Promising Starts End Badly For Denny Hamlin, Matt Kenseth Sunday At Auto Club Speedway

(NASCAR Wire Service)

By Reid Spencer ~ NASCAR Wire Service

AutoClub_400FONTANA, Calif.—At the track closest to Toyota Racing Development’s headquarters in Costa Mesa, Toyota drivers Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin had their most promising runs of the season—until the promises were broken, that is.

In Kenseth’s case, it was a broken axle. After NASCAR called a caution on Lap 185 of a scheduled 200, Kenseth pitted from the lead for fuel and tires. But the rear axle broke as he was leaving his pit, dropping Kenseth to a 31st-place finish that belied the strength of his car.

“I let the clutch out to go and the axle broke,” Kenseth said. “I don’t know why. I didn’t do anything different than we ever do, so it just broke. No, I don’t think that’s luck. An axle breaking is either a faulty part or not the right part or not the gear ratio or … there’s usually a reason.

“We busted one last year – somebody did, one of our cars – and I don’t know that we ever figured out why, and then we just broke another one, so it’s certainly something you’ve got to get a handle on. You can’t break parts. Nobody breaks parts anymore, so you can’t afford to do it, obviously.”

For Hamlin, Kenseth’s teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, it was a broken rule and then a broken engine.

Hamlin crew was flagged for a runaway tire—a call crew chief Dave Rogers argued vociferously—on the same pit stop that proved Kenseth’s undoing.

Hamlin, who had led 56 laps before the race’s halfway point, was sent to the rear of the field for a Lap 190 restart and never recovered.

“We were good at the beginning and got off a little bit, but we had a bad restart (on Lap 105),” Hamlin said. “I got shuffled back beyond the top 10 and worked our way back to the top five and then the top-three and then had a penalty.

“You just can’t come back from that. There ain’t nobody in the field with a fast enough car to come back from any penalties. We had one at the inopportune time and it just led to a bad finish, and we blew up at the end. That topped everything off.”


It wasn’t until Friday that Chris Buescher knew he was going to be making his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut at Auto Club Speedway.

But with Brian Vickers’ sudden withdrawal from competition because of a recurrence of blood clots, Brett Moffitt vacated the No. 34 Front Row Motorsports car to sub for Vickers, and Buescher was pressed into service as a last-minute replacement in the 34.

On an up-and-down day that saw him make good use of NASCAR’s wave-around rule (staying out under caution to regain a lost lap), the Roush Fenway Racing NASCAR XFINITY Series regular finished 20th in his first Cup start.

“It was a lot of fun,” Buescher said. “I can’t thank Front Row Motorsports enough to give me this opportunity and for Roush Fenway Racing to allow me to go do it. To be able to help another Ford Performance team out, this was a blast. It’s the kind of race track I wanted to make my Cup debut at – some place that the pace falls off, the tires wear down and you’re able to really hustle it and race late into a run, and this was just that.

“We went through a lot of changes today, a lot of ups and downs, and a lot of confusion, too, on my side just trying to keep up with where we were at with the lucky dog and with wave-arounds. Green flag stops, everything moved so fast and I really had no clue where we were going to finish coming to the checkered.

“I didn’t know where we were at. I just knew I had to beat a couple guys around us and tried everything we could. It was a lot of fun. Thanks to everybody with Ford that allowed me to do it.”


The reappearance of blood clots has sidelined Vickers from the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota for the third time, dating to May 2010. In addition, Vickers missed the first two races of the 2015 season while recovering from offseason heart surgery.

To combat the medical issue, Vickers must resume the use of blood thinners, which in turn will keep him out of a race car for at least three months. NASCAR will not approve a driver to race while using blood thinners because of the obvious risk.

Whether the latest recurrence of blood clots will jeopardize Vickers’ career remains a germane question.

“Am I worried?” Vickers asked. “Of course. Have I given up hope? No. What I know right now is that I unfortunately had to go back on blood thinners. To be clear – I have not been on blood thinners. If I were, I probably wouldn’t have blood clots and wouldn’t be able to race. Being off of blood thinners, working with my doctors closely to figure out how to solve the problems of the past and get off blood thinners is what has allowed me to get back in the race car.

“Unfortunately, now I am back on blood thinners for at least three months and through those three months I’ll try to figure out what makes sense with my doctors if I can come back off of them to go racing, if there’s some kind of plan that works—and if not, then that’s that. We’re so far away from crossing that bridge at this point, I can’t really say. …

“There’s more to life than just this. I think keeping that perspective is important, but it’s also my favorite thing to do in the world. I want to try to come back.”

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