SPARTA - 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 on Sunday and raced away to a 0.699 of a second victory in the Quaker State 400 presented by Advance Auto Parts.
Kenseth registered 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 definitely an up and down day, but we had a really fast car. Speed hasn’t been an issue for us this year, we just haven’t been able to get the finishes I feel like we deserve,” 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.
The race concluded a tripleheader NASCAR weekend at Kentucky Speedway. Action will return 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.