Knowing there was no chance of him taking down Kevin Harvick on four tires, Matt Kenseth went for the track position with a two-tire stop under a caution with 10 laps left in Saturday’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
The decision enabled him to get ahead of Harvick, but not for long. A restart with 5 to go didn’t yield a conclusion as debris in Turn 3 sent the race into Green-White-Checkered mode.
It ultimately took two G-W-C attempts before Harvick charged to the win, while Kenseth ended up fourth when it was all over.
“Multiple attempts there hurt us a little bit,” said Kenseth. “We had a real good restart the second time. Kevin obviously had the dominant car and we weren’t going to beat him on four tires.
“We put two tires on and hoped to get lucky and pull one out, and I think that’s about where we finished anyway, so I thought it was a great call.”
The fourth-place result was also a great recovery after failing to advance from the first round of knockout qualifying on Friday afternoon and being forced to start 25th on the grid.
Kenseth was already into the Top 10 by Lap 50, but then vaulted to second with a two-tire stop in time for a Lap 64 restart, in which he took the lead away from Denny Hamlin.
Harvick would do the same to Kenseth however on Lap 76, as he settled in for a long run at the front. Meanwhile, Kenseth would fall into the lower reaches of the Top 10 before rising back among the leaders late.
“We went back and forth,” he said. “We were better than I thought we were going to be – I was pretty pleased with it really. There was three or four cars, five cars really in the playing field we couldn’t run with.
“I thought we made great adjustments tonight and had good pit stops. We did a ton of adjustments in the pits and came up with a good finish.”
Dublin, Ireland’s Keith Donegan claimed a $200K scholarship from Mazda after emerging victorious at the second annual Mazda Road to Indy Shootout. The 20-year-old Donegan earned an at-large nomination for the scholarship based on his performance at this year’s Formula Ford Festival, in which he finished second in the final, and emerged from a pack of 17 drivers from across the globe to claim the scholarship.
“It really hasn’t hit me yet,” said an emotional Donegan, who earlier in his career actually spent two years away from racing as he focused on academics. “The weekend was really good and I enjoyed it. I have to say a huge thanks to Mazda and Cooper Tires and everyone at the Mazda Road to Indy. I enjoyed every moment. Throughout the weekend we were consistent and I kept the small things in check. I didn’t make any stupid mistakes and kept my head cool and that really paid off in the end.”
The two-day shootout was held at the Bondurant Racing School in Arizona and saw the nominated drivers tackle the school’s 1.6-mile circuit in Formula Mazda race cars before facing on and off-track assessments. Donegan was selected by a panel of judges that included former driver and current Verizon IndyCar Series TV analyst Scott Goodyear, Mazda drivers Tom Long, Andrew Carbonell, and Jonathan Bomarito, as well as Victor Franzoni – the current champion of the Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires – and Oliver Askew, the current champion of the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda.
Donegan was humbled to be in the presence of drivers who have won scholarships and championships previously, and added that he is grateful to have the opportunity to continue his racing career.
“You see all these champions here today that will go on to great things in the future and I’m sure the names you see here today aren’t going to disappear,” Donegan added. “They will be back up there and I’m sure I will be racing them again some day. It is an unbelievable opportunity to be given and for Mazda to provide that for any young driver. It just gives that bit of motivation that you need because the [U.S.] is where you need to go to become a professional these days. It is such a boost to my career.”
Donegan is now slated to join the 2018 USF2000 championship, with further announcements regarding the team with whom he’ll be racing to come in the future.