Matt Kenseth may not have had the most dominant car, but after passing Kyle Busch with a brilliant cross-over move with 25 laps to go, the Cambridge, Wisconsin driver pulled away late to take his third win of the season Saturday night at Charlotte by 0.968 seconds. The win also gave Kenseth the third spot in the point standings, his 21st career Sprint Victory, and his second career victory at Charlotte.
“It was an awesome win for us,” Kenseth said post-race. “We had a pretty decent car all night. I felt like we had a car that probably the last 150 laps or so that if we could get it to the front, it would be hard to beat.”
Lengthy green flag runs were the early theme of the race with much of the first 275 laps run under green-flag conditions and it was hard to pass anyone all night, so clean air was of the utmost importance. Kyle Busch, who battled back from having to start at the rear of the field due to a stripped engine bolt, took the lead at lap 200, leading the next 109 laps until Kenseth passed him with 25 laps to go and managed to pull away late in the race for the win with Busch, despite having led 111 of the 334 laps, being forced to settle for second with current Chase leader Carl Edwards in third position, while Kasey Kahne and Marcos Ambrose rounded out the top-5. Sixth was Kevin Harvick, who now sits five markers back from Edwards. Seventh through tenth were A.J. Allmendinger, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Newman.
The five-time defending Sprint Cup Series champion, Jimmie Johnson, was in position for another great points night, even leading during the race, until fate dealt him a cruel hand with 17 laps to go. Following contact with Ryan Newman in Turn 2, Johnson’s car got sideways, and as the El Cajon, California native tried to save the car, it hooked head-on into the outside wall, lifting the back wheels off of the car.
“Unfortunate that we wrecked,” Johnson said after being checked and released from the Infield Care Center. “We got into Turn 1 and the No. 39 (Ryan Newman) was real tight on my outside and pulled me around, from there on I was just hanging on.”
Johnson finished 34th and now sits 35 markers back in eighth-place in the Chase, dealing his hopes for a potential sixth-straight title a crushing blow.
“We just have to go racing.That is all there is to it,” Johnson emphasized. “Definitely not the night we wanted. This is not going to help us win a sixth championship. Promise you, this team and myself, we won’t quit. We will go for every point we can from here on out and hopefully we are still champions at the end of the year.”
The night was not kind to teammate Dale Earnhardt, Jr. either, who had to make an unscheduled pit stop on lap 252 that would relegate him to a 19th-place finish, one lap off the pace, pretty much ending any real or imagined title hopes for the driver of the No. 88 Amp Energy Drink/National Guard Chevrolet Impala.
“Absolutely, we should have finished on the lead lap, racing around them guys,” a frustrated Dale Jr. said after the race. “I think we ran with the No. 20 most of the night. We should have outran him, that would have been where we would have ended up somewhere in front of or right behind him, that is where we ran most of the night before things just started going wrong for us. I would like to improve the cars a little bit, we need to gain a little grip on the left front, working on some good ideas and stuff like that to help the left front work a little bit better, and there is a couple of things that I think we can improve on, in that regard. Minimize mistakes; I have said it all along. T he driver can’t make them; neither can the crew, when we don’t make them we normally finish pretty well.”
The average speed of the race was 146.194 mph, which was slowed by eight cautions for 34 laps. There were 16 lead changes among 10 drivers and the race took 3 hours, 25 minutes, and 37 seconds with an estimated attendance of 105,000 fans.
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