July 03, 2013It was a weekend of gift giving at Kentucky Speedway, and Matt Kenseth was showered Sunday afternoon in his Quaker State 400 win after Jimmie Johnson spun his No. 48 car late in the race and crew chief Jason Ratcliff made a bold call to put Kenseth in Victory Lane. Mother Nature also gave the track a gift with sunny skies after a wet Saturday.
"The race today was really enjoyable," said Kenseth, who had his wife and daughters in Victory Lane with him. "It was really slick, bumpy. It was a little slower than it might be at night. In my mind, that creates more passing and more side-to-side racing and more options for different lanes you run. I enjoyed it, obviously, being during the day."
The day began with Carl Edwards jumping ahead of pole sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. at the start between Turns 1 and 2 to just more than a half-second lead. NASCAR brought out a competition yellow on Lap 30 to check tire wear, and, when the field came back out, Earnhardt was again in the front seat, with Jimmie Johnson second and Juan Pablo Montoya third.
Denny Hamlin brought out a caution on Lap 39 of 267 when he had a tire come apart in Turn 4. Johnson and Earnhart both hit remains of the tire, suffering minor damage to the front ends.
The Lowe's 48 pit crew kept Jimmie Johnson out in front for most of the second half of the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway Sunday. Johnson later spun out in Turn 1 on a restart and had to settle for ninth place.
The most damaging caution of the race, however, came on the restart. Kurt Busch went low on the front straightway and lost control of his car. Busch plowed into the underside of Brad Keselowski. That started a chain reaction, with Dave Blaney, Greg Biffle, Paul Menard, Landon Cassill and Travis Kvapil all becoming entangled in the melee. The race was halted while crews cleaned up the mess, the red flag being out for almost 20 minutes.
"I knew that I had to get to the bottom of the track, but I just couldn't," Biffle said.
"I saw Brad get turned around and in a bad spot," Blaney said. "I just did not know which direction he would go. When I lost sight of him, I just did not do a good job evading him. There was not much room to go anywhere."
"I thought the restarts, where the timing or go lines are, I thought they were strange all day long," said Jamie McMurray, who avoided the crunch. "I don't know if it's the way the track is laid out, but I could see when the leaders would get to the first one, and it seemed like everybody would stack up around that area. I don't know if it's everybody trying to anticipate it."
Johnson took over from that point and began to dominate the field, at one point leading by more than 2-1/2 seconds over Kenseth. Johnson continued to lead until Lap 243 following a caution brought out by Brian Vickers, who cut a tire and hit the wall in Turn 3.
When the field came in for service, most of the teams took two tires on the right side, including Johnson. Kenseth's crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, made the bold move of leaving the tires alone, taking fuel only, getting his driver in the front spot for the restart.
"I thought he was slightly crazy when it happened," Kenseth said of Ratcliff. "It gave us a chance to restart as the leader. It is always important to get out from during the caution to give us time to cool our tires off, which really helped us."
"I thought it was worth a shot to get out there," Ratcliff said. "I felt like we would be at a disadvantage. However, we did have the newest leftside tires. … I looked at the guy next to me, and I'm like, 'I can't believe we are the only one that did that.' "
Then came the restart and the next big event. The front of the field went into Turn 1 with Kenseth in front. Johnson tried to hold his line down low as Joey Logano tried to make a move on the inside. Johnson got loose in the turn and spun his car between turns 1 and 2, bringing out the last yellow flag of the day.
From there, Kenseth went on to win by just more than a half second over McMurray. Clint Bowyer was third, with Logano fourth and Kyle Busch fifth.
Johnson cried foul after the race, saying Kenseth failed to keep up the pace car speed before the restart. Kenseth said that wasn't the case.
"Somebody mentioned in Victory Lane that he was upset with the restart," Kenseth said. "I have no idea what happened or what happened to him or what I could have done to upset him. When I got ready for the restart, we were on top and we were the leader, so it's anywhere in that box we can start the race. When the pace car peeled off, I felt like I went the same pace. … At that point, you try to watch the guy inside you and try to make sure he doesn't lay back and try to get a run on you."
McMurray and Bowyer joked they were glad to have not wrecked each other on the last restart.
"We didn't have any flat tires or radiators break or people's parts fall off the car and go through our radiator," McMurray said. "(We) got a little unlucky on the last restart with the bottom line checking up. Our car was just about as good as it had been all day."
"I was trying to block Jamie at the end and realized I better get the (heck) out of the way before I get myself wrecked," Bowyer said. "I gladly pulled over and let him go. We didn't need a caution right there. … You probably did (looking at McMurray). He would have dumped me, and I would have shot to 20th."
"How do you know I didn't try?" McMurray responded with a laugh.
The controversy of the finish by Johnson's comments didn't dampen the spirits of the Dollar General Store team. It was Kenseth's fourth win of the season, which places him fifth in the point standings, 82 behind Johnson, who leads.
"I don't know how he does it, but Jason worked his magic and dropped the green today," Kenseth said. "We had a pretty competitive car after three or four adjustments. I thought we had at least a second- to fifth-place car at least. … Obviously, that last call is what gave us a shot to win."
"We've got a lot of racing to do before we get to the Chase," he said. "I think we always strive to improve. (Johnson) was the class of the field all day, so we have to continue to get better. … Going into the Chase, hopefully we can give them a run for their money."
1. Matt Kenseth Toyota 267 Running
2. Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 267 Running
3. Clint Bowyer Toyota 267 Running
4. Joey Logano Ford 267 Running
5. Kyle Busch Toyota 267 Running
6. Kurt Busch Chevrolet 267 Running
7. Martin Truex Jr. Toyota 267 Running
8. Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 267 Running
9. Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 267 Running
10. Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 267 Running
11. Kasey Kahne Chevrolet 267 Running
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Chevrolet 267 Running
13. Marcos Ambrose Ford 267 Running
14. Ryan Newman Chevrolet 267 Running
15. Aric Almirola Ford 267 Running
16. Juan Pablo Montoya Chevrolet 267 Running
17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.* Ford 267 Running
18. Casey Mears Ford 267 Running
19. Jeff Burton Chevrolet 267 Running
20. Tony Stewart Chevrolet 267 Running
21. Carl Edwards Ford 267 Running
22. A.J. Almendinger Toyota 267 Running
23. Danica Patrick Chevrolet 267 Running
24. Austin Dillon Chevrolet 267 Running
25. David Stremme Toyota 267 Running
26. David Ragan Toyota 265 Running
27. David Reutimann Toyota 263 Running
28. David Gilliland Ford 262 Running
29. Ken Schrader Ford 262 Running
30. Paul Menard Chevrolet 259 Running
31. Brian Vickers Toyota 240 Accident
32. J.J. Yeley Chevrolet 165 Engine
33. Brad Keselowski Ford 153 Running
34. Greg Biffle Ford 151 Running
35. Denny Hamlin Toyota 147 Accident
36. Landon Cassill Chevrolet 104 Accident
37. Joe Nemechek Toyota 95 Vibration
38. Michael McDowell Ford 94 Electrical
39. Josh Wise Ford 77 Electrical
40. Dave Blaney Chevrolet 62 Accident
41. Mike Bliss Toyota 57 Vibration
42. Travis Kvapil Toyota 47 Accident
43. Scott Riggs Ford 6 Transmission
Average Speed: 131.948 mph
Time of Race: 3 hrs., 2 mins., 7 secs.
Margin of Victory: 0.699 seconds
Lead Changes: 11 among 6 drivers
Cautions: 10 for 42 laps