|"We just could never get it right."|
Matt Kenseth’s second career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title – so possible just a week ago – is now the longest of longshots after a crushing day at Phoenix International Raceway. When point leader Jimmie Johnson turned up the heat with a pole-winning effort on qualifying Friday, Kenseth’s Joe Gibbs Racing team wilted. They struggling with a balky race car all weekend, and a horrific pit-road performance at the midpoint of Sunday’s race doomed their driver to a 23rd-place finish.
Johnson now enjoys a whopping, 28-point advantage heading into Sunday’s season finale at Homestead Miami Speedway, and needs just a 23rd-place finish to claim his sixth series title and move with one championship of Hall Of Famers Richard Petty and Dale Earnhardt.
"We haven’t had a day like this all year," said a crestfallen Kenseth Sunday. "We just could never get it right."
|Jimmie is in command|
Things went from bad to worse on a lap-164 pit stop, when crew chief Jason Ratcliff seemed unable to decide whether to change two tires, or four. Confusing commands over the team radio left crewmembers scrambling in confusion for a time. They eventually changed four tires, then dropped the No. 20 Toyota on the air hose, more than doubling the length of a normal pit stop and dropping Kenseth from seventh to 29th in the running order.
Ratcliff called the pit road fiasco “a perfect storm. You go to put left sides on and then nobody comes down pit road behind you and you’re thinking, 'Man, let’s just put four on.' But the bad part is that you’ve already called (for only) lefts and your guys have left-side tires in their hands.
“(It was) just a bad job on my part.
"We missed it pretty bad all weekend," admitted Ratcliff. "The car just wasn’t responding the way our typical Joe Gibbs Racing cars do. For whatever reason, this tire package with our short-track package wasn’t good today. We didn’t push the right button all weekend."
Now, there’s nothing left for Kenseth and company to do but pray for divine intervention at Homestead, a track where Johnson has proven adept at wrapping up titles.