By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
In a race, timing is everything. When you pit, how long your pit stop takes, and as Matt Kenseth’s team learned during the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, the order in which a tool is placed on the car.
After starting in 13th, Kenseth quickly made his way up to the front, leading early and often.
During a round of green flag pit stops on lap 117, in which Kenseth pitted from the lead, NASCAR penalized Kenseth and his No.20 Dollar General Toyota Camry team. The infraction in question? Improper fueling.
As Kenseth stopped in his pit box, the gasman connected the fuel can to the fuel intake, and then dropped a wrench onto the deck lid of Kenseth’s car. Although Kenseth’s gasman did not do any actual work on the car, he was still in violation of this rule. Had the gasman placed the wrench before connecting the fuel can, there would not have been a penalty. NASCAR called the penalty shortly after Kenseth jumped back into the fray on track.
The rule that regulates how a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car can be fueled during competition states that once the gasman has connected the fuel can to the car; he is prohibited from performing any other actions while the fuel can is engaged. This rule is in place as a means of preventing static electricity, fuel spills, among other various safety hazards.
Kenseth’s crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, took off his headset to plead his case with the NASCAR official. To add insult to injury, as the laps continued to click off as Ratcliff, still pleading his case, missed the black flag being present to Kenseth. Not hearing NASCAR’s warning for his driver to serve the penalty or not be scored. Meanwhile, his team still had not notified Kenseth that he was being penalized.
By lap 123, Kenseth was still on track and was presented with the black flag with the white stripe, which meant that he was no longer being scored. Kenseth hit pit road a lap later, serving his penalty with a drive-thru and falling two laps behind the leaders.
After serving the penalty, Kenseth said over the radio, regarding his need to make a pass through on pit road, “I got to have that information, I can’t help you if I don’t.”
The communication failure cost Kenseth.
It was this break-down in communication that led Kenseth to talk about the issue after the race.
“I got black-flagged for some type of pit road penalty and I didn’t know it, both the spotter and Jason never said anything,” Kenseth said. “I pitted the lap they told me to do a pass-thru and I found out that I was two laps down. I’m assuming they (NASCAR) were black flagging us before that and they pulled our card, but I’m still not sure what happened.”
“I never heard anything about it or at least saw the flag or anything, so I came when they told me to come and I guess they must have penalized us a couple laps or something. I don’t really know. I haven’t really seen it.”
In a matter of just 6 laps, Kenseth dropped from being a contender for the win, and leading 47 laps of the race, to 31st. Kenseth was never able to regain the laps he lost and ended up salvaging his disastrous day with a 19th place finish. Kenseth also gained two spots in points standings, climbing to the 12th position in the standings.
After the race, team owner Joe Gibbs, told the media that he wanted clarification on NASCAR’s ruling, “I think we’d been doing that for a long time and I was just curious as to when that changed.”
Gibbs also admitted that while Kenseth continued battling for the lead, that he didn’t know what was taking place, “We should have done a better job of communicating to him that there was a black flag.”
Image: Todd Warshaw/NASCAR via Getty Images