Uncasville, Connecticut's Matt Kobyluck and his Mohegan Sun Racing team went cross-country this past weekend to take part in the first race of NASCAR's new "Grand National" division race at the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway in Arizona.
Uncasville, Connecticut's Matt Kobyluck and his Mohegan Sun Racing team went cross-country this past weekend to take part in the first race of NASCAR's new "Grand National" division race at the one-mile Phoenix International Raceway in Arizona. Kobyluck's first venture in the division, which places the Busch North Series and Winston West Series under a common set of rules, started out with his No. 40 Chevrolet posting fast speeds in both practice and qualifying. Kobyluck's race was not as successful, though, as a cut tire forced him into the turn three wall and out of the race after completing just 45 laps.
Friday found the team getting on the track for the first time for five hours of testing, during which official times were not kept. But, unofficially, Kobyluck was one of the five fastest cars of the twenty-eight in attendance.
Saturday found Kobyluck twelfth fastest in the first practice session, but he improved to fourth best in the second session. His speed continued to improve in qualifying, where he had the third fastest speed, 126.187 MPH.
"We had some problems with the car earlier on today and we were off the pace quite a bit," he said after qualifying. "By the time we figured out what it was and got it dialed in to where it needed to be, we only got on the track one time. When we got out there for qualifying, the car took me by surprise a little bit. I left a lot out there on the table, but I'm more than happy with a third place starting position. It would be nice to start out with a pole, but that'll come in time. We're accomplishing what we need to do here, now we just have to get into race trim and get ready to run 150 laps tomorrow."
Kobyluck put an exclamation point on his Saturday by turning the fastest time in the final practice.
Sunday's race started out well for Kobyluck. Briefly dropping to fourth place in the opening laps, he retook third position shortly afterward. He had moved up to second place behind NASCAR Winston Cup regular Ken Schrader fifteen laps into the event, and held that position until being forced to surrender it to Scott Lynch on lap 37.
Three laps after a lap 43 restart, Kobyluck ran over debris on the backstretch and blew out his right front tire. He went into turn three and the car did not turn, striking the wall and not stopping until it got almost all the way through turn four. A gas line was knocked off the fuel pump and the car caught fire. Kobyluck escaped injury by exiting quickly, and the fire was extinguished. The crash damage was too severe for the car to be repaired, and Kobyluck was forced to retire from the race after 45 laps. He was classified in the 23rd finishing position.
"The right front blew out going down into turn three," he said after the race. "I must have picked up something on the track. I set up to go down into the turn and went straight in. It's unfortunate since we were running second and third for the first 45-50 laps just kind of riding, just clicking off laps waiting for the pit stop. But we had an early end to our day. It would have been nice to have run at the end there for the win, see what we had, but as they say, that's racing. It's too bad, we had a pretty good car."
Kobyluck assessed the damage to his Mohegan Sun Chevrolet.
"It bent the front clip, the right side frame rails, and all the door bars," he said. "It got burned pretty good and melted the windshield and all the lines inside. The seat's junk, but all the safety stuff did its job. I'm fine, and that's the most important part. To come out of a hit like that with no injury is a testament to the safety equipment. They can build more race cars but they can't replace a human life."
Undaunted by his bad luck at Phoenix, Kobyluck vows to return west on April 12th to run the second Winston West event of the season, which will be held at the 3/8 mile "Bullring" at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Following that race, he will turn his attention to the NASCAR Busch North Series, where he finished second in points in 2002 after a season where he won two races.