Sunday, June 02, 2002

Kenseth loses No. 1 start because of blown engine



By DICK BRINSTER
AP Sports Writer

        DOVER, Del. — Matt Kenseth became a victim of one of NASCAR's newest rules when a blown engine sent him from the pole to the back of the field for Sunday's race at Dover International Speedway.

        Under NASCAR's one-engine rule, a change nullifies a driver's starting position. Kenseth, who blew the engine in his Ford during practice Saturday, will get credit for his first Winston Cup pole, but certainly will have a tougher time in the MBNA Platinum 400.

        “There's nothing I can do about it,” said a resigned Kenseth. “You just have to take it and make the best of the situation and hope you can still get to the front.”

        Kenseth won after going to the rear of the field two months ago following an engine change to his Ford in Texas, but the penalty was not so harsh because he had qualified 31st for that race. Points leader Sterling Marlin and Tony Stewart also won this season after engine changes.

        “You want to stay up front and stay out of trouble, so it's a little frustrating in that sense,” Kenseth said. “The good side of it is it happened today instead of tomorrow.”

        He'll have plenty of company in the back. Jerry Nadeau, who qualified third in his final ride for the injured Johnny Benson, and Kenseth teammate Kurt Busch, were forced to the rear because accidents in practice caused them to bring out backup cars. Busch had qualified in the fifth position.

        Kenseth had been determined to demonstrate that lessons he learned in testing last month were worth more than just the pole. He hopes to win in a Winston Cup car for the first time at Dover and try to close the gap a little more on points leader Sterling Marlin.

        At least Kenseth knows Marlin didn't pick up any tips about a faster way around the high-banked concrete oval.

        “We were the only car that tested up here and we had a real productive test,” said Kenseth, second to Marlin by 87 points. “Hopefully, we'll have our ducks in a row when it comes time to race.”

        They once were aligned perfectly for Kenseth, who as a Busch Series driver had two victories and five top-five finishes on what is considered one of the three most difficult tracks on the NASCAR circuit.

        Then Kenseth got an opportunity to fill in for Bill Elliott, whose father had died, and drove to a sixth-place finish in his first Winston Cup start at Dover in 1998. A year later, he finished fourth for Jack Roush, then second in this race in 2000.

        Last year, Kenseth wound up 16th, then 29th in Dover's September race. The magic was gone.

        “It's not like we were just a turn of wedge away from having a good car, we just totally missed the combinations,” Kenseth said. “We ran the setups we ran two or three years ago.

        “But the times change, the tires change, the rules change.”

        It was either run faster or find himself in the position of Rusty Wallace, a four-time Dover winner whose status as one of the drivers to beat was lost to Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin and Tony Stewart. There's also Elliott, a four-time winner on the track who hasn't celebrated a victory here since 1990.

        Elliott might have been the victim of the transition in 1995 from asphalt to concrete. His start on the outside of the front row in the $4.2 million race Sunday could be an aberration or a signal that he's rediscovering his touch.

        “This place kind of eluded me once they put the concrete down,” Elliott said. “Now, we've got a little better hold of it.”

        Elliott was hoping to jump-start his Dover program in this race last year, but never got the chance.

        “I took the green flag, drove into Turn 1 and got in a wreck,” he said. “I didn't get a lot of data from that race.”

        Last September, things weren't much better, and Elliott wound up 30th.

        Kenseth's Cup pole Friday was a welcome-back present for Roush. The car owner was back at the track for the first time since nearly dying six weeks ago when the small plane he was piloting crashed in a lake in Alabama.

        Among the biggest beneficiaries of the Saturday practice developments was defending race champion Gordon, who led all but 19 of 400 laps last year in his fourth victory on the track. He was to line up ninth on grid.

        Now, Gordon will be second on the inside row — essentially starting third — behind Ricky Rudd, another four-time Dover winner.

        Gordon starts ninth. Marlin, with just two top-five finishes in more than 15 years of racing at Dover, starts 27th.

       



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