Matt Kenseth recovers from mid-race issues, finishes 4th

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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.”

IndyCar Power Rankings: Alex Palou still first as Newgarden, Ferrucci make Indy 500 jumps

NBC IndyCar power rankings
Kristin Enzor/For IndyStar/USA TODAY Sports Images Network
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The biggest race of the NTT IndyCar Series season (and in the world) is over, and NBC Sports’ power rankings look very similar to the finishing results in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

Pole-sitter Alex Palou entered the Indy 500 at the top and remains there after his impressive rebound to a fourth after a midway crash in the pits. Top two Indianapolis 500 finishers Josef Newgarden and Marcus Ericsson also improved multiple spots in the power rankings just as they gained ground during the course of the 500-mile race on the 2.5-mile oval. Though Alexander Rossi dropped a position, he still shined at the Brickyard with a fifth place finish.

Santino Ferrucci, the other driver in the top five at Indy, made his first appearance in the 2023 power rankings this year and now will be tasked with keeping his A.J. Foyt Racing team toward the front as the IndyCar circuit makes its debut on a new layout..

Heading into the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix on the streets of downtown, here’s NBC Sports’ assessment of the current top 10 drivers through six of 17 races this year (with previous ranking in parenthesis):

  1. Alex Palou (1): Three consecutive top 10 finishes at the Indy 500, and yet the 2021 IndyCar champion still seems slightly snake-bitten at the Brickyard. A few different circumstances and a dash of experience, and Palou could have three Indy 500 wins. But he at least has the points lead.
  2. Marcus Ericsson (4): Some want to say the Indy 500 runner-up’s unhappiness with IndyCar race control was sour grapes, but the Swede had a legitimate gripe about the consistency of red flag protocols. Still a magnificent May for Ericsson, especially while the questions swirl about his future.
  3. Josef Newgarden (7): Strategist Tim Cindric and team did a fantastic job catapulting Newgarden from 17th into contention, and the two-time series champion did the rest. Particularly on a late three-wide pass for the lead, it can’t be overstated how brilliant the Team Penske driver was in his finest hour.
  4. Alexander Rossi (3): He winds up being the best Arrow McLaren finisher in a mostly disappointing Indy 500 for a team that seemed poised to become dominant. With a third in the GMR GP and a fifth in the Indy 500, this easily was Rossi’s best May since his second place in 2019.
  5. Pato O’Ward (2): Unlike last year, the Arrow McLaren star sent it this time against Ericsson and came out on the wrong side (and with lingering bitterness toward his Chip Ganassi Racing rival). The lead mostly was the wrong place to be at Indy, but O’Ward managed to be in first for a race-high 39 laps.
  6. Scott Dixon (5): He overcame brutal handling issues from a wicked set of tires during his first stint, and then the team struggled with a clutch problem while posting a typical Dixon-esque finish on “a very tough day.” The six-time champion hopes things are cleaner the rest of the season after the first three months.
  7. Santino Ferrucci (NR): Pound for pound, he and A.J. Foyt Racing had the best two weeks at Indianapolis. Ferrucci said Wednesday he still believes he had “by far the best car at the end” and if not for the timing of the final yellow and red, he would have won the Indy 500. Now the goal is maintaining into Detroit.
  8. Colton Herta (NR): He was the best in a mostly forgettable month for Andretti Autosport and now is facing a pivotal weekend. Andretti has reigned on street courses so far this season, and few have been better on new circuits than Herta. A major chance for his first victory since last year’s big-money extension.
  9. Scott McLaughlin (6): Ran in the top 10 at Indy after a strong opening stint but then lost positions while getting caught out on several restarts. A penalty for unintentionally rear-ending Simon Pagenaud in O’Ward’s crash then sent him to the rear, but McLaughlin still rallied for 14th. Detroit will be a fresh start.
  10. Rinus VeeKay (10): Crashing into Palou in the pits was less than ideal. But a front row start and 10th-place finish in the Indy 500 still were 2023 highlights for VeeKay in what’s been the toughest season of his career. The Ed Carpenter Racing cars have been slow on road and street courses, so Detroit is another test.

Falling out: Will Power (8), Felix Rosenqvist (9), Romain Grosjean (10)


PAST NBC SPORTS INDYCAR POWER RANKINGS

PRESEASON: Josef Newgarden is a favorite to win third championship

RACE 1: Pato O’Ward to first; Newgarden drops out after St. Pete

RACE 2: O’Ward stays firmly on top of standings after Texas

RACE 3: Marcus Ericsson leads powerhouses at the top

RACE 4: Grosjean, Palou flex in bids for first victory

RACE 5: Alex Palou carrying all the momentum into Indy 500