenseth takes four tires – instead of two right sides – on his final pit stop, he almost assuredly would have snapped a yearlong winless streak with his first victory of the season.

“Without a doubt,” Ratcliff said. “Yeah.

“It’s disappointing. I feel we did everything we needed to win today other than that call at the end.”

Aside from Dale Earnhardt Jr., who took the lead by staying on the track, every car but Kenseth’s pitted for four tires during the final yellow on Lap 262 of 301.

Kenseth snatched the lead from Earnhardt on the Lap 267 restart but quickly was gobbled up by teammate Denny Hamlin, who led the final 34 laps to deliver JGR its first win of 2017. Kenseth hung on for fourth.

It was the latest in a string of tough news for the 2003 champion, who revealed last weekend he was looking for a ride and whose replacement was revealed by the team Tuesday.

The first person to greet him exiting the car was team owner Joe Gibbs, who said in a prerace interview with NBCSN’s Marty Snider that Kenseth “is a great driver with a lot of talent, and we hate the fact we will be racing against him in the future. We got put in a situation, with a lot of things happening to our race team over a period of a year-and-a-half, where we wound up at this spot. We did not want to be here, but we had to make a decision.”

After tossing his heel pads in the car and swigging an orange Gatorade, Kenseth (who apparently has no firm prospects for 2018) defended Ratcliff’s decision while also conceding it left with him with no chance.

“You had to have good left sides to take off today,” he said. “We got ate up those first few laps. I just couldn’t hang on on two tires. Typically you can get away with that. Four tires made big charges all day long. When we were only ones on (two), we were in big trouble.

“It’s a tough one when you’re leading. I’ve seen two tires and four tires win this race numerous times. That’s a tough one to make from the (pit) box. I’ve screwed up way more stuff than (Ratcliff) has. If five or six more cars (took two tires), we’d have a shot.”

Ratcliff, who told NBC Sports after the race that he was also out of the No. 20 beyond 2017, said Kenseth might have won if only three more cars had taken two tires.

“I felt like in five laps, we were matching the time of the leader, it just takes a little while for the right-side pressures to come up,” he said. “I was just playing the track position game, and I felt other guys would do it.

“I don’t know. Obviously it was the wrong call for us, but if I’m running sixth, I’m not going to put four tires on my car to finish sixth. I guess I’m the only guy that thinks that way, but it beat me today, so I’m the one who needs to change my way of thinking.”

With Kenseth possibly needing to make the 16-driver playoff field on points, Ratcliff gambled on finishing second in the first stage and then pitting. Kenseth spent most of the second stage buried in traffic.

That was why Ratcliff decided to make the final call for two tires when the caution flew two laps after Kenseth had taken the lead from Martin Truex Jr., who led a race-high 137 laps.

“I just didn’t want to lose our track position was the biggest thing,” Ratcliff said. “Earlier in the day we lost our track position, and it was just so hard to get by guys when the tires wore off the car. I knew if a few guys took rights, and we got jumbled up in there, we may be able to get two of them but not the last one. At the old Loudon, 25 laps on the left sides, it was thing to do. I know things are different in this day and time with less (downforce). I really thought guys running further back would try that.”

Kenseth did gain a cushion in the battle for the last playoff spot, moving 52 points ahead of Joey Logano.

“We’ll all remember the strategy call that cost us one, but we accumulated some points, which is important now,” Ratcliff said. “Although I don’t know if points would be a big deal sitting in victory lane.

“It’s a Catch-22. We’re in an odd spot where you have to win, but points are a huge deal right now for us. … Hopefully we can carry momentum to the next week. Maybe the frustration of knowing we had a winning car and losing. Hopefully we can take that, bottle it and let it motivate us to do better the next week.”

Matt Kenseth’s crew chief will join the driver in leaving No. 20 Toyota after the 2017 season

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LOUDON, New Hampshire – Crew chief Jason Ratcliff will be following driver Matt Kenseth on the way out of the No. 20 Toyota in 2018.

