One of the toughest left turns in NASCAR made another world-class driver look foolish on Sunday. It also might have impacted the Chase for the Championship as hard as defending series champion Matt Kenseth's No. 17 Ford hit the protective barrier at the end of Dover International Speedway's sharp and narrow pit road.
Kenseth, thinking he had a tire going down, lost control trying to pit on Lap 119. He got loose because of debris and a worn right front tire and slammed headfirst into a large pile of tires. Kenseth was not hurt, but his car was mangled. It's too early to surmise if his title hopes are too, but finishing 32nd and dropping three spots to seventh in points hurt.
"I got it slowed down; okay, I thought, and when I got on the apron it looked clean but it was real slick and I just lost control of it," said Kenseth, who returned 50 laps later with several yards of tape on his car. "It was a dumb mistake."
Cars were red-flagged for 12 minutes, 35 seconds on the backstretch for cleanup.
Drivers must shed 100 mph on a high-banked corner and before tucking onto pit road at Dover. Ryan Newman, adept enough to win three of the past four Dover races, lost control of the No. 12 Dodge on Lap 321 of the summer race and hit the retaining wall.
Later on Sunday, Bobby Labonte nearly spun at the pit entry but was able to gun the engine and avoid sliding up into traffic, narrowly missing Mark Martin.
NOT AGAIN: The immovable object and irresistible force met before a restart on Lap 122, and in the process might have re-started trouble for two of Nextel Cup's most volatile drivers. Tony Stewart, who battled a balky car all day to finish sixth, bumped Robby Gordon twice from the back before finally being allowed room. Gordon's retaliation against Greg Biffle last weekend at New Hampshire started a wreck that impacted Stewart and sent him to a 39th-place finish. Stewart said he felt like "Kicking Robby Gordon's butt, to be honest. It's racing. We'll get him back next week."
SPARK PLUGS: Jamie McMurray finished eighth to remain 11th in points; that position is worth a $1-million season-end bonus. After either resting his eyes or nodding off in the drivers' meeting, he complained of tiredness and watering eyes early. Jeff Burton had to be pulled from his burning No. 30 Chevrolet on Lap 167 when it blew a right front tire and caught fire after striking the wall violently. Burton tossed his neck restraint into the flaming cockpit in disgust.
_ BRANT JAMES, Times staff writer