KANSAS CITY, Kan. (MCT) — Matt Kenseth survived a caution-crazy first NASCAR Sprint Cup race on Kansas Speedway’s repaved and reconfigured track Sunday.
He even contributed to the carnage. And that’s what enabled Kenseth to win the Hollywood Casino 400 in front of an estimated 78,000 spectators on a warm but cloudy afternoon.
The repaved surface, which features more treacherous variable banking, took its toll on tires and fenders in a race that featured a track-record 14 cautions for 63 laps, breaking the record of 13 cautions set in the inaugural race in 2001.
And after Kenseth’s Ford hit the fence on caution No. 13, when Aric Almirola’s Ford went spinning out of control on lap No. 215 of 267, he surprisingly wound up in prime position to win his first Sprint Cup race at Kansas Speedway in 14 tries.
“I knew he was going to spin before he knew he was going to spin,” Kenseth said. “I saw that thing going around. That’s what gave us the damage, which was still my fault. I got into the wall, and we had to come and fix it.
“It actually turned out to be some good fortune. Didn’t slow the car down. I had more fuel than anybody. They had to wait to fill their tanks, and we got our tank full faster, plus we had a really good pit stop, were able to pass all those guys. Put me out front and gave us a chance.”
Sure enough, Kenseth grabbed the lead from Roush Fenway teammate Greg Biffle after the restart and beat Martin Truex Jr. to the checkered flag by 0.495 seconds. It was Kenseth’s third win of the season and second Chase for the Sprint Cup victory in three weeks. Paul Menard, a non-chase driver, was a surprising third in a Chevrolet.
“Drivers, teams, we don’t really like repaves,” Kenseth said. “We complain about them. I was thinking, ‘Man, this has to be entertaining for everybody to watch.’ There was a lot of wild stuff happening.”
Indeed, the wild racing on an unfamiliar track with higher, variable banking took its toll on a who’s who of NASCAR.
Kyle Busch went spinning out of control early and careened across the grass infield. Defending Sprint Cup champion Tony Stewart spun out on the back stretch. Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson nearly saw his title hopes damaged in a wreck, but his crew taped up the damage so effectively that he saved a ninth-place finish and remained seven points behind Chase leader Brad Keselowski, who finished eighth.
“Everybody has been asking all season long, ‘Where have all the cautions been?’ said a drained Keselowski. “The answer is they flew to Kansas because there was caution after caution, and it seemed like every wreck today seemed to happen in front of me.”
In last April’s STP 400, the final race on Kansas Speedway’s old surface, there were a record-low three cautions, but the drivers didn’t blame the repave or the tires for the wrecks.
They blamed themselves.
“People are impatient,” Menard said. “A lot of restarts. Doesn’t matter what track you’re at, if there’s a restart, you have to get all you can. Carrying a lot of speed here, so it’s hard to pass. I’m sure everybody was going for it.”
With the win, Kenseth moved from 11th to ninth with four races to go in the Chase and is a distant 55 points out of the lead because of a rocky start that included finishes of 18th, 14th and 35th before he won at Talladega.
“We’ve had two great races where they couldn’t be better, and we had four that probably couldn’t be a lot worse,” said Kenseth, the 2003 Sprint Cup champion who is moving to Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 20 car next year after 13 seasons with Roush-Fenway.
“It’s been up and down. I thought in the Chase last year we had a shot to win the championship. I feel like I let my guys down, didn’t do a good enough job making decisions on the track or even off the track, whatever. Felt like I cost us, but our cars were fast enough to win.”
“This season we started off real fast, could run in the top five every week it felt like. We went through a couple months where we didn’t perform as well. Unfortunately, one of those months ran into the Chase. It feels good to get here, have a fast car, have everything happen right, be able to get the win.”