Matt Kenseth wins epic Bristol battle
April 19, 2015, Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
BRISTOL, Tenn. -- In a race delayed and interrupted by rain, and ended in overtime, Matt Kenseth broke a drought of more than a year's standing in Sunday's Food City 500 in Support of Steve Byrnes at Bristol Motor Speedway.
In a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race that went 11 laps past its scheduled distance of 500 laps -- making it the longest race in the history of the 0.533-mile short track -- Kenseth crossed the finish line 0.287 seconds ahead of Jimmie Johnson, who recovered from a succession of issues to claim the runner-up finish.
Kenseth, who inherited the top spot when Kurt Busch pitted from the lead under the ninth caution on Lap 477, stayed out front the rest of the way. He was three car lengths ahead of third-place finisher Jeff Gordon when Carl Edwards got loose underneath Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet and ignited the wreck that brought out caution No. 11 and demolished Busch's Chevy in the process.
After a brief delay because of a late shower, a far cry from the 3-hour, 58-minute hiatus that came after the first 22 laps, Kenseth pulled away on a green-white-checkered-flag restart and was unchallenged to the finish, as Johnson got past Gordon for second.
The victory was Kenseth's fourth at Bristol, his most at any track, and the 32nd of his career. Kenseth broke a 51-race winless streak dating to the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in September 2013. The win all but locks up Kenseth's spot in the Chase.
"It feels good to be back here," Kenseth said, sitting at the dais for the winner's press conference. "Really, honestly, it does, it wears on you a little bit. We had such a good 2013 (seven victories), we came a little short of the ultimate prize there, but we had such a great season, and last year there were some races we had some chances to win and just things wouldn't line up for us.
"We just couldn't get it to happen. Tonight was kind of the opposite. Everything worked out. We had a good car on the short run, not so good on the last 40 or 50 laps of the run, and we had all them cautions and short runs at the end that really benefited us."
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. ran fourth, followed by Ryan Newman. Danica Patrick was ninth, recording her second top-10 of the year and the sixth of her career, breaking a tie with Janet Guthrie for most ever by a female driver.
Johnson's second-place finish was an adventure. The driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet survived two wrecks and a lost lap (which he regained as the highest-scored lapped car under caution for debris on Lap 344).
Johnson first sustained damage when Kurt Busch's car twitched underneath him in Turn 3 and sent Johnson's Chevrolet spinning.
"Yeah, the first half of the race or first third of the race I was behind the 24 (Gordon), and we just worked our way up through the field and things went pretty smoothly," said Johnson, who started 28th after a lackluster qualifying effort. "I had a very fast race car and felt like we were going to have a strong night. And then one of the restarts midway through the race, the 41 (Busch) -- I don't know what happened -- but he lost control, got into me.
"I went into the outside wall in Turn 3, and a caution came out. We had a fair amount of damage to the right rear quarter panel. I didn't think I hit that hard, but after I got out of the race car and saw the damage, no wonder it didn't drive very good after that, and we needed two or three pit stops to get the quarter panel pushed back down so there was some sideforce on the back of the car on corner entry and once we did that, we weren't as good as we were at the start of the race but still very competitive.
"(Crew chief) Chad (Knaus) called for two (tires) late in the race. That picked us up a few more spots, and then I think the last two restarts I was in the outside lane, and that helped me out quite a bit. Wild night, but glad to get it in."
If Kenseth's winless streak ended, so did the productive streaks of three other drivers. Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano and Martin Truex Jr. all had posted top 10s in each of the first seven Cup races this season, but all three drivers had major issues on Sunday.
Logano slammed into Penske teammate Brad Keselowski after Keselowski lost control on a slick track on Lap 18. After extensive repairs, Logano finished 40th.
Truex's Chevrolet experienced a bad vibration, then a loose wheel. He finished 29th, seven laps down.
Harvick was unable to avoid the wrecked car of David Ragan after contact between Johnson and Jeb Burton started a melee on lap 310. Harvick, who led 184 laps before the accident, spent 43 laps in the garage for repairs and came home 38th.
Nevertheless, Harvick, Logano and Truex hold the top three positions in the series standings. Harvick leads Logano by 30 points and Truex by 33. Johnson is fourth, 56 points back.