By admin | October 29, 2009
By Richard Allen
Going into the 2009 season only two drivers, Matt Kenseth and Jimmie Johnson, had qualified for every NASCAR Chase for the Championship. Unfortunately for Kenseth, his streak ended this year in Richmond when he failed to make the top-12 at the time of the cutoff.
As disappointing as the failure to make the playoff may have seemed at the time, Kenseth may actually benefit from his current circumstance. After all, the chances of him actually going on to win the 2009 championship were pretty remote even if he had qualified. Despite the fact that he won the first two races of the season, his year has been a bit of a disappointment.
It’s hard to imagine that any season to include a Daytona 500 win could be labeled a disappointment but since that race and the following week in California, the #17 team has fought against the current with underpowered, ill-handling race cars. As a matter of fact, Kenseth has recorded only four top 5s and nine top-10s since February.
Now that he is a non-Chase contender, Kenseth finds himself with the unique opportunity to serve as one of the test drivers for the new Ford FR9 engine this weekend in Talladega.
The new Ford power plant, which was originally scheduled to be used in mid-2009, will debut on the restrictor plate track as a sort of trial run leading into next year’s Daytona 500.
By using the engine now, Kenseth and his crew could gain an advantage by learning the motor’s characteristics before others. Not only could this help him against his fellow Ford mates but it could even provide a boost against other teams as well.
Not only does the new engine promise more horsepower for its users but it may also benefit the handling of the cars as well. A lower center of gravity will change the front end characteristics of the Ford cars. Obviously, the more each team uses the engine the better the grasp of its needs they will gain.
No doubt Matt Kenseth wanted to add another championship trophy to the one he already has and after the first two races of 2009 he looked to have an excellent chance to do just that. However, things went astray for this team somewhere along the way. Now, by missing the Chase they may have actually helped themselves going into 2010.
Kenseth was not going to win the 2009 title whether he made the Chase or not. And even though Ford has announced that the FR9 will not be used full time in 2010, his team will have a slight advantage going into those races in which it is used.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press association. His weekly column appears in The Mountain Press every Wednesday.
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