Kenseth wins Kentucky with pit strategy
Sparta, KY (Sports Network) - Matt Kenseth claimed his Sprint Cup Series- leading fourth win of the season after taking a gamble on his final pit stop in Sunday's rain-delayed Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
The 400-mile event at this 1.5-mile racetrack was scheduled for Saturday night but persistent rain forced postponement until the following afternoon.
During the last round of stops under caution with 24 laps to go, Kenseth and his crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, decided to take fuel only while the other frontrunners made two-tire stops. Kenseth came out of the pits first.
Jimmie Johnson put on a dominating performance during the race by leading 182 of 267 laps. Johnson exited the pits in second, but after the restart, the five-time series champion got loose and spun around in front of Joey Logano in turn 2.
Kenseth held off challenges from Clint Bowyer and Jamie McMurray on the final restart with 17 laps left. He crossed the finish line 0.7 seconds ahead of McMurray.
"I didn't think there was any way that we were going to hold on for that win," said Kenseth, who claimed his 28th career victory in the series. "Jason did a great job, and he made the right call at the right time."
Kenseth, the 2003 Cup champion, is in his first season as driver of the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing. The last time he won four or more races in a season occurred in 2006. Kenseth scored a personal best five victories in 2002.
"It's been incredible," he said. "We've had some moments that have tested us this season already. It's great to have the four wins. Hopefully, we can keep it rolling. It's been a lot of fun."
McMurray's second-place run was his best finish since October 2010 when he won at Charlotte.
"It was a good day," McMurray said. "I got a little unlucky on the last restart with the bottom line checking up, and then the car was just about as good as it had been all day on the last run."
Bowyer finished third, while Logano took the fourth spot. Kyle Busch overcame an early-race spin to complete the top-five. Johnson ended up finishing ninth. He increased his points lead to 38 over Carl Edwards, who placed 21st.
Brad Keselowski, who won this race one year ago, was involved in a multi-car accident on lap 48. The wreck occurred just after a restart when Kurt Busch bumped into Keselowski while the two were running on the apron of the track in turn 1.
Keselowski's car shot up the track and slammed into the wall. Greg Biffle, Dave Blaney and Travis Kvapil also suffered damage to their cars when Keselowski collected them. The front end of Biffle's car briefly erupted into flames. There were no injuries during the incident.
NASCAR stopped the race for 18 minutes, as track workers cleaned up the crash site. During the red-flag, Busch apologized over his team radio for the incident.
Keselowski returned to the track after spending more than 100 laps in the garage for repairs. He finished 33rd. Keselowski entered this race ninth in the point standings but has dropped to 13th. He has yet to win a race this season.
"We are just on a streak of bad luck," Keselowski said. "It will turn around, and when it does, we will be in victory lane and be alright."
Busch finished sixth, followed by Martin Truex Jr., who won snapped his 218- race winless streak last weekend at Sonoma, Calif., and Jeff Gordon. Kevin Harvick was 10th.
Denny Hamlin also was involved in a hard crash just past the halfway point. Hamlin, who suffered a back injury during an accident three months ago in Fontana, Calif. and had to miss four races, cut a tire and slammed hard into the wall in turn 4. He said his back felt good but noted that he had his "bell rung" when he hit the wall. He was thoroughly examined at the track's infield medical care center and then released.
"I had to take a moment when I got out of the car to kind of gather my thoughts, because I didn't feel all that great," Hamlin said. "The medical staff came and checked me out. We came here (infield medical care center) and checked everything out. Everybody did what they should've done."
Hamlin's chances of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship took a big hit. He currently sits 25th in the standings. Hamlin is 104 points behind 20th-place Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and 150 points behind 10th-place Logano. He has been in the Chase each year since his rookie season in '06.
"We're going to try to win races; that's what my job is for the rest of the year," Hamlin said. "The biggest thing I was pushing for was to get my team into the Chase, but this is another hit."
Nine races remain before the Chase begins. The series will race at Daytona next weekend.
06/30 17:46:17 ET