Kenseth wins at Darlington minus crew chief Ratcliff|
Darlington, SC (Sports Network) - Despite not having crew chief Jason Ratcliff
at Darlington Raceway, Matt Kenseth won Saturday night's Southern 500 after
passing his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch, for the lead in the closing
Busch had dominated the race by leading 265 of 367 laps, but he suffered a
punctured right-rear tire, which allowed Kenseth to make his winning pass with
13 laps remaining.
"The car was really, really fast at the start of the race, and we had speed in
it," Kenseth said. "Then we just kind of got off. The racetrack changed, and
we got much looser than we anticipated. I don't know what they changed during
that last pit stop, but I told them about four laps into the run that, if we
went green to the end, we were going to be pretty good. It took off really
fast, so thankfully, we saved the best for last."
Kenseth claimed his third win of the season, which is the most in the series.
He also earned his 27th career Sprint Cup Series victory, including his first
in this famed 500-mile race at Darlington.
Prior to his win, Kenseth's best finish in 19 starts at Darlington was third,
which came in 2006. The 2003 series champion has two victories in the Daytona
500, but claimed his Darlington win was perhaps his biggest one.
"It's right up there," he said. "I don't know if I've had a win that feels
bigger than this. Obviously, this is a very historic racetrack, and the
Southern 500 is one of the most historic races there is anywhere."
On Wednesday, Kenseth's No. 20 team had its severe penalties significantly
reduced by the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel. Ratcliff's suspension
was shortened from six points-paying races to only one (Darlington). Wally
Brown, who filled in for Ratcliff, collected his first Sprint Cup victory as a
"Overall, the weekend went pretty good due to the preparation by the 20 (team)
and Jason Ratcliff," Brown said. "They put a lot of effort into several test
plans. We had a plan all weekend, and it actually went pretty smooth."
NASCAR assessed the penalties to the No. 20 team on April 24 after officials
found one of the connecting rods on Kenseth's engine used at Kansas did not
meet the minimum connecting rod weight. The violation was discovered during a
secondary post-race inspection of his motor at the NASCAR Research and
Development Center in Concord, N.C. Kenseth won that race.
Denny Hamlin, who is also Kenseth's teammate at JGR, finished second in his
first full race since suffering a compression fracture in his lower back seven
weeks ago in Fontana, Calif. It gave JGR a 1-2 finish. Hamlin returned to
competition last weekend at Talladega, completing just 25 laps in that race
before Brian Vickers relieved him in the No. 11 JGR Toyota.
"I'm sore and I'm tired," Hamlin said. "But, you know, it just takes a while.
Really, it's like starting your season over with. To start it back over at
Darlington for 500 miles, there's some muscles that have gotten weak. I've
gotten pretty sore and tired, mentally tired as well. I'll have a couple weeks
really to rest until the next long event (600-mile race on May 26 at
Charlotte), and we'll be good to go then."
Jeff Gordon's third-place run allowed him to claim his 300th top-5 finish in
his 700th career Cup start. Gordon became just the fourth driver in NASCAR's
top series with 300 or more top-5s, joining Bobby Allison, David Pearson and
"I wanted the 700th to be a memorable one, and I'm glad it wasn't like last
year's memory where we blew two left-rear tires back-to-back," Gordon said.
"This was much better than that. Top-three, that's fantastic. We needed this
kind of performance, a gutsy performance, for the points as well as to make
this one memorable."
Jimmie Johnson, who won at Darlington last year, finished fourth, while Kevin
Harvick took the fifth spot. Busch wound up in sixth. He won Friday night's
Nationwide Series race here, leading 107 of 147 laps in that event.
Prior to Kenseth passing him for the lead, Busch had been challenged by Kasey
Kahne for the top spot following a restart on lap 333. While running side-by-
side, Kahne got loose after it looked as though Busch barely made contact with
him. Kahne then scraped the outside wall in turn 2, forcing the fifth and
"We were racing hard," said Kahne, who finished 17th. "I cleared him getting
into (turn) 3, so I had the outside, and then I saw that he entered too early,
and I knew he wouldn't be able to turn when we got to the corner. I was going
along, and the next thing I know I was spinning."
Kahne and Busch also had a run-in in the early going at Talladega. Busch
nudged Kahne from behind and put him into the wall, triggering the first big
wreck in the race.
"That's three times this year that Kyle and I had contact, and I had a car
capable of winning," Kahne said.
Busch did not comment about the race after it concluded, as he quickly left
the racetrack in frustration.
Carl Edwards finished seventh, while Juan Pablo Montoya, Dale Earnhardt Jr.
and Ryan Newman completed the top-10.
Kurt Busch started on the pole and led 69 of the first 73 laps but faded from
there for a 14th-place finish. Busch set a new track qualifying record at
Darlington on Friday with a lap at 181.918 mph.
Danica Patrick finished five laps behind in 28th. Patrick made her second
career Sprint Cup start at Darlington one year ago, finishing 31st.
Johnson widened his points lead to 44 over Edwards, while Kenseth moved up one
spot to third in the standings (-59).
05/12 01:27:38 ET