Ratcliff confirmed to NBC Sports after Kenseth’s fourth place finish Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway that he won’t be returning atop the pit box next season when Erik Jones replaces Kenseth.

Ratcliff said he isn’t sure if he will stay at Joe Gibbs Racing (“We’ll see,” he said with a smile), but he expects all of the car’s team members are secure at the organization.

“We performed well this weekend in spite of the news” that Jones would replace Kenseth,” Ratcliff said. “All these guys are very good at what they do.

“I don’t think they’ll have a problem staying locked in with the 20 car or one of these cars. They’re just too good. I think for them, knowing that, that they have a secure job at Joe Gibbs Racing next year regardless of the driver change, that’s helpful. At least there’s no uncertainty on their part.”

Ratcliff said the mood has seemed good since Tuesday’s announcement about Jones (which followed Kenseth revealing the previous weekend at Kentucky that he was looking for a ride).

“It seems to be,” Ratcliff said. “We have only spoke briefly about it this week. I still was trying to get the details myself. There wasn’t a whole lot I could say to those guys because I don’t know that I knew much.”

Ratcliff has been paired with Kenseth since he joined Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013, scoring 13 victories together. He also won with Joey Logano in 2012.

He has 36 wins as a crew chief in the Xfinity Series, including 21 with Kyle Busch in 2009-10.

Matt Kenseth glad Erik Jones news is out so he doesn’t ‘have to pretend anymore’

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LOUDON, N.H. – In the wake of the news he won’t be returning to Joe Gibbs Racing, Matt Kenseth had a busy week – which didn’t involve fretting about his NASCAR future.

Kenseth spent his week hanging in Wisconsin with childhood friends from his hometown of Cambridge, traveling to Detroit to take in a Metallica concert Tuesday at Comerica Park. Though he read Tuesday’s release from JGR announcing Erik Jones as his replacement in the No. 20 Toyota, Kenseth said he mostly had been disconnected and had “nothing new to report there at the moment” when asked if he’d been contacted by prospective teams.

“I hope to race next year,” he said Friday before practice at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I still enjoy racing. I still feel like I could be an asset to somebody, so I hope so.”

The 2003 champion, said he had “a pretty good indication” about his impending departure from Gibbs for “about the last 12 or 13 months.” He said there was no firm timetable for finding a ride after breaking the news he didn’t have anything for 2018 last weekend at Kentucky Speedway.

“I probably have some personal cutoff times, maybe to some point,” he said. “But not really. It’s only July. I’ve got to be honest with you, I’m really not that concerned about it. I’m OK. Everything’s fine.

“I’m just glad they finally put it out so you don’t have to pretend anymore. Everyone asked Erik about it last week, and it was, ‘I don’t know what’s going on. Nobody’s told me.’ It’s just better to get it over with, get it done. Everybody can ask you about it, everybody can move on and get back to racing.”

Dale Earnhardt Jr. predicted last week that Kenseth would land another ride, and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jimmie Johnson echoed that sentiment this morning. Hendrick’s No. 88 Chevrolet, which is being vacated by Earnhardt, would seem among the best options for Kenseth.

“I don’t think he’ll be left out in the cold,” Johnson said Friday. “I know Junior had a similar response last week. Matt’s just too good. The guy can win races and win championships, and that won’t be overlooked, but I do feel like Matt’s at a point in his career where he’s not going to take just any ride.”

With indications that JGR’s choice of Jones was sponsorship-driven, Kenseth said he wasn’t taking the move personally.

“It’s a business,” he said. “They’ve got their reasons. It doesn’t necessarily mean I understand it necessarily or agree with it. But yet I’m not the most subjective person because we’re talking about me. It’s been great.”

Kenseth joined Gibbs in 2013, winning a series-high seven races in his first season with the team. He has notched seven more victories in the past three seasons (though none this year).

“When I first went there we had a two-year deal,” he said. “We definitely fulfilled that. I felt like we got the 20 car back to winning again, and be a contender, which it wasn’t for four or five years. We won a whole bunch of races.

