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.”