Matt Kenseth took victory at Kentucky Speedway after a bold move from crew chief Jason Radcliff allowed the Joe Gibbs Racing driver to secure his fourth win of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup season.
Kenseth beat race leader Jimmie Johnson out of the pits with 25 laps remaining after taking fuel only, proving to be the perfect strategy to score his highest number of wins in a single season since 2006.
“I didn’t roll the dice, Jason did. I thought he was crazy when it happened,” said Kenseth. “I didn’t think there was any way we were going to hold on for that win. He made the right call at the right time and those guys got it done on pit road. These guys make me look so good every week. I couldn’t be any happier and prouder to be a part of this.”
The win looked like it was going to be going to championship leader Johnson up until that point, who had led a race-high 182 laps, but a wreck for the #48 driver allowed Kenseth to pull away for the win from the final restart.
However, Johnson was unimpressed with the #20’s restart, making another complaint about restarts since his penalty at Dover.
“The 20 broke pace-car speed, which you’re not supposed to do,” said Johnson, who ended up finishing in ninth despite his contact with the wall. “But they aren’t calling guys on that so I need to start trying that in the future. We were kind of in an awkward situation in that restart there and then we were three- or four-wide going into the corner and something happened with the air and just kind turned me around. It was unfortunate but at least we brought it back for a good finish.”
Fan-favourite Dale Earnhardt, Jr. started the race from pole on Sunday after rain washed out the Saturday night start-time. Earnhardt and Johnson both suffered damage to their cars early in the race as a result of tyre debris from Denny Hamlin‘s car. Johnson took the lead from Earnhardt on lap 43 and dominated until Brian Vickers wreck, bringing out the caution with 26 laps to go.
“We had a good car but we ran over some tyre casing and knocked the front bumper off it,” Earnhardt said. “The guys worked really hard to put it back the best they could but it was bent up really good. We just had to work really hard all day to fix all that stuff and keep up with the racetrack, too. We just got behind early. I’m happy with 12th from all that.”
Johnson maintains his points advantage over Carl Edwards, leading by 38 points as the season prepares for its second trip to Daytona of the year. Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick and Kenseth round out the top five.