FORT WORTH, Texas — Greed momentarily got the best of Matt Kenseth on pit road Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway, where Lap 173 of the AAA Texas 500 may yet morph into the deciding moment of the 2013 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Kenseth was running second to title rival Jimmie Johnson on Lap 173 of the scheduled 334-lapper when he hit pit road for a green-flag stop. Exiting after a clean stop, Kenseth was detected for speeding — an infraction that carries a pass-through penalty that was assessed on Lap 175. Kenseth dropped to 16th, a massive 28.398 seconds behind Johnson, who went on to score his sixth victory of the season by a comfortable 4.390-seconds over Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. Joey Logano of Penske Racing finished third while Kenseth rallied to finish fourth.
Kenseth began the day tied with Johnson with 2,294 points, although the Wisconsin native owned the most wins tiebreaker, 7-5. That’s now down to 7-6 and Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, exited Texas with a seven-point lead (2,342-2,335) after Round 8 of the 10-race Chase.
“Qualified good, had really good pit stops and my team did a great job,” said Kenseth, driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Let’s Do This Toyota Camry fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing. “I didn’t do such a great job. I was a little too aggressive on trying to get what we could on pit road there and got away from us.”
Pit road speed limit was 45 mph. “Everybody tries to use the lines to your advantage as much as you can,” Kenseth said, “and I just got out of my stall faster than I thought. So when we got to that next segment I guess we were just going too fast. It was my bad. Even though I didn’t go past where we were supposed to go past, we just miscalculated a little bit and should have backed that down a little bit.
“After they told me that I sped, there wasn’t anything I could do about that except for try to get back up there. Just came down pit road, took our lumps and tried to keep adjusting on our car and try to get all the positions that we could get. They came through with good stops and they did all the right stuff. I just couldn’t get up there any farther.”
Kenseth made nine pit stops for total of five minutes and 3.631 seconds. Johnson’s team, led by crew chief Chad Knaus, stopped eight times for a combined four minutes and 44.229 seconds.
“Had some good adjustments, we just honestly never had the car to run with the No. 48,” Kenseth said. “I was a little off tonight — just could never get the balance and get it driving exactly like we hoped. Overall it was a good night and we’re still in this thing.”
Johnson brought his A-game to TMS’ high-banked, 1.5-mile quad-oval for a race that began in the afternoon sun and finished at dusk. A five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Johnson led 255 laps — second-highest total in TMS history to the 278 laps three-time champ Tony Stewart paced on Nov. 5, 2006. The result was Johnson’s first victory of 2013 on one of NASCAR’s many 1.5-mile/intermediate tracks.
“Through all the years I’ve raced with that group, I haven’t seen them really bad anywhere,” said Kenseth, who led twice for three laps.
“Honestly, the No. 48 had us from the time they unloaded until the time they put it back on the truck,” said Kenseth, who had topped the points table for seven of the last nine weeks. “They were just dominant all weekend. (Crew chief) Jason (Ratcliff) and this whole Home Depot crew did a great job today of making adjustments and trying to get it better. That speeding penalty got us behind — we definitely didn’t need that. But really, I don’t know that at the end of the day if that really affected our finish much. We just didn’t have what we needed to get any farther forward.”
Kenseth was quite calm, even smiling, during an interview — appropriately enough — on pit road. “I’m still confident,” said Kenseth, the 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion with Roush Fenway Racing who is in his first season with JGR. “I wish I was seven points ahead, but at the end of the day it’s in our hands. The math works out if you win the last two races.”
Round 9 will be run on the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway next weekend. The season finale will take place at the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway on Nov. 17.
“It’s not insurmountable,” Kenseth said. “I have, I think, the greatest race team out there and we’re going to go there (PIR), work as hard as we can and try to get the best finishes we can and see where it ends up.”
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