SPARTA, Ky. – Matt Kenseth corralled his first Kentucky Speedway NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) victory by gaining the race lead on a fuel-only pit stop with 23 laps remaining and raced away to a 0.699 of a second victory in the Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts.
Kenseth registers his first top-five Kentucky Speedway NSCS finish and is one of four drivers to own three top-10 finishes at the speedway through three series starts. The first-year Joe Gibbs Racing driver’s previous best Kentucky Speedway NSCS finish was sixth on July 9, 2011 and he placed seventh on June 30, 2012.
“I didn’t roll the dice, (crew chief) Jason (Ratcliff) did. I thought he was a slightly crazy when it happened.
“This is such a great team and a great opportunity for me. It’s been just an unbelievable season and year of my life, honestly. Jason did a great job. 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 these guys got it done on pit road,” Kenseth said.
After ending a 15-year tenure with Roush Fenway Racing at the end of 2012, he said he’s a bit surprised to be holding the lead in NSCS victories near the midpoint of the season.
“I dreamed about it, but I didn’t imagine it would be realistic. 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,” he added.
The oldest NSCS race winner in track history at age 41, Kenseth qualified 16th and posted the greatest improvement from a starting position by a Kentucky Speedway NSCS race winner. He raced second on Lap 60, led for the first time from Laps 95-108 and improved from the fourth spot on a gutsy late pit stop. He led the closing 23 circuits of the 267-lap event and paced 38 laps on the day.
He captured today’s Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts title by the series’ second-closest margin of victory at the track ahead of Earnhardt Ganassi driver Jamie McMurray.
Michael Waltrip Racing driver Clint Bowyer, Penske Racing’s Joey Logano and Kenseth’s JGR teammate, Kyle Busch, the inaugural Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts winner, rounded out the race top five.
McMurray snared his first NSCS top-five finish at Kentucky Speedway.
“It was a really good day for us. I wasn’t sure after Happy Hour what we had. We’ve had really quick cars for the last two months, and have not been able to capitalize on it. We’ve had really unfortunate luck. But it’s cool to have a really good run. I was quite a bit quicker than him (Clint Bowyer), and I guess the No. 20 (Matt Kenseth) wasn’t on tires, so you are just fighting to get by as quick as you can because you never know when a caution is going to come out, or how it is going to play out,” McMurray said.
Hendrick Motorsports driver and current NSCS championship leader Jimmie Johnson had a solid day ruined on the Lap 247 restart that followed Kenseth’s winning pit move. Johnson’s No. 48 spun in Turn 2, but he rebounded with a ninth-place showing that marks his second career top-10 Kentucky Speedway NSCS finish. He led a series single-race track record 182 laps. Busch held the previous record after leading 125 laps during his victorious inaugural event effort.
Today’s race concludes a tripleheader NASCAR weekend at the speedway. Action returns to the 1.5-mile Bluegrass State tri-oval September 20 with the ARCA Racing Series ZLOOP 150 and September 21 NASCAR Nationwide Series Kentucky 300.
Tickets, infield Fan Zone passes and campsites can be purchased at http://www.kentuckyspeedway.com , (859) 578-2300 and the Kentucky Speedway ticket office at 1 Speedway Drive in Sparta, Ky., just off Interstate 71 Exit 57 and Ky. Hwy. 35 north beginning at 9 a.m. tomorrow.
-Story by Mike Schmaltz
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