Matt Kenseth notches Southern 500 victory

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Matt Kenseth continued his resurgence with Joe Gibbs Racing tonight as he passed Kyle Busch with 13 laps to go and pulled away to claim the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

In addition to Kenseth’s win, Denny Hamlin ensured a 1-2 finish for JGR with a stellar runner-up performance in his first full race since injuring his back earlier this season in a crash at Auto Club Speedway.

Meanwhile, Busch was forced to settle for a sixth-place result as his right rear tire was going down in the final laps. Busch appeared to be in the catbird’s seat for a Darlington weekend sweep; with about 35 laps to go, he had managed to survive a fierce battle with Kasey Kahne for the lead after Kahne went into the wall while trying to overtaking him.

But Kenseth managed to track down his teammate Busch and after a brief fight, he took the point for good and went on to score his first career victory at the track “Too Tough To Tame.”

“I’ve always dreamed about winning the Southern 500,” Kenseth said to Fox Sports in Victory Lane. “This, to me, feels bigger than probably any win in my career.”

The victory was also the first for Kenseth and the No. 20 team since they incurred a series of penalties that stemmed from Kenseth’s race-winning motor at Kansas Speedway failing an inspection last month. The original set of penalties from NASCAR were substantially reduced this week, but with regular crew chief Jason Ratcliff still off the pit box tonight (his six-race suspension was cut to one), Kenseth relied on the help of interim chief Wally Brown.

“I really feel bad that Jason’s not here — this is obviously his team and his effort — but Wally did a great job filling in,” Kenseth said.

As for Hamlin, he was spotted in his car after the race with a clear-cut look of exhaustion. But he was still very much pleased with the final outcome.

“I’m tired, just worn out,” he said to Fox. “It’s a tough, grueling race so there’s nothing to hang our heads about…The guys on pit road were flawless. They’re the best in the business, that’s all I can say. They kept picking us up spots, I kept doing my part on the track. We just needed a 600-mile race; we’ll get that in a few weeks [at Charlotte].”

“Charlotte, believe it or not, the 600-miler is not as grueling as [Darlington]. You have to stay so mentally tough for so long on top of the physical stuff you’ve got going on. It’s tough to overcome. Luckily, it was a good day for us.”

Jeff Gordon finished third to claim his 300th career Top 5 finish in his 700th career Sprint Cup start. Jimmie Johnson finished fourth, and Kevin Harvick completed the Top 5 finishers.

Marco Andretti confident that fewer tests won’t hurt Andretti Autosport

Photo: IndyCar
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A small point of debate around the 2018 aero kit has been the manufacturer test days that took place through the Fall of 2017 and into the beginning of 2018. Chiefly, the debate has centered around teams who hadn’t participated in those manufacturer test days and if they’re starting the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season at a disadvantage as a result.

Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, and A.J. Foyt Racing completed test days for Chevrolet, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing doing so for Honda.

That left teams like Andretti Autosport out of the mix, with some voicing concerns as a result.

However, in a press conference during testing at ISM Raceway last weekend, Marco Andretti explained that he thinks Andretti Autosport should be able to catch up on development, citing the team’s resources – they’re the only IndyCar team with four full-time cars in their stable – and the fact that everyone is still adapting to the new kit.

“I feel like it’s early enough days that, yes, we can catch up,” Andretti said at ISM Raceway. “When there is anything new, a new car, new aero kit, at-track days are huge. We can sim all these things we want. To really get out there and confirm what we’re learning back at the shop is another thing.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay during testing at ISM Raceway. Photo: IndyCar

Andretti continued, “Yeah, I don’t think we should look at it like we’re behind the eight ball. With a four-car team, that’s where we can use it to our benefit. So far so good.”

Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, echoed Andretti’s sentiments, adding that while the situation is not perfect, they will need to adapt to it in order to remain competitive.

“Any time you have a new car, to put it into perspective, we’re on track three days on a road course before we get to (the season open in St. Petersburg). That’s a very short amount of time. It’s obviously not ideal, but we’re just going to lace up our boots and get on with it. That’s all you can do.”

Andretti Autosport will have one more team test, at Sebring International Raceway later on in February, before the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

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