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.

Reaction to INDYCAR/NBC Sports Group announcement: Mario Andretti, Roger Penske, Bobby Rahal and social media

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Like countless others on the East Coast, Mario Andretti was fighting through a snowstorm Wednesday morning.

But emotionally and personally, it was a very bright and sunny day for the legendary Indy car driver.

In an exclusive interview with, Andretti spoke in glowing terms about this morning’s announcement of a multi-year media rights partnership between INDYCAR and NBC Sports Group beginning next year.

“I think this is awesome,” Andretti said. “It’s music to my ears and all of us. NBC has been very familiar with IndyCar racing, so they’re a great partner. I’m elated that it’s all nailed down, secured and I’m looking forward to the future.

“It’s also great for the young lads in Indy Lights coming on, and it’s great for all the sponsors to have that kind of exposure. It’s a good day for INDYCAR today.”

Andretti lauded the fact that all elements of INDYCAR coverage – TV, digital and streaming – will now be under one corporate roof, so to speak.

“Personally, I think it’s huge,” Andretti said. “Everybody is going to be very familiar with everything, the storylines are going to flow perfectly from event to event. There’s nothing like continuity.

“It’s okay sometimes if you have two networks, but to me, the best possible solution is this. That’s why I think this is really a great day for INDYCAR racing to have NBC involved and the continuity is huge for us.”

MORE: NBC Sports Group, INDYCAR partner on new TV and digital rights agreement starting in 2019

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Several other high-profile individuals within the IndyCar community also gave their take on Wednesday’s announcement, including statements from team owners Roger Penske and Bobby Rahal.

Roger Penske: “As an industry, we are very fortunate to have the NBC Sports Group grow their presence and coverage of INDYCAR racing and really invest in the future of the sport. We believe there is a great deal of positive momentum in the Verizon IndyCar Series right now, from the development of the new race car, to the very talented group of young drivers and new teams coming into the sport this season.

“With the announcement of the enhanced broadcast partnership with NBC, it certainly adds to the excitement for the future. We know that the ways our fans are watching races and viewing INDYCAR content is rapidly changing, so staying ahead of the curve and the developing technology with our partners is important to the growth of our sport. We look forward to working with the NBC team to continue to build INDYCAR and take the sport in new directions.

“We also need to thank ABC and ESPN for all their terrific coverage over the years. The ABC network helped bring some of the most memorable moments in racing to life – including many of our team’s Indianapolis 500 victories – and we appreciate all of their hard work and passion for INDYCAR racing.”

Bobby Rahal: “It’s great news. I think the fact that the IndyCar Series will be under one roof, so to speak, network-wise can do nothing but great things for our sport. To increase to having eight races on network TV is also great news of course.

“The quality of the NBC broadcasts have gotten better and better over the last several years. They do a great job of providing interesting and entertaining content for the viewers and I think that will only continue to grow with the relationship going forward. That type of storytelling is also what helps bring new fans to the sport.”



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