Matt Kenseth gets first win of season at Dover
Matt Kenseth celebrates in victory lane at Dover International Speedway after winning the AAA 400 Drive for Autism on May 15, 2016 (photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR).
By AMANDA VINCENT
Through the first 11 races of the 2016 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season, Matt Kenseth remained as the only Joe Gibbs Racing driver without a win. Last weekend at Kansas Speedway, Kenseth broke through for his first top-five of the year. On Sunday, he finally made his way to victory lane, holding off Kyle Larson to win the AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
“It feels great to get this one, for sure,” Kenseth said. “A great racing organization, obviously, at Joe Gibbs Racing; everyone at Toyota and TRD (Toyota Racing Development) have done a great job. These engines and power and designs we have — I’m thankful to be driving this thing.”
Larson finished second after leading 84 laps of the 400-lap race. Series rookie Chase Elliott finished third. Kasey Kahne finished a season-best fourth, and Kurt Busch rounded out the top-five to give Chevrolet the four top-five finishing spots behind Toyota driver, Kenseth.
Jimmie Johnson, a 10-time winner at Dover, inherited the lead with a two-tire pit stop during a caution on lap 354. He led long enough to cross the 3,000 Dover laps led threshold but his lead was short-lived, as he had trouble on the restart. His trouble getting up to speed resulted in contact from Martin Truex Jr. that sent Johnson into the wall and set off an accordion-style wreck that collected nearly 20 cars, including those of Kevin Harvick, Joey Logano, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch, Kyle Biffle, Aric Almirola and A.J. Allmendinger, among several others.
“As soon as I went from second (gear) and tried to go to third, I kind of got up into the neutral gate of the transmission and didn’t even go to third,” Johnson said. “It stopped before it ever went to third. And then I tried fourth and third and fourth and, eventually, I got hit from behind. There was a long pause, there, where I was trying to. I thought maybe I missed a shift, but it wouldn’t go into gear. Martin was good and patient with me. He gave me a couple of opportunities to try to find a gear, and it just locked out and wouldn’t go into gear for some reason. It was still that way at the end, and I couldn’t drive the car.”
After a red flag of nearly 12 minutes, Kenseth inherited the lead. When the race restarted, Larson and Carl Edwards got together racing for second. Larson continued on in second as Edwards saw his race come to an end with contact with the wall.
The Edwards/Larson incident resulted in the final restart of the race with 35 laps to go. Kenseth first had to battle Larson for the lead. When Kenseth shook Larson, Larson then battled Elliott for second. After Larson shook Elliott for second, he reset his sights on Kenseth and the lead.
“We were really good,” Larson said. “We were better than Matt, there. A lot of good cars got wrecked, which was nice, and I knew I was going to be the car to probably beat. I got to second, there, on the restart and just tried to be patient. I could see Matt was pretty loose in front of me. I was just waiting for him to make a mistake, and he did make a couple of mistakes, but it’s so hard to pass somebody on the bottom here because they can suck down on your door on exit and slow you down. I was probably a little too patient in the beginning and allowed Chase to get close to us and actually get by me. I don’t remember how I got back by him, but I did get back by him, and we raced pretty hard there for a few laps and Matt got out a good pit. I didn’t think I would catch him, but I got another shot at him at the end and was trying to do all I could to pass him without getting into him.”
Larson’s 85 laps-led wasn’t a race-high. Instead, Harvick was credited with 117 laps-led, all in the first half of the race. Harvick started on the pole and dominated the first quarter of the race, building up a lead of nearly six seconds over Edwards by a competition caution on lap 41.
Edwards beat Harvick off pit road, but when the race returned to green, Harvick was back up front. During a lap-119 caution, Harvick lost positions to both Edwards and Kenseth on pit road. He never led again. He lost additional positions with a four-tire pit stop during a lap-173 caution, with some of those positions lost to Greg Biffle staying out and others taking only two tires. Harvick then fell to as low as 20th when he had to take evasive action to avoid an incident on lap 213. He eventually got back inside the top-10 before getting caught up in the late-race “big one.” He wound up 15th at the finish.
“We had a good car,” Harvick’s crew chief, Rodney Childers, said. “We had driven from 20th back to fourth, there, before the caution. You had a couple of guys stay out and caused a big mess on the restart and got torn up. The guys did good on pit road to keep it out there and keep it going and at least get a decent finish out of it.”
Brad Keselowski finished sixth, Denny Hamlin was seventh, Ryan Blaney eighth, Martin Truex Jr. ninth, and Trevor Bayne rounded out the top-10.