Matt Kenseth scored his second disappointing finish in a row after a miscommunication cost him two laps and led to a 19th-place finish Sunday at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The miscue came a week after Kenseth lost the Daytona 500 on the final lap after an attempted block backfired, and he finished 14th.
Kenseth led 47 of the first 115 laps Sunday before pitting under green when trouble struck. NASCAR penalized him for improper fueling. Kenseth’s crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, argued the call. As that happened, NASCAR give Kenseth the black flag, but Kenseth did not respond to it.
NASCAR stopped scoring Kenseth for a lap until he came into the pits for his pass-through penalty. He also lost a lap while going down pit road and was two laps down once he was back up to speed.
The incident led to much discussion on Kenseth’s radio with interim spotter Curtis Markham and crew chief Jason Ratcliff. Markham was in his first race with Kenseth this season after taking over, as planned, from Lorin Ranier, who was Kenseth’s spotter in the Daytona 500. Markham is Denny Hamlin’s former spotter.
Kenseth: “I get the black flag, how the hell am I supposed to know? I don’t really watch the flagman. … See if you can get our lap back. I had no idea we were being black flagged. I didn’t know we had any kind of problem. Nobody told me.’’
Markham: “They were arguing about it for you.”
Kenseth: “I understand that, Curtis, but if we’re getting black flagged, you know the rules. You only get whatever it is, three times or whatever it is, and they give you the black-and-white flag. You can keep running all you want, but they’re not going got score you. I need to know that. So, as soon as they give us that flag, I can see it, whether they’re arguing or not. We’d still be on the lead lap.’’
Kenseth: “We screwed the race away here unless we get everything to fall in our lap.’’
Ratcliff: “So the official comes over here and tells me we have a penalty, and I questioned the penalty. I said, ‘You need to check it, that’s not night.’ He said, ‘Hang on and let me check.’ The next thing I knew they’re giving us the black flag, so I really didn’t even have an opportunity to talk about it with him.’’
Later in the race during a caution, Kenseth and his team again continued to discuss the matter.
Ratcliff: “They penalized us because (the fueler) had a wedge wrench in his hand and he laid it on the deck lid. We’ve always done that. We’ve been doing that forever. For some reason today that is a penalty.’’
(NASCAR’s rule on what the fuel handler can do is listed on a pit card given to every team. The rule states: “The fuel handler must be in control of the fuel can at all times when fuel is being added and will not be permitted to perform any adjustments or other pit stop procedures while the fuel can coupler is engaged with the vehicle mounted adapter.”)
Kenseth: “I understand. From my seat, that part is irrelevant. I just need to know that we’re being black flagged from you or Curtis. Somebody just needs to communicate that to me so I can watch it, so I didn’t put us in a spot.
“The first penalty wasn’t the end of the world. We raced on the lead lap for the last two hours. We would have stayed on the lead lap. Two laps down to these many guys now is kind of a killer. Regardless of whether it was right or wrong, once they start waving that flag we’ve only got a certain amount of time to obey or we’re screwed. We must have went a lap or two too far. I still have never seen the flag. I never saw it.”
Ratcliff: “I never saw it, either. (The NASCAR official) told me and as soon as I got back up on the box, you pitted on that lap. Then I was asking why we were two laps down and that’s when he came over and told me.’’
Kenseth: “Curtis, if we ever get in that spot again, you see them black flagging me and you hear them in the scanner saying to black flag the 20, post the 20, you’ve gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta, gotta tell me. You’ve got to tell me even if they’re arguing it, so we can start talking about it and make sure we get there before we get penalized.’’
Curtis: “10-4. I was talking to them on the other radio. They kept saying they were arguing, so I was holding off.’’
Kenseth: “I know. You’ve just got to be like, ‘Hey Matt, just so you know we’ve got a pit road penalty, we’re still arguing it, don’t pit yet, but we’re getting a black flag and I want to you watch the black flag.’ I would have pitted before we got the cross. I got to have the information. I can’t help you without any.’’