Matt Kenseth Tames Darlington
Matt Kenseth captured the win in what was a dominate night for Joe Gibbs Racing in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.
Kyle Busch dominated the majority of the race but a cut right rear tire on the last run of the night would leave him back in sixth, while Denny Hamlin returned to lead the 11 team to a second-place finish.
Kenseth started his No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota from the seventh position and was able to drive into the top five and settle into third on the night’s opening run despite battling some loose handling conditions with his racecar. Shortly after the first round of green flag pit stops Kenseth would drive his way up to second behind his teammate Kyle Busch. The two teammates would hold those spots until a round of green flag stops just prior to the midpoint of the race. Kenseth would cycle through fourth following the stops and continued to hold that position with 100 laps to go. A caution with 66 laps to go would bring him down pit road again for four tires and fuel and Kenseth would remain fourth for the restart. He would get a great restart to jump into second behind Busch once again. A caution with 39 laps remaining would have Kenseth set to restart fourth with 35 laps remaining. He would climb to second once again behind Busch and eventually took the lead with about 10 laps remaining. Kenseth pulled away down the stretch for his third victory of the season.
Five hundred miles at the famed track known as “too tough to tame” is one of the biggest endurance tests of every NASCAR season. Fitting then that Denny Hamlin would use it to make his full return from a back injury he suffered six weeks prior at Auto Club Speedway. After starting last week’s race in Talladega and then allowing Brian Vickers to take over the duties 25 laps into the race, Hamlin would come into this weekend with no intention of using a relief driver. The No. 11 Sport Clips Toyota would start from the sixth position tonight and Hamlin would battle tight conditions early as he dropped back outside the top ten on the opening run. Adjustments would help improve the handle on the Sport Clips Camry and Hamlin would cycle through a round of green flag pit stops to run in the sixth position as the race reached the halfway mark. He continue to run sixth when a caution came out with 66 laps to go and thanks to great work by the Sport Clips crew he would restart fifth. He would run fifth when another caution came out with just 39 laps remaining. Hamlin would pit for four fresh tires and the team would gain him two more spots to restart third with 35 laps to go. Hamlin would move up into second over the final laps for a strong ending to a hard fought race.
One night after winning the Nationwide Series race Busch would start the No. 18 Doublemint Toyota in third and settled into the second position for the night’s opening run. Shortly thereafter Busch would claim his first lead of the night. He would hold the top spot until a round of green flag pit stops just prior to the midpoint of the race. Busch would run third following that stop, but on lap 205 he would regain his spot at the front of the field once again. Busch would continue to lead and came down pit road following a caution with 39 laps remaining for four fresh tires and restarted first with 35 to go He would hold the lead until the final laps when a cut right rear tire would prove fatal to his win chances. With the tire going down the Doublemint Camry lost its handling and Busch would have do an amazing job just to keep the car on the track in order to take the checkered flag in sixth. Still it was an impressive night once again for Busch and the 18 team as they dominated with a race-high 265 laps led.
Kenseth won the race, followed by Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five. There were five cautions for a total of 25 laps and nine lead changes among four different drivers.