Thursday, February 23, 2012

Matt Kenseth Gives Roush Fenway Racing First Gatorade Duel Win

Heading into Thursday's second Gatorade Duel 150, team owner Jack Roush had two cars on the front row of the Daytona 500, but had never been to victory lane in a Thursday qualifying race.

While Daytona 500 pole-sitter Carl Edwards was able to make it through the first 150-mile race unscathed, Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle diced it up for the win in the day's second event.

Biffle led the majority of the event, which was remarkably calmer than the first race, but lost the lead to Kenseth coming to the white flag.

Holding off hard charges from behind, Kenseth was able to take the checkered flag and give Roush his first Gatorade Duel win, and place three of his cars in the top four starting spots in the Great American Race.

After riding around single-file for much of the event, the top-five began jockeying for position with two laps to go.

As Biffle held on to the top spot, the lapped cars of Clint Bowyer and Bobby Labonte made a charge on the inside line to the back bumper of Regan Smith in second. Their move allowed Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson to jump to the high side and lock in a two-car tandem.

Coming to the white flag, Biffle jumped from the bottom lane to block the tandem of Kenseth and Johnson, but was unable to hold them off, as Kenseth dove to the bottom as the leaders took the white flag.

With Kenseth out front and Biffle headed to the back of the pack, Johnson looked to the outside of Kenseth  for the lead down the backstretch. Kenseth was able to successfully block the No. 48 car's charge, allowing Smith to get under Johnson as they headed towards the corner. Johnson moved down the track, made contact with Smith, and killed all the momentum either driver had to challenge for the win.

Kenseth crossed the stripe for the win, followed by Smith, Johnson, Elliott Sadler and Biffle.

“We just had a big run there," Kenseth said. "Jimmie Johnson gave me a huge push there and that really worked nice for me the whole race there. Without that push it would have never gotten done. Greg lost his drafting partner. We were able to separate him and the 78 and we had such a huge run that Greg was kind of a sitting duck. I was going so fast with Jimmie’s push that we were able to make it past.”

Finishing fifth, Biffle believe the the Kenseth-Johnson tandem would stall on the high side.

"I wasn’t sure I was gonna stay committed to the bottom, but at the last minute I decided to jump up there and try it, but Matt is pretty smart," he said. "He was pretty far up. He wasn’t coming down close to us to where if I would have moved I could get in front of him. I had to move three lanes to get in front of him, so he did the right thing.”

Dave Blaney and Joe Nemechek were both able to race their way into Sunday's Daytona 500, with finishes of 12th and 17th, respectively.

For Blaney, the successful result was vindication for he efforts to get Tommy Baldwin Racing locked into the top-35 in Owner Points in 2011, only to have those points given to Danica Patrick.

"It's big for anybody, big for me, but especially the team," Blaney said. "Flawless race car, and it could run up front...Just a relief."

Nemechek battled overheating and fuel pressure issues throughout the 150-mile event, but by working with teammate Bill Elliott in the tandem draft he was able to be the second-highest among those needing to race their way into the Daytona 500.

"You talk about stress in your life, oh my gosh," Nemechek said. "Just incredible...What a relief. There have been a lot of TUMs taken this week."

Despite the hype and hope surrounding Kenny Wallace's attempt at making the Daytona 500, an issue with fuel pressure early in the race had the RAB Racing car off the pace and left out of the draft. Wallace fell multiple laps down and finished 21st out of 24 drivers.

"We ran great, and then all of sudden we lost a fuel pump, never lost one before," a clearly disappointed Wallace said following the race.

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