Key Moment – With the laps winding down, Kyle Busch’s car, the most dominant one all night, started to fall off. On lap 355 of 367, Matt Kenseth took advantage of Busch’s misfortune, grabbed the lead and went on to score the 27th victory of his Sprint Cup career and his third on he season.
In a Nutshell – Kyle Busch led all night, Matt Kenseth led when they waved the checkered flag. Matt went home happy, Kyle went home pissed.
Dramatic Moment – On a lap 332 restart, Kasey Kahne went all in to try and take the lead from Kyle Busch. He grabbed the lead briefly on the lap when the green flew, Busch regained it before they got back to the start / finish line but Kahne was on his inside. As the two roared into turn one, Busch backed off while Kahne drove into the corner a little further than he should have. As a result he smacked the outside wall, brought out the caution and ended his hopes of winning the race.
What They’ll be Talking About Around the Water Cooler
Kyle Busch dominated the race, leading 265 out of 367 laps, but couldn’t hold off his red hot Joe Gibbs Racing teammate in the final laps of the race. Busch was poised to sweep another race weekend in NASCAR, but instead, he fell like a stone back through the top cars from second to sixth over the final eight laps.
Matt Kenseth’s crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, was at home watching the race from his couch thanks to the NASCAR imposed suspension after the engine violation from Kansas. Wally Brown, the interim crew chief, is now 1-0 as a Cup Series crew chief. Kenseth has been very strong since the Kansas penalties were announced, winning the pole and finishing seventh at Richmond, leading the most laps and finishing eighth at Talladega and now winning at Darlington.
Fans who have just recently started following the sport might not realize just how great Jeff Gordon is. Saturday night was his 300th top-5 finish in 700 career starts. Before Gordon’s finish in the Southern 500, only three drivers had accomplished 700 starts and 300 top 5s. Richard Petty, David Pearson and Bobby Allison were the other three who had accomplished the feat. In case you don’t remember, all three are in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
Darlington is known as the Track Too Tough to Tame, but for the first 302 laps on Saturday night, it looked like it was anything but that. One yellow flag flew for a lame debris caution during that first 301 lap run. Four cautions flew over the final 65 laps, all for accidents, which added some legitimacy to the grand ol’ lady’s nickname.
The racing surface at Darlington is aging since the repave five years ago. Lap times were dropping off by nearly a second a lap within 20 circuits of pit stops both Friday and Saturday. Kyle Busch put on fresh tires after just an eight-lap green flag run Friday night en route to victory lane in the Nationwide race. The track isn’t as bumpy as it used to be, but it certainly is still devouring tires at a rate that is getting closer to the way it used to be.
Denny Hamlin ran all 367 laps Saturday and came home in the second position. In the post race press conference he admitted he was sore but insisted it wasn’t his recuperating back that was the issue. He said that his neck, arms and shoulders were sore simply from not being in top racing shape. He noted that, when the season starts you ease into race shape with less than demanding races at Daytona and Phoenix. Being out of the car for a month and a half and only running a few laps at Talladega meant that Hamlin lost some of the fitness he normally has. He is confident that he’ll be ready to run the full 600 miles when the next points race rolls around in two weeks. The All-Star event next week is considerably shorter than points-paying events
The Hindenburg Award for Foul Fortune
Defending Cup Series Champ Brad Keselowski was caught up in the accident with Kurt Busch and Casey Mears on lap 313. The melee cost Keselwoski and Mears dearly, relegating the duo to finishes of 32nd and 37th, respectively.
David Ragan turned the Cup world on its collective ear last weekend, winning the plate race at Talladega. This week, he struggled all night with an ill race car and eventually took it to the garage with a foul engine on lap 318.
Kasey Kahne’s night ended up with a 17th-place finish, but he was on the verge of taking the win with just over 30 laps to go when he ran out of talent in turn one and flattened the side of his race car.
Kurt Busch started on the pole and led the race early but ended up being caught up in a caution flag on lap 313 that caused some minor damage. In the end he slid back to a 14th-place finish.
