Matt Kenseth almost didn’t make the field for the 2017 NASCAR Cup playoffs; and it really wasn’t his fault.
The Joe Gibbs racing driver, in his final year with the team, was in to the playoffs on points, but needed a clean race, and no first-time winners Saturday night at Richmond Raceway. He led from pole and a total of 89 laps but during a caution on lap 255, an ambulance stopped at the entrance to pit road. Joey Logano suffered minor damage when he brushed the front of the emergency vehicle, but Clint Bowyer slowed and Kenseth hit him in the rear.
Bowyer was able to continue but the damage to the Toyota of Kenseth was too severe and he was forced to watch the rest of the race and hope for no first-time winner.
“I don’t think they should open pit road if there’s an ambulance parked there,” Kenseth said. “It’s a very narrow entry. Pit road speed is pretty fast – 45 miles an hour or something – and, you know, still I shouldn’t have hit the car in front of me, but I can’t say I was expecting to see an ambulance blocking me, so by the time I looked up and saw him parked there and they were stopping in front of me, I tried the best I could to stop and couldn’t.”
NASCAR Senior Vice President of Competition Scott Miller later said the ambulance failed to follow instructions from the control tower. Several cars missed the commitment line trying to avoid the ambulance, but NASCAR ruled there would be no penalties.
Kenseth was forced to wait out the race to see if he made the playoffs. Had a first-time winner gone to victory lane, Kenseth would have been out of the playoffs. Fortunately, Kyle Larson won his fourth race of the season, and his first at Richmond, and Kenseth is part of this year’s 16 driver field.
He took some responsibility for his troubles.
“I’ve been racing for a long time,” he said. “Certainly could do a lot better job controlling a lot of things. Even tonight, there was an ambulance parked in our way, but I still should have been able to somehow anticipate that better.”
“I was trying to get better. Not worried about next year at all. Worried about the next 10 weeks. Got a great race team, great opportunity. We haven’t been able to win races yet this year, which has been disappointing.
But I really do feel even though we’re coming off a DNF, we’re hitting our stride. Our guys on pit road have been unbelievably good the last three weeks, probably the best three weeks probably since I’ve been there. The car has been faster. Jason has been doing a good job.”
As almost to add insult to a near injury, Kenseth was forced to follow an ambulance, no word if it was the same one, out of the track; he tweeted a photo with no explanation needed.
— Matt Kenseth (@mattkenseth) September 10, 2017