Kenseth’s ti­tle hopes erased af­ter bizarre day

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - SPORTS - By Jenna Fryer

Matt Kenseth was two laps away from vic­tory and a spot in next week’s cham­pi­onship race. In­stead, he had a wrecked race car and a pink slip from NASCAR's playoffs.

As Matt Kenseth left the garage at Phoenix In­ter­na­tional Race­way, his crew chief hung his arm over the driver in an at­tempt to lift their spir­its.

Kenseth had been two laps away from vic­tory and a spot in next week’s cham­pi­onship race.

In­stead, he had a wrecked race car and a pink slip from NASCAR’s playoffs.

“I felt so bad for him. He drove his heart out all day long and it’s just one of those things that hap­pens,” said team owner Joe Gibbs.

It was a split-se­cond de­ci­sion that cost Kenseth his sea­son, but opened the door for team­mate Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, his most de­spised ri­val a year ago.

A late cau­tion forced Kenseth, only two trips around Phoenix away from the win, to with­stand a two-lap over­time shootout to col­lect his check­ered flag. He was in the lead and on the out­side of Alex Bow­man when Busch bumped into Bow­man.

Bow­man bob­bled but was still on the bot­tom line as he and Kenseth en­tered the corner. Kenseth dropped low be­cause spot­ter Chris Os­borne told him he was clear, but he and Bow­man in­stead col­lided.

Just like that, Kenseth was done.

“It’s a team ef­fort. Win as a team, lose as a team. I can’t blame Chris,” Kenseth said. “I didn’t see what hap­pened. He said I was clear, so I started look­ing to­ward the corner and got turned around. So many things hap­pen in a hurry. All I know is I was look­ing at the corner, try­ing to think about get­ting off turn 2 to try to go win the race.”

The se­quence al­lowed both Logano and Busch to ad­vance into next Sun­day’s sea­son fi­nale at Homestead-Mi­ami Speed­way. But Busch was ini­tially fo­cused only on re­deem­ing him­self with Kenseth be­cause he be­lieved his con­tact with Bow­man on the restart trig­gered the Kenseth crash.

Joe Gibbs Rac­ing had four driv­ers in the round of eight and was vy­ing to sweep the cham­pi­onship field. Carl Ed­wards went to Phoenix al­ready locked into the fi­nale, but three Gibbs driv­ers were vy­ing for the re­main­ing two slots. They dis­missed all no­tion of cut­throat com­pe­ti­tion, and the four driv­ers spent Satur­day morn­ing hik­ing a nearby moun­tain to­gether.

So Busch felt aw­ful about Kenseth’s tur­bu­lent turn.

“Right now it feels pretty (ex­ple­tive), but to­mor­row it might feel a lot bet­ter,” Busch said. “I’m not sure, de­pends on what Matt’s in­ter­pre­ta­tion is and whether or not he can for­give. I just feel re­ally bad about what hap­pened there on that last restart. The 20 (Kenseth) should have been the Gibbs car to go through.”

Os­borne, though, ac­cepted blame for the ac­ci­dent af­ter falsely in­di­cat­ing it was safe to move to the bot­tom lane. He posted on Twit­ter an apol­ogy for his role in the Kenseth’s Chase end­ing. He said this er­ror was “on me!!”

Cu­ri­ously, there’s a se­cond defining mo­ment of Kenseth’s sea­son that also was linked to a spot­ter.

On the last lap of the Day­tona 500, Kenseth threw a block that back­fired and helped team­mate Denny Ham­lin win the race. At the time, Os­borne was re­cov­er­ing from a car ac­ci­dent, and there was spec­u­la­tion that the re­place­ment spot­ter con­trib­uted to Kenseth’s in­cor­rect de­ci­sion to block.

Kenseth, mean­while, failed to ad­vance to the fi­nale in all three of its years since the cre­ation of the elim­i­na­tion for­mat.

Logano is go­ing back for the se­cond time in three years and got there by win­ning an elim­i­na­tion race for the se­cond time of these playoffs. He’ll be try­ing to give Roger Penske a sea­son sweep dur­ing its 50th an­niver­sary sea­son. Si­mon Pa­ge­naud won the IndyCar ti­tle in Septem­ber.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.