DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — If only the “light bulb,’’ as Matt Kenseth said, would have come on at the end of his qualifying race Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway.
Instead, Kenseth kept racing and was collected in a last-lap crash that will cost him his front row starting spot in Sunday’s Daytona 500.
His trouble started a few laps earlier.
Kenseth, who had been running second, dropped down when Jimmie Johnson tried to go below him with six laps left. Cars passed Kenseth and Johnson on the outside and trapped both behind lapped cars. Both fell out of the top five.
“They got outside of me before I knew what happened,’’ Kenseth said. “I was basically stuck in the middle, and Jimmie was on the bottom, and we caught those lapped cars. We were just stalled out in bad air. That would have been a real great time for the light bulb to come on and call it a day.’’
Instead, Kenseth kept racing and didn’t fall back far enough. He was eighth on the final lap. Ahead, Jamie McMurray shot up the track in second place trying to block Johnson.
“I had stalled out right when I got to (Busch), and I didn’t think (Johnson) had much of a run either,’’ McMurray said. “It felt like our momentum was about the same. I saw the replay and I still don’t know if he was up to my rear bumper or if it was the air that made his car turn. I’m just not sure.”
The result was that Johnson turned into the wall, triggering a six-car accident that sends Johnson, Kenseth, Martin Truex Jr. and A.J. Allmendinger to backup cars for Sunday’s Daytona 500.
“Jamie tried to put a move on (Busch) and left the bottom in a hurry to come up and block my run,’’ Johnson said. “I could see with his aggression how fast he was coming up and that our line was going to take me into the wall. I tried to check up and get out of there and it just didn’t work out and it took me into the outside wall a little bit and turned me down across the field. Just a block that didn’t turn out.’’
Johnson wasn’t critical of McMurray’s move, though.
“Man, we’re racing,’’ Johnson said. “They’re split-second decisions.’’
One that caused Kenseth’s car to suffer extensive damage and not be usable for the Sunday’s season-opening race.
“I just saw (Johnson) going across the race track,’’ Kenseth said. “I was in the process of trying to get out of there. I did a poor job of that, and I got ran over from behind.’’
Ty Dillon was behind Kenseth when the accident started.
“He slammed on brakes so quick I had no time to react,’’ Dillon said.
Now, Kenseth will start at the back of the 40-car field.
“I don’t know if starting in the back is as big of a deal as losing your (primary) car,’’ Kenseth said. “In 500 miles if you can’t get to the front in 3 1/2 or 4 hours, you have an issue.’’