“We got two different sponsors to come and renew and be real good sponsors. We got Dewalt to come back there, which Erik will benefit from the next couple of years. Got (Dollar General) to renew that first time and stuff. I feel like we did a lot of great things. I feel like I helped them do what they were trying to accomplish with the car. At the same time, it was a great opportunity for me to go try something different where I was at in my career. I don’t think there’s anything to be bitter about or feel bad about. We’re both living up to the agreements we made.”

Kenseth isn’t expecting his team to be affected by the news, either, which might have been indicative of why he spent the week seeing his favorite band for the first time in 10 years.

“I actually had an incredibly fun week,” said Kenseth, who named one of his cats after Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. “(The concert) actually made me feel 20 again for about four hours, which was pretty fun. I could still hear when I got home, so that was good.”

Joe Gibbs says team isn’t ready to announce plans yet for Matt Kenseth, Erik Jones

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SPARTA, Ky. – Team owner Joe Gibbs was tight-lipped Saturday when asked about the status of Matt Kenseth, who said Friday he wouldn’t return to Joe Gibbs Racing next season.

“Right now there’s quite a bit up in the air, and I don’t think there’s anything we can say that’s solid or done,” Gibbs said before the Cup race at Kentucky Speedway. “At least I guess what I’m saying is we’ll probably come up with something in the near future. We’ll probably come up with something. Right now it’s still for us, we’re not in a situation where we can say this is what we’re doing.”

Asked if he could confirm that Kenseth’s assertion that he would be leaving the team, Gibbs said, “Matt’s statement kind of stands on its own. We love Matt. So, I think right now is kind of a tough time for everybody. We’re kind of working through some stuff.”

The replacement for Kenseth is almost certainly Erik Jones, who is on loan to Furniture Row Racing on a one-year deal but seems to be slotted into Kenseth’s No. 20 Toyota for the 2018 season.

In a Friday night interview with SiriusXM NASCAR channel host Claire B. Lang, Kyle Busch intimated that the move to replace Kenseth with Jones was predicated on sponsorship.

Kenseth’s car hasn’t been fully funded since losing Dollar General after last season, and Busch said Jones would bring funding to shore up the car’s finances.

Gibbs deflected questions about whether Jones was an option.

“We love Erik; Toyota loves Erik,” he said. “Right now our situation is we need to wind up with exactly what we’re doing and come out and tell everybody as soon as we do.”

At a sponsorship announcement in late April when Kenseth laughed off rumors he was retiring, Gibbs said that having Kenseth return next year is “certainly what we hope. That’s what we’re working toward. … He’s probably in as good a shape as he has been in his life, and I know he has a burning desire to keep driving. Our hope is he’s with us, and we continue into the future. That’s our game plan.”

 

Austin Dillon starts from rear at Richmond; Joey Logano, Matt Kenseth penalized for swerving

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RICHMOND, Va. — NASCAR announced several penalties from the Bristol Motor Speedway race weekend Friday morning.

The most notable punishment was to Austin Dillon, who will be held 30 minutes of practice, lose pit selection and start at the rear of Sunday’s race at Richmond International Raceway after his No. 3 Chevrolet failed the Laser Inspection System platform five times before the Bristol race.

Earlier Friday, Richard Childress Racing announced that Dillon’s crew chief, Slugger Labbe, would miss this race weekend at Richmond.

Joey Logano and Matt Kenseth are being held out of 30 minutes of practice at Richmond for swerving after the Bristol race. Last September NASCAR outlawed the practice of swerving to help put suspensions in alignment for postrace inspection.

Ty Dillon (15-minute practice hold, loss of pit selection for failing LIS three times) and A.J. Allmendinger (30-minute hold, loss of pit selection for four LIS failures) also were penalized for Bristol infractions. Aric Almirola also will be held out of practice for 15 minutes because template failures for failing inspection.

Five cars will be held out of practice for 15 minutes at Richmond for penalties were deferred from Texas Motor Speedway: Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Chris Buescher, Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Kenseth will be held out 45 minutes total.