Sunday, May 21, 2017

CUP: Matt Kenseth’s All-Star last-place finish by oil cooler a NASCAR rarity

Matt Kenseth finished last in Saturday’s Monster Energy NASCAR All-Star Race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway when his #20 DeWalt Benefiting Wounded Warrior Project Toyota fell out with a busted oil cooler after 20 of 70 laps.

Last in February’s Daytona 500, Matt Kenseth came into the All-Star Race with both he and the entire Joe Gibbs Racing team winless in 2017.  Kenseth himself scored a season-best 3rd in Atlanta, but two consecutive hard crashes at Phoenix and Fontana followed by a heartbreaking 23rd at Richmond after dominating from the pole left him just 18th in points after Kansas.  The All-Star Race must have seemed like a welcome change of pace: Kenseth earned his first Cup victory at the Charlotte track in 2000 and was the 2004 All-Star.  But a crash in last year’s All-Star Race left Kenseth 18th in the race, ending a streak of nine consecutive finishes of 9th or better in the event.

Kenseth’s black-and-gold DeWalt Toyota also carried logos for the Wounded Warrior Project, a program to help injured members of armed forces, their families, and caregivers.  The car ran 10th of the 16 locked-in drivers during Friday’s final practice, then lined up 8th in qualifying, missing the second round by just under a second.

Starting last in the All-Star Main was Chase Elliott, who made his second-consecutive start in the race by once again scoring the Fan Vote.  When the green flag dropped, Elliott immediately set to work on the field, dropping rookie Daniel Suarez to last as the field headed into Turn 1.  Suarez passed Clint Bowyer by the backstretch, and Bowyer moved Talladega winner Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. to last as the field entered the backstretch on Lap 2.  On Lap 4, Stenhouse worked his way past Chris Buescher, last August’s breakthrough Pocono winner, and by Lap 7, Buescher’s #37 Bush’s Beans / Nature Valley / Kingsford Chevrolet was 10.1 seconds behind race leader Kyle Larson.

Kenseth didn’t enter the picture until after Larson took the checkered flag in Segment 1, when Kenseth reported he’d run over something on the track.  By the time the crew finished their pit stop, the #20 was pouring white smoke and leaving puddles of oil in the pit stall.  Fast work by the crew got Kenseth back on track in the 7th spot, but he was forced to surrender the position with a second stop.  The crew looked under the hood, and one of them, perhaps crew chief Jason Ratcliff, said “We’re done.  Shoot.  Hole in the oil cooler.”  The crew pushed Kenseth’s car behind the wall, done for the night.

Finishing 19th on Saturday was Phoenix winner Ryan Newman, whose #31 Caterpillar / Grainger Chevrolet made contact with the outside wall just before the end of Segment 3.  The rest of the Bottom Five was filled by drivers eliminated by having the worst average finish across the three segments: 18th-place Dale Earnhardt, Jr in the #88 Axalta / Maaco Chevrolet, 17th-place Buescher, and 16th-place Kasey Kahne in the Mountain Dew Chevrolet.

*Kenseth is the first driver ever to finish last in both the Daytona 500 and the All-Star Race in the same year.  He crashed out after 103 laps of the season opener.
*This was Kenseth’s first last-place finish in the All-Star Race, the fifth-consecutive first-time last-placer in the event.
*Although NASCAR exhibition races are categorized separately from points races here at LASTCAR, Kenseth’s listed reason out by “oil cooler” is rare in the sport’s history.  Across all of NASCAR’s top three divisions – including both points races and exhibitions – only three times has an oil cooler been the listed cause of a last-place finisher’s exit.  All three were in Cup points races: Tighe Scott, out after 17 laps at Rockingham on October 21, 1979; Kyle Petty, out after 19 laps at North Wilkesboro on April 17, 1983; and Billy Standridge after 51 laps at Talladega on October 12, 1997.

20) #20-Matt Kenseth / 20 laps / oil cooler
19) #31-Ryan Newman / 57 laps / crash
18) #88-Dale Earnhardt, Jr. / 60 laps / eliminated segment 3
17) #37-Chris Buescher / 60 laps / eliminated segment 3
16) #5-Kasey Kahne / 60 laps / eliminated segment 3

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