KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Matt Kenseth’s No. 17 Zest Ford was the fastest car left running Sunday afternoon at Kansas Speedway.
On a day where crashes were common and right-front tires couldn’t seem to stay together, Kenseth maneuvered his way to the front during the Hollywood Casino 400 to score his third Sprint Cup victory of the year and second in the Chase.
The race featured a season-high 14 caution flags, many for right-front tire failures on the fresh asphalt at Kansas Speedway. Several drivers who were contenders during Sunday’s race, including Jimmie Johnson, Aric Almirola, Kyle Busch and Greg Biffle, ended up crashing and removing themselves from contention.
Kenseth wasn’t immune to the trouble that bit so many Sunday. He bounced off the wall trying to avoid Almirola when he spun on lap 172. Kenseth came down pit road on lap 177 under caution for repairs, but he somehow managed to fight his way back to the front.
Kenseth retook the lead on lap 218 during a round of pit stops under caution and that turned out to be the final lead change of the race. Kenseth ended up leading a race-high 77 laps and finished .495-second ahead of second-place Martin Truex, Jr.
Many wondered if Kenseth, who is leaving Roush Fenway Racing at the end of the season to join Joe Gibbs Racing in 2013, would be able to win races during the Chase. With two victories in the last three races, it appears Kenseth has put any doubts to rest.
“It really means a lot. I don’t want to get too emotional,” said Kenseth, who battled to hold back tears in victory lane. “I’ve really got to thank God for all the opportunities that he has put in front of me and all the guidance he has given me through pretty much my whole life, not just all of this going on.
“I really want to thank Jack Roush, Robbie Reiser, without them I have never been a part of Roush Fenway Racing,” Kenseth said.
The victory was the 24th of Kenseth’s career in 468 series starts.
Paul Menard finished third, followed closely by Kasey Kahne and Tony Stewart.
Brad Keselowski finished eighth and leaves Kansas with a seven-point lead over Johnson in the championship standings. Johnson, who backed his car into the wall on lap 136, battled back to finish right behind Keselowski in ninth.
“I had to get a look at it here. It is pretty tore up,” Johnson said after inspecting his No. 48 Chevrolet after the race. “Definitely proud of this team and the fact that we never give up, we continue to fight and try to get every point we can.”
Keselowski was just happy to escape Kansas with a top-10 finish.
“I don’t even know how to explain it. I’m ready to go home and have a couple beers,” Keselowski said after exiting his No. 2 Penske Racing Dodge. “It was just a long day. Everybody has been asking all season long where the cautions have been. Well we can answer that. They flew to Kansas, they’ve been hanging out here because there was caution after caution.
“It seemed like every wreck that happened today happened right in front of me. Glad to have survived the carnage and brought home a decent car,” Keselowski said.