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Suddenly broken engines and bad parts are a major issue on the stock car tour, and Jack Roush's Fords are victims now too


Matt Kenseth, first at Daytona and California, but last in Las Vegas (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


   By Mike Mulhern


   Matt Kenseth's coach finally turned back into pumpkin Sunday, and after two straight first place finishes, at Daytona and California, he wound up dead last, first out, after blowing an engine less than 10 miles into the Shelby 427.
   But Kenseth wasn't alone in having trouble.
   Teammate David Ragan also lost an engine, Mark Martin lost an engine, and a dozen other drivers either made costly mistakes or were victims.
   While Toyota's recent engine problems were pinpointed to a special 'coating' problem with parts (five Toyota drivers had to change engines before this race), the Ford issues were unexpected.
   "I think it had some kind of valve-train issue," Kenseth said. "That's what it sounded like.
   "I think it's the first failure we've had in over two years.
   "I don't know that I've ever dropped out on lap one before. We didn't even really get to race. And we qualified bad (he started 40th). So it was a pretty long weekend for nothing."
    After Ragan's engine went, the Jack Roush camp chilled. "As soon as Donnie (Wingo, his crew chief) started saying 'Try to save the motor' I would just go wide open off the corner and as soon as I'd get to about 9000 (RPM) I would just about half-throttle all the way down the straightaway," Jamie McMurray, who finished ninth, said.
   "It's frustrating because cars would pass you. But you've got to finish."
   McMurray himself was down with the flu all weekend.
   Carl Edwards, who won here for Roush last year, kept his RPM down until the final moments. He was running fifth when his engine broke on the final restart with three to go.
    So it was newcomer Bobby Labonte with the best-finishing Ford, fifth, in an excellent run, aided by crew chief Todd Parrott's good calls.
   "We had a really good car in clean air," Labonte said. "But on two restarts before the end, I thought I had a tire going down -- It just went straight, getting into one, and I got all jacked up.
    "Then that last restart, with three or four to go, Carl (Edwards, another Roush teammate) had a problem (a blown engine).
   "So I almost had a fourth-place. Still, all in all, it was a really good day.
    "I know there's more for me to prove in these cars, and I can't wait to do it."
   And Atlanta Motor Speedway, this week's stop, is one of Labonte's best tracks.
   Roush himself was obviously disappointed: "I think we misjudged how fast this (new) tire would be, and the engine turned more. 
   "It's the same spec on the engine we had all last year; it wasn't something new or experimental. And I had great confidence in it.
   "But we saw more RPM with it in qualifying than we ever had, and we saw more RPM in the race than we ever had. 
    "The tire didn't fall off (in lap speeds) as much as we expected it to. So the tire did a real nice job but we just over-revved the engine."
   Perhaps there was a bit of overconfidence?
   "We had a choice of which rear-axle ratio to use, and we used the higher of the ratios -- and it was 200 RPM more than the other ratio would have been," Roush conceded. "We just made the wrong choice.
   "But if you win the races we won last year late (Edwards won three of the last four), and then had the success we had in Fontana (last Sunday), there was no reason to be nervous about it. 
    "The fact that it crept up a little bit didn't raise the alarm it should have. 
    "We'll be wiser going to Atlanta."


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