David Stremme and the Swan Racing team are trying hard to chase the dream in the Cup series. Unfortunately for them their night ended on lap 230 with a failed engine.
The “Seven Come for Eleven” Award for Fine Fortune
Juan Pablo Montoya was sitting on pit lane as the caution flag flew on lap 303. He rejoined the race and was given the lucky dog. He pitted two more times under that caution and then raced his way to sixth place on the lap 317 restart after the next caution. When it all shook out he finished the night in eighth place. Maybe his luck is finally turning around.
Clint Bowyer drug his gas man and the fuel can out of his pit box on lap 243 and had to serve a drive through penalty as a result. He went a lap down but got the lucky dog on the lap 313 and turned that fortune into a 11th-place finish.
Greg Biffle made it very clear in his post-race comments that his car has been less than fast all season, and Saturday night was no exception. Despite running a car that he feels is noncompetitive with the point-leading and race-winning cars, Biffle soldiered to a 13th-place finish.
- Matt Kenseth broke a tie with Kyle Busch in career wins by notching his 27th of his career. He is six wins shy of breaking into the top 20 on the all-time Cup win list.
- NASCAR isn’t posting attendance figures anymore in their box scores but the stands were quite full on Saturday night. Racing on Mother’s day weekend just a week before the two weekends of racing in Charlotte, Darlington showed herself well.
- Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was the rookie of the race again. He has taken the honor eight times in 11 races this season. Danica Patrick has scored the award in the other three races. Timmy Hill is also running for rookie honors for underfunded FAS Lane Racing.
- Matt Kenseth has led 24% of all of the laps raced in the Cup Series this season. That’s 764 circuits out of 3,182.
- Jimmie Johnson has completed the most laps of any driver this season. He has run all but two of the laps of competition in 2013.
- Kurt Busch’s pole winning speed is a new track record for Darlington Raceway.
Top 10 finishes by manufacturer
Chevrolet – 6
Toyota – 3
Ford – 1
What’s the Points
Jimmie Johnson is still the leader after 11 races this season. His advantage over second-place Carl Edwards ballooned to 44 markers after Saturday night in Darlington. Matt Kenseth’s win and the restoration of points taken for his engine violation at Kansas have him in third place, although he is more than a full race behind Johnson, 59 points out of the top spot. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. finished ninth on Saturday night but slipped back one position in the standings thanks to Kenseth’s victory. Clint Bowyer is continuing to do his best to shake off the runner-up jinx as he maintains the fifth position in the point standings.
Kasey Kahne has a win in his pocket this season, but he’s only managed to climb to sixth place in points. The driver of the No. 5 Chevrolet gained one spot on Saturday night thanks to Brad Keselowski’s long night. Kyle Busch jumped up two spots with his strong performance Saturday and is now eighth, 98 points behind the leader. Aric Almirola lost a spot in the standings this week but is still sitting in ninth. Kevin Harvick, who rebounded from his Talladega nightmare and gained two spots to get back to 10th. Technically, Harvick is tied with Paul Menard but holds the tie breaker thanks to his race win.
Denny Hamlin is back in the seat and now launches his pursuit of the top 20. Hamlin gained four spots Saturday night to the 27th spot. He is currently 61 points behind Jeff Burton, the 20th place driver. With 15 races left to run before the Chase, Hamlin needs to gain four points per race on 20th and still needs to win a race or two to make the Chase.
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six pack an instant classic) – 296 green flag laps out of the first 302 set up Saturday night to be a total snoozer. The four cautions over the last 59 circuits certainly gave the race a chance to earn some extra beers, and Kasey Kahne pushing it to the limit and bouncing it off of the wall definitely added some spice. Nine lead changes among four drivers didn’t do much to liven things up, though. The fact that it is Darlington earns a couple of bonus points but we can’t give the race more than three adult pops. Tires falling off and cars slipping and sliding and bouncing off of walls is getting us back to the Darlington of old, but we still have a way to go.
The Sprint All-Star race is next Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Watch for some tempers, some boring racing and the total screaming outrage when Danica Patrick wins the popularity vote to get into the All-Star race. The broadcast is on SPEED at 7:30 PM and on MRN radio.
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