Sunday, March 10, 2013

Kenseth Hits the Jackpot

 Originally written for CLNS Radio.

Matt Kenseth had never driven for a team other than Roush-Fenway Racing before 2013.  But Kenseth moved over to Joe Gibbs Racing for the 2013 season, and he quickly showed that he was going to have a strong season.  After working great pit strategy, Kenseth was able to hold off Kasey Kahne to win the Kobalt Tools 400 in Las Vegas.

Kenseth celebrates his Las Vegas victory (Nick Laham/Getty Images)
Qualifying was rained out on Friday, so the starting lineup was set by 2012 Sprint Cup Owner's points.  Brad Keselowski led the field to the green flag, and Keselowski was able to pull away from Clint Bowyer, who started second.  On lap three, Bowyer got alongside Keselowski in Turn 3, but he got extremely loose, and he fell back and was passed by Kasey Kahne.  On lap seven, Kahne caught Keselowski, but Kahne could not complete the pass for the lead.  On lap 11, Kahne was able to make his car stick in Turns 1 and 2, and he was able to take the lead. 

By lap 12, Bowyer had fallen to 20th, and was complaining about his car being extremely loose.  That led Bowyer to pit on lap 16, because he believed he had a tire going down.  He quickly fell two laps down.  Kyle Busch caught Keselowski on lap 35, and was looking to pick up second place after starting the race 13th. 

On lap 38, Greg Biffle brought his car to pit road, about ten laps before everyone would have had to pit.  His team needed to make a big swing at the car, after he was running very loose at the beginning of the race.  On lap 44, Kahne brought his car down pit road to make his green-flag pit stop.  That gave the lead to Kyle Busch, and he pitted on lap 46.  Busch was penalized for being too fast entering pit road, and he had to come down for a pass-through penalty.

Kasey Kahne leads at Vegas (Todd Warshaw/Getty Images)
By lap 49, pit stops had cycled through, and Kahne was once again the leader.  Kahne was about to put Kyle Busch a lap down when the caution came out on lap 65 for debris on the backstretch.  Kahne brought the leaders down pit road on lap 67, and everyone made two-tire stops.  Keselowski was able to beat Kahne off pit road.  Greg Biffle was penalized for an uncontrolled tire, and he had to restart in the back of the pack.

The race restarted on lap 70, and Kahne was able to pull ahead of Keselowski for the lead.  On lap 74, Jimmie Johnson caught Kahne, and he pulled up alongside him for the lead coming to the start/finish line.  Kahne held with him until they went into Turn 3 on lap 75 when Johnson pulled away from him for the lead.

On lap 111, Keselowski pitted before everyone else because he had a tire going down.  On lap 115, the leaders began to make another round of green-flag pit stops.  Johnson gave up the lead on lap 118 to make his pit stop.  During pit stops, Denny Hamlin was penalized for being too fast entering pit road, and he had to make a pass-through penalty. 

After the stops had cycled around by lap 122, Johnson was once again the leader.  Keselowski was in third place after stops because he was able to make up a lot of time after getting four fresh tires before everyone else.

On lap 138, Kahne was able to get around Johnson heading into Turn 3 to take the lead.  Within eight laps, Kahne had pulled two seconds ahead of Johnson. 

Kahne was leading when the caution came out on lap 130.  Marcos Ambrose went into a four-wheel slide trying to get to pit road, but he was able to save it before it went around.  The leaders came down pit road, and Johnson was able to beat Kahne off pit road to take the lead.  Keselowski had a lug nut fall off during his stop, and it dropped him all the way to 13th.

Johnson led the field back to green on lap 265, and Kyle Busch went three-wide under Kahne and Johnson to take the lead.  With 96 laps to go, Kahne was able to get around Johnson for second place, but they were still over a second behind Busch.  On lap 180, Kahne was able to catch Busch and pass him for the lead.

On lap 187, Busch was caught by Johnson for second, after Busch began complaining of how loose his car had gotten.  Busch was able to stay ahead of Johnson, and on lap 194 the third caution of the day came out for a spin by Bobby Labonte.  The field came down for pit stops, and most of the teams only took two tires.  Kahne was able to beat Busch and Johnson off pit road to keep the lead.

Kahne was able to hold off Hamlin and Busch to take the lead when the race went back green with 69 laps to go.  Coming through Turn 4, Busch pulled around Kahne to take the lead.  On lap 208, Kahne was able to reel in Busch to take the lead once again.   

Busch leads Kahne across the line (Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
On lap 233, Travis Kvapil blew an engine, bringing out the fourth caution.  The caution was ill-timed for Hamlin, who had just pitted after staying out under the last caution.  Kahne led the field down pit road, and Matt Kenseth and Keselowski won the race off pit road after opting not to take tires. 

The race restarted on lap 230, and Kenseth was able to clear Keselowski for the lead.  With 33 laps to go, Ryan Newman blew an engine, bringing out another caution.  The leaders didn't pit when the pits opened, but Biffle and Hamlin, who were running in the back, made pit stops. 

The race restarted on lap 241, and Kenseth was once again able to clear Keselowski.  Kahne was able to get around Keselowski for second, and he quickly pulled up to Kenseth's bumper. 

Kenseth began to pull away from Kahne, but Kahne quickly cut the deficit to .2 seconds.  Kahne was running behind Kenseth, but Kahne couldn't find a way around the No. 20.  While Kenseth was working his way through lapped traffic, Kahne was able to pull alongside him in Turn 4 with five laps to go.  But Kahne drove it into the corner too hard, and he couldn't make it stick.  Kenseth was able to hold him off to win his first race for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Kasey Kahne led 114 laps -- the most of any driver -- but he couldn't get past Kenseth and he finished second.  Brad Keselowski finished third, and was followed by Kyle Busch.  Last week's winner, Carl Edwards, finished fifth.  Jimmie Johnson finished sixth, and was followed by his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. in seventh.  Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick, and Paul Menard rounded out the Top 10.  Tony Stewart finished 11th.  Mark Martin finished 14th.  Next week, Brian Vickers will be in the car, and Martin's next race will be in two weeks at California.  Denny Hamlin tried to work his pit strategy to get a win, but it backfired and he finished 15th.  Greg Biffle, a favorite before the race, struggled with his car's handling and finished 17th.  Jeff Gordon struggled throughout the race and finished 25th.  Clint Bowyer was strong on Thursday, but once the race started he struggled with handling issues.  he finished two laps down in 27th.  Danica Patrick finished 33rd, six laps down.

Kenseth made a statement at Las Vegas, showing everyone that he hasn't lost a step in his move from Roush-Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing.  This weekend was also the first real test of the new Gen 6 car, which ran on a 1.5 mile track for the first time this season.  Next week, the Sprint Cup Series will race on the half-mile short track at Bristol Motor Speedway.  The Food City 500 can be seen next Sunday at 1 p.m., only on FOX.
Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

No comments:

Post a Comment