Matt Kenseth’s NASCAR playoff chances were placed in jeopardy Saturday night by an errant ambulance.
That is not a misprint.
The 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season had already been a frustrating one for Kenseth, including the news he would not be returning to Joe Gibbs Racing next season.
He was having a solid performance in Saturday night’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond (Va.) Raceway – even contending for the win – when he was caught in a chain reaction wreck of cars trying to access pit road under caution.
Danica Patrick spun after contact from Austin Dillon on Lap 256 of 400 but did not hit the wall and was able to continue without assistance. When NASCAR opened pit road, the cars that began diving down the entrance found an ambulance parked near the entrance.
NASCAR officials said they would not address the situation until after the conclusion of the race.
Kenseth slammed into the back of Clint Bowyer and damaged the radiator of his No. 20 Toyota. He was forced to the garage, eliminating him from further contention.
Kenseth’s playoff eligibility remained good based on points, but if a new driver scored a win in the race, he likely faced elimination from the 16-driver field.
“Well, we were all just kind of coming to pit road and I saw an ambulance sitting there and so I looked left of the ambulance at the same time (Jason) Hedlesky (his spotter) yelled at everyone to stop there was an ambulance just sitting there.,” Kenseth said.
“It was an accordion effect and I just couldn’t get stopped. Not really sure why pit road was open with an ambulance parked there, but everybody stopped and I didn’t see it in time and ran into the car in front of me.”
Kenseth said he hoped he would still make the playoff cut.
“Ran good early on, didn’t run as good that run and I got ourselves behind to get us in that spot to start with, so hopefully we’ll make it in,” he said. “If we don’t there’s still 10 weeks left and we’re going to go out and get some wins.”
Kenseth said if NASCAR had dispatched safety vehicles to the track it should not have opened pit road to cars until they were cleared of the area.
“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,” he said.
“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.”
Truex, who won the regular season championship, called the incident "inexcusable" and wondered how it was even allowed to happen.
"I was thinking that whoever hits the button to open pit road needs to pay attention to what's going on on the race track. It's not like it was a big surprise. The emergency vehicles were riding down backstretch next to us as soon as we came off of 2 and continued all the way until the opening of pit road.
"Somebody obviously wasn't paying attention or wasn't doing their job properly and in my opinion, at this level, it's inexcusable."