Editor’s Note: Mike Neff is writing Matt’s column this week. The Key Moment – On the penultimate caution of the race, Matt Kenseth took fuel only while Kasey Kahne, who appeared to have the dominant car, took two tires and had to check up exiting his pit box. As a result, Kahne restarted sixth, had …
Jimmie Johnson made the most of his 400th career start, edging ahead of Brad Keselowski just as the final caution flag flew. That gave the No. 48 entry the preferred outside groove for the final restart, where it was all over after that. (Finally.)
Duel One – Kevin Harvick thought it was time to go, prior to the first green-flag pit stop of the race and he went, blowing by Trevor Bayne on Lap 37. That was pretty much all she wrote. The field spent the rest of the day simply trying to lap up Harvick’s beer exhaust, the Bud Chevy in another time zone just like the Sprint Unlimited Saturday night.
Duel Two – Jeff Gordon led. Then he sped… on pit road, so Kyle Busch pretty much took control from there. Kasey Kahne tried, and failed on the last lap to make a charge as teammate Matt Kenseth served as sacrificial lamb for Busch’s second career Duel victory.
On lap 16, Tony Stewart attempted to change lanes and make a move on race leader Matt Kenseth. While he wasn’t cleared by his spotter, Stewart chose to shift down low which resulted in his left rear corner making contact with the right front of Marcos Ambrose. Stewart’s car got out of shape, made contact with the apron and sent a shower of sparks over several cars that were pursuing him. Jimmie Johnson checked up in the high line, which caused Denny Hamlin to make contact with the five-time champ, turning him down in front of the oncoming pack and ultimately taking out one-third of the field. The accident eliminated defending champion Kyle Busch, two-time Unlimited champion Jeff Gordon, 2006 winner Denny Hamlin and 1999 winner Mark Martin. Just like that, the field was reduced by one-third, many contenders sat idle in the garage and the drafting – along with the racing – became a shell of its former self.
Jeff Gordon was among the drivers who pitted on a quick caution on lap 155. In the end, it resulted in the No. 24 having enough fuel to make it to the finish when Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. had to pit from the front of the field. Gordon ended the night taking the first win for Hendrick Motorsports at Homestead-Miami Speedway while his teammate Jimmie Johnson sat in his car in the garage, having lost the championship due to a faulty rear end.
Jeff Gordon intentionally wrecked Clint Bowyer, collecting Joey Logano and Aric Almirola as the field was coming to the white flag. The result was a green-white-checkered finish, one that saw Danica Patrick wreck on the first of two laps, lay down a large amount of oil on the track, then cause a complete melee on the front straight as the cars came to the checkered flag. The final wreck tore up over half-a-dozen race cars while the incident between Gordon and Bowyer set off a rumble in the garage, one reminiscent of the Tide team vs. the Kodiak crew at the 1989 Winston.
During the seventh caution flag of the night, Brad Keselowski took two tires on his pit stop to regain lost track position while Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch took four. That got Kes the lead, for a series of restarts but kept what was likely the fastest car from having the speed to pull away. While Busch faded into the background, that decision would ultimately result in Johnson and Keselowski finishing first and second.
During the pit stops for a lap 476 caution, Brad Keselowski and Dale Earnhardt Jr. stayed out while Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and the rest of the lead lap cars came in for two tires. Johnson restarted behind Keselowski and worked him over for four laps before taking the lead for good. In the end, Keselowski ended up about where he would have finished with tires, while some of the other top contenders on the day ended up falling back to unsatisfying results.
Matt Kenseth slapped on two fresh tires, came out the leader with 49 laps left and became the de facto winner in an event where there were exactly two on-track, green-flag passes for the lead over the course of 400 miles – lap 1 and during a mid-race wreck.
Brad Keselowski ran out of gas, down the backstretch with 58 laps left, allowing Clint Bowyer to breeze by. That left the No. 15 team virtually unencumbered as they turned on the fuel mileage jets, put a Rip Van Winkle spell over the stands, and advanced to a shocking intermediate oval victory at Charlotte.