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June 30, 2013

NASCAR: Quiet Kenseth pulls out win at Kentucky

Risky call by crew chief gives former Cup champ a victory on Sunday

Sparta, Ky. —  Throughout his NASCAR Sprint Cup career, Matt Kenseth has developed a  reputation as a guy who quietly puts himself in a position to win during a race and then finds a way to collect the trophy at the end.

On Sunday afternoon at Kentucky Speedway, the 2003 Sprint Cup champion lived up to his

reputation.

Kenseth benefited from a risky pit call late in the race by crew chief Jason Ratcliff and some misfortune for five-time series champion Jimmie Johnson to win the third annual Quaker State 400. It was Kenseth’s fourth victory of the season, which is a series high, after he started 16th.

The race was postponed on Saturday night due to rain.

“I dreamed about it, but I didn’t imagine it would be realistic,” Kenseth said about the four victories with Joe Gibbs Racing this season. “It’s been incredible. We’ve had some moments that have tested us already this season, but it’s great to have the four wins. Hopefully, we’ll be able to keep it rolling. It’s been fun.”

Kenseth took the lead for good on lap 244 during the last round of pit stops. Ratliff decided not to put any tires on the No. 20 Toyota Camry, as Kenseth beat Johnson off pit road for first place. Johnson, who entered the pits as the leader, only changed two right-side tires. The

majority of the drivers on the lead lap each made a four-tire stop.

“Actually when we rolled off pit road and I saw what everybody did, I looked to the guy beside me and I’m like, ‘I can’t believe we are the only one that did that,’” Ratcliff said.

Ratcliff’s call came as a shock to Kenseth.

“I thought he was slightly crazy when it happened,” Kenseth said. “Jason did a great job. I didn’t think there was any way we were going to hold on for that win, so he made the right call at the right time and these guys got it done on pit road.”

Immediately after the race restarted on lap 247, Johnson’s No. 48 Chevrolet SS got loose and spun out in turn 2 to help Kenseth even more. Fortunately, Johnson did not hit the wall and go a lap down, as he pitted the car for fresh rubber.

“We were kind of in an awkward situation in that restart there,” Johnson said. “We were like three and four wide going into the corner, then something happened with the air and just kind of turned me around. It was unfortunate, but at least we rallied back for a good finish.

“The No. 20 broke the pace car speed [on the restart], which you aren’t supposed to do. But [the NASCAR officials] aren’t calling guys on that, so I need to start trying that in the future.”

Johnson ended up ninth as he earned one bonus point for leading the most laps (182).

Kenseth’s old tires did not wear out on the final restart on lap 251 as he got away smoothly. He won by 0.699 seconds over second-place Jamie McMurray.

McMurray posted his best finish of the season, as he wrestled the runner-up spot away from Clint Bowyer in the closing laps. It was McMurray’s first top-five finish of the season along with his fourth top-10. McMurray started from the 23rd spot.

“Overall, I felt like it was a very good day,” McMurray said. “I didn’t feel like we ran significantly better today than the past 10 or 12 weeks. We were able to get the finish out of it. We didn’t have any flat tires or radiators break or people’s parts fall off the car and go through our radiator.”

Bowyer’s third-place run was his sixth top-five and 10th top-10 of 2013. He stayed third in the current NASCAR Sprint Cup point standings, as he is now 41 points behind points leader Johnson. Carl Edwards, who finished 21st on Sunday after leading the first 31 laps, remains

second in the standings, 38 points behind Johnson.

Penske Racing’s Joey Logano finished fourth, followed by inaugural Quaker State 400 victor Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr. and four-time Sprint Cup champion Jeff Gordon. Kevin Harvick was 10th and Kasey Kahne ended up 11th.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. had an up-and-down day. After starting from the pole, Earnhardt ran in the top two for the most of the first 43 circuits. He led for nine laps from the 34th to 42nd circuits. But on lap 39, Denny Hamlin cut down a right-front tire in turn 4. Earnhardt and Johnson accidentally ran over the shredded rubber from Hamlin’s tire.

Earnhardt got the short end of the stick on that incident. His No. 88 Chevrolet suffered damage to the splitter and brake duct in the right-front area of the car.

Earnhardt fell back to 25th on lap 69 as his team worked extensively on the car for several laps. But Earnhardt fought his way back to finish 12th, moving up one spot to sixth in the point standings.

It was not a good day for defending Quaker State 400 winner Brad Keselowski. On lap 49, Kurt Busch dropped down onto the apron entering turn 1. The 2004 Sprint Cup champ then moved up the track and hit Keselowski’s No. 2 Ford Fusion in the left-rear corner.

Keselowski spun and violently hit the turn 1 wall, collecting five drivers in the process. The five racers were Greg Biffle, Dave Blaney, Paul Menard, Landon Cassill and Travis Kvapil. Kurt Busch apologized for causing the wreck via his team’s radio shortly after it happened.

“I know he didn’t intentionally wreck me, but it is just one of those things,” Keselowski said.

“There is no reason to go down there, but he still did. We were trying to be patient because it looked like we would get the whole race in before [it might rain] and there is no reason to drive like an animal. Apparently, I am the only one that got that memo. It is one of those deals.”

Keselowski, the 2012 Sprint Cup champion, took a significant hit in the point standings. He dropped from ninth to 13th in the standings with no victories this season. Keselowski is 14 points out of 10th place, as the top 10 drivers after 26 races are guaranteed a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs at the end of the season.

South Bend native Ryan Newman led the Stewart-Haas Racing contingent with a 14th-place effort. SHR owner and Columbus native Tony Stewart wound up 20th, while teammate Danica Patrick finished 23rd.

NASCAR veteran Ken Schrader placed 29th. The Missouri native has been a recent competitor in both ARCA Racing Series events at Salem Speedway.

The Sprint Cup Series will return to action this coming Saturday in the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Fla.

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