After taking the lead following a fuel-only stop with 25 laps to go, Matt Kenseth capitalized on track position – and a spin off the penultimate restart by the dominant Jimmie Johnson – to win the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
A crash involving Brian Vickers brought out the yellow with 27 laps left and on the subsequent stops, crew chief Jason Ratcliff made the decision not to give Kenseth any fresh tires. He led the race off pit road over Johnson, who had chosen to take right-side tires on his last stop of the afternoon.
Kenseth and Johnson led the field to the green on Lap 246, but while Kenseth pulled away, Johnson fell back and then spun out in Turn 2. The field was able to avoid the five-time Sprint Cup champion, who immediately called for Kenseth to be penalized for what he saw as him slowing the restart.
The penalty never came however, and Kenseth held onto the lead through one last restart before going on to his fourth victory of the season and his third on 1.5-mile tracks. Johnson, who led 182 laps on the day, wound up finishing ninth after restarting 25th following the spin.
Kenseth jokingly said that at the time, he thought Ratcliff was “slightly crazy” for the fuel-only call, but was happy with the results.
“Jason did a great job – I didn’t think there was any way we were gonna hold on for that win,” Kenseth told TNT in Victory Lane. “He made the right call at the right time and the guys got it done.”
Ratcliff said that he thought Kenseth would be tough to beat if he could get to the front.
“I knew if we could get Matt position, he would make a good fight at it and he obviously did,” he explained. “Thankfully, we got a couple good restarts there…I knew [the pit stop] was going to be our only shot to get it done today and with the position we’re in right now with the 20 car – we’ve had some success at the start of the season – we can take some shots like this.”
Jamie McMurray was closing in on Kenseth in the closing laps, but ran out of time and finished seven-tenths of a second back. However, his strong runner-up performance marks his first Top-5 result since August of 2011 at Bristol Motor Speedway, when he finished fifth. Clint Bowyer finished in third, with Joey Logano and Kyle Busch rounding out the Top 5 at the checkered flag.