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Strategy propels Kenseth to wild Kentucky win

Matt Kenseth won Sunday’s third annual Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway for his series-leading fourth win of the 2013 season.

The race was postponed from Saturday night to Sunday afternoon after rain forced NASCAR to postpone the event meaning drivers and crews would have to adapt from a planned night-race to a race which would now be run the the midday heat.

“It threw me for a huge loop,” Kyle Busch said about the change of race time. “Really, really edgy to drive out there today.”

With 30 laps to go, Kenseth wasn’t in position to win.

Jimmie Johnson, who led a race-high 182 laps, found himself in the lead when the caution came out with 24 laps to go after Brian Vickers hit the turn-four wall.

Despite having his left-side tires being worn, Johnson’s crew opted to not to change tires. Kenseth, who was fourth coming to pit road, took fuel only on the final pit stop which gave him the race lead with Johnson in second.

“I thought he [Jason Ratcliff, crew chief] was slightly crazy when it happened,” Kenseth said about the late-race pit strategy.

After getting a slow restart, Johnson spun his Chevrolet in turn one, bringing out the caution and dropping the dominant car from contention for the win to 22nd.

The race’s final restart saw Kenseth pull away from the rest of the field en route to a  0.699-second victory over second-place finishing Jamie McMurray.

“I didn’t think there was any way we were going to hold on for that win,” Kenseth said in victory lane. “Made the right call at the right time and those guys got it done on pit road.

Sunday’s win marks the third time in 2013 that Kenseth has won a race on a 1.5-mile track (Las Veags and Kansas).

The victory for Kenseth also comes on the one-year anniversary of his announcement he would leave his previous team, Roush Fenway Racing, at the end of the 2012 season.

One year and four wins later, Kenseth feels good about the move to Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR).

“I dreamed about it, but I didn’t believe it would be realistic,” Kenseth said about his success with JGR thus far in 2013.

“We’ve had some moments that have tested us this season and, obviously, it’s great to have the four wins. Hope to keep it rolling and have a lot of fun.”

The race was slowed by 10 caution flags throughout the course of the race, including a competition caution at lap 30 to check tire wear.

Defending race-winner, Brad Keselowski, was caught up in a lap 49 crash after he and Kurt Busch made contact on the front stretch, sending Keselowski’s car in the path of Greg Biffle, Dave Blaney, Landon Cassill, Travis Kvapil, and Paul Menard.

“We had the bottom lane on two or three restarts in a row and got shuffled back a little bit,” said Keselowski. “We were trying to get patient because it looked like we will get the whole race in before 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.”

Like Keselowski, Denny Hamlin’s day ended early Sunday at Kentucky.

After cutting a right front-tire early, Hamlin drove his way through the field before another cut tire ended his race after 149 laps.

Despite driving his car to the garage, Hamlin was taken to the infield care center for what turned out to be knee pain and a headache.

“Just got wrecked around a little bit,” Hamlin said. “Banged my knee pretty good up against the steering column.

“I feel a lot better now.”

Heading into next weekend’s race at Daytona International Speedway, Johnson holds a 38-point lead over Carl Edwards in the championship standings.

Quaker State 400 Unofficial Results 

  1. Matt Kenseth 
  2. Jamie McMurray
  3. Clint Bowyer
  4. Joey Logano
  5. Kyle Busch
  6. Kurt Busch
  7. Martin Truex Jr.
  8. Jeff Gordon
  9. Jimmie Johnson
  10. Kevin Harvick
  11. Kasey Kahne
  12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  13. Marcos Ambrose
  14. Ryan Newman
  15. Aric Almirola
  16. Juan Pablo Montoya
  17. Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
  18. Casey Mears
  19. Jeff Burton
  20. Tony Stewart
  21. Carl Edwards
  22. AJ Allmendinger
  23. Danica Patrick
  24. Austin Dillon
  25. David Stremme
  26. Daivd Ragan
  27. David Reutimann
  28. David Gilliland
  29. Ken Schrader
  30. Paul Menard
  31. Brian Vickers
  32. JJ Yeley
  33. Brad Keselowski
  34. Greg Biffle
  35. Denny Hamlin
  36. Landon Cassill
  37. Joe Nemechek
  38. Michael McDowell
  39. Josh Wise
  40. Dave Blaney
  41. Mike Bliss
  42. Travis Kvapil
  43. Scott Riggs

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