BRISTOL, Tenn. (August 25, 2002) -- "I had high hopes," said Matt Kenseth after overcoming extensive heat and car radio problems to finish fifth in the Sharpie 500. Kenseth and the DEWALT team scored their 12th top-10 finish of the season and...
BRISTOL, Tenn. (August 25, 2002) -- "I had high hopes," said Matt Kenseth after overcoming extensive heat and car radio problems to finish fifth in the Sharpie 500. Kenseth and the DEWALT team scored their 12th top-10 finish of the season and their second top-10 finish of the year at Bristol.
Kenseth and his DEWALT Power Tools team had high hopes going into the most exciting race of the year. With a tenth place qualifying effort, and a reliable car, they thought the chances of another top-10 were pretty good.
The 500 lap event has always been known to bring out the best and worst in drivers. With over 180,000 onlookers in the stands-temperatures in the cars as well as tempers of the drivers are known to flare up at some point during the race. Saturday night was no exception - and in typical Bristol fashion, Kenseth clawed his way to the front of the pack.
Cautions came early, and often. Luckily, Kenseth, with the spotting assistance of crew chief Robbie Reiser on the pit box and Mike Calinoff on the roof, moved his way through the top 10. The car was tight in the center and loose off the corners so the DEWALT crew made adjustments and picked up positions in the pits each time Kenseth came in for service.
With the exhaust vents running directly under the drivers seat, and the amount of heat generated by short track racing, Kenseth complained his seat, and foot were extremely hot. He was fairly uncomfortable at the halfway point of the race while running 12th, but shortly after caution laps cooled down the conditions in the car and Kenseth felt better.
On lap 298, Kenseth dodged a bullet when a wreck on the restart occurred in front of the leaders. Kenseth just missed the No. 88 car who was spinning down the banking. At the time he was running 10th and told Reiser he was just trying to race smart, and save the car for the end of the race.
Another wreck occurred on lap 315 - which was close to the fuel window for the No. 17 car. NASCAR decided to bring out the jet dryers to blow away the debris, so Kenseth and Reiser capitalized on the long caution, and pitted the car. Matt restarted the race 13th on lap 330, but had enough fuel to make it to the end. The strategy paid off on lap 370, when the leaders had to pit. Kenseth moved to 3rd on the restart and chased down the lead No. 97 of Kurt Busch on lap 434.
Kenseth held the lead until lap 444 when the No. 29 car of Kevin Harvick passed him. Unfortunately, in the 50 lap dash to the end of the race, Kenseth was passed by Jeff Gordon, Rusty Wallace, Dale Earnhardt, Jr because they had fresher tires.
Kenseth crossed the stripe fifth behind race winner, Jeff Gordon.
"What a great run for this team," said crew chief Robbie Reiser. "That was our best finish here at Bristol, and we worked hard for it. Matt drove the heck out of that car, and everyone - right down to the spotter - did an awesome job."
"Towards the end of that last long run there the car just slowed up," said Kenseth. "I knew tires would be a factor but was hoping fuel mileage was going to be more of a factor. I raced with the No. 29 car of Kevin Harvick to try and get back the lead and I wasn't even looking in my mirror. All of a sudden, someone said the No. 2 was right back there. I saw them all coming on new tires so I did everything I could to hold 'em off, but it's a great finish for us."
Kenseth is ninth in the point standings going into Darlington, just 281 points behind leader Sterling Marlin.