Matt Kenseth was unable to repeat as winner tonight at Kentucky Speedway, but still put on a great drive to finish fourth after suffering a flat tire under green and a pit road speeding penalty later on.
Even more encouraging, it looks like his Joe Gibbs Racing team has gotten its pace back on 1.5-mile ovals.
Kenseth was running solidly in the Top 10 when on Lap 120, his No. 20 JGR Toyota suddenly slowed down with a right-front tire failure.
He was the second of the Gibbs racers to suffer such a problem, as Denny Hamlin had earlier smashed into the wall on Lap 29 when his own right-front tire came apart.
But Kenseth was able to keep his car off the wall and got it to the pits for green-flag service without damage. He went down a lap, but got the wave-around following a Lap 126 yellow for debris.
Things got tougher, however, when the caution came out at Lap 153. Kenseth made his stop under the yellow, but was hit with a speeding penalty in the pits. Just before the Lap 160 restart, Kenseth came in again to top off on fuel.
On Lap 176, another caution emerged and this time, Kenseth was told to stay out in a bid for track position. He took the subsequent restart on Lap 182 in ninth position, and during a stop under a Lap 214 yellow, his crew got him three spots in the pits to move him into the Top 5.
Kenseth would hover around fifth and sixth position for much of the final run before passing a fading Kevin Harvick for fourth with less than 10 laps left.
“They did a really good job on pit road on the pit stop there and we gained a whole bunch of spots,” said Kenseth. “Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) had some good adjustments in the middle of the race that got us back in the game. It was certainly a positive weekend.”
Kenseth also noted the speed across the board for the Gibbs team, which got a runner-up result from Kyle Busch in addition to his own solid result.
He believes that it’s a sign of progress in coming to grips with the new rules package that was implemented this year.
“We ran a lot better — we’ve been struggling at these bigger tracks all year and I thought this was a big step forward,” he said. “I know Denny had a problem at the beginning and I thought Kyle was real competitive — I thought all three of our cars were pretty good all weekend.”