Matt Kenseth wins at Kentucky
NASCAR’s big dogs went to the mat on Sunday at Kentucky Speedway, with Matt Kenseth prevailing over Jimmie Johnson to win the Quaker State 400 and score his series-high fourth victory of the season. That’s one more than series points leader and five-time champion Johnson.
Kenseth and crew chief Jason Ratcliff gambled on a no-tire pit stop during the last caution period to take the lead, while Johnson spun out on the restart to hand the victory to Kenseth.
“I didn’t roll the dice, Jason did,” said Kenseth. “I thought it was slightly crazy when it happened. … Jason did a great job. I didn’t think there was any way we were going to hold on for that win.”
Jamie McMurray finished second ahead of Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano and Kyle Busch. Johnson ended the day ninth, three positions ahead of his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Earnhardt Jr. started from the pole, but it was Carl Edwards who took the lead on the opening lap and held the lead all the way to the competition caution that NASCAR scheduled for Lap 30.
After the restart, something truly bizarre happened: Denny Hamlin lost a right-front tire on his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota, and when he did, the tire separated, with the carcass of the tire coming off and hitting first Earnhardt’s car, and then Johnson’s.
Earnhardt got the worst of it, with his front splitter bent up, so it couldn’t seal it to the bottom of the track, limiting critical front downforce and hurting the car’s ability to turn. He would not be a factor for the rest of the race.
“Sucks to get taken out like that,” said Biffle, who in the prior three races had one victory, a second-place finish and three top 10s.
Keselowski wasn’t happy, either. “No reason to drive like an animal,” said Keselowski, who fell out of the top 10 in points for the first time all season. “Apparently, I'm the only one who got that memo.”
Meanwhile, up front for most of the race were Johnson and Kenseth, who led 107 of the first 150 laps. Not surprising given that the two came into the race tied for most victories in the season, with three each.
Under caution on Lap 149, Edwards gambled on a two-tire stop to take the lead over Johnson and Joey Logano, a three-time Nationwide Series winner at Kentucky.
But up front, it was all Johnson.
At least until Brian Vickers popped a tire on Lap 241, bringing out a caution, which sent the field down pit road.
Kenseth took fuel only under caution, while Johnson and most of the other lead-lap cars took two tires.
The race restarted with Kenseth and Johnson in the top two spots, a fitting pairing for the late-race showdown.
But after leading 182 of the first 248 laps, Johnson made a bad restart and spun out in Turn 2, losing what appeared to be a certain victory.
Kenseth, meanwhile, went to the front and stayed there to score a huge triumph.
Asked if he’d dreamed he’d have four victories by this point in his first season with JGR, Kenseth said, “I dreamed about, but I probably didn’t imagine it was realistic. It’s been incredible. We’ve had some moments that have tested us this season already, and obviously it’s great to have the four wins. Hopefully we can keep it rolling.”