Kenseth outlasts Kyle Busch
Johnson's title hopes take hit, but late surge carries winner into thick of Chase.
Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011
CONCORD Saturday night's Bank of America 500 left two drivers heading in opposite directions in the Sprint Cup Series title chase.
Matt Kenseth's victory put him in excellent position to win his second series championship, leaving him third in the series standings, seven points behind leader Carl Edwards.
Jimmie Johnson, however, appears headed in the opposite direction.
Johnson wrecked while racing Ryan Newman for position with 17 laps remaining and ended up 34th, making a much harder road to earn a NASCAR-record sixth consecutive title. He dropped five spots in the standings to eighth, 35 points in back of Edwards heading to next weekend's stop at Talladega, Ala.
"It was an awesome win for us," Kenseth said. "I thought we had a car that if we could get to the front, we would have a chance to win.
"It was tough to get by Kyle (Busch). I'm glad we could make it happen."
Kenseth passed Busch with 24 laps left to take the lead and quickly put distance between himself and Busch on the final restart. Busch led a race-high 111 laps.
"I'm really proud of what Matt and (crew chief Jimmy Fennig) did tonight," team owner Jack Roush said. "There is a lot these guys have to do that all has to be done correctly and I think they will be tough down the stretch."
Edwards finished third, Kasey Kahne was fourth and Marcos Ambrose fifth.
It didn't take long to see Saturday night's race was going to become dominated by long green-flag runs.
The race stayed caution free as teams began green-flag stops on Lap 43.
When the cycle was completed, pole-winner Tony Stewart remained the leader, followed by Greg Biffle and Kenseth.
Biffle quickly made his way around Stewart to take the lead on Lap 50.
Debris in Turn 1 brought out the first caution on Lap 78. The lead-lap cars stopped for tires and fuel, with Newman taking the lead with help from a two-tire pit stop.
It took just three laps for Biffle, who took four tires, to retake the lead.
Biffle remained out front until teams began a second round of green-flag pit stops on Lap 124. However, during his pit stop, a lug nut came off Biffle's No. 16 Ford and he was forced to pit a second time for a stop-and-go penalty.
After the green-flag stops were done, Kenseth took the lead on Lap 128 followed by Stewart and Johnson.
Debris in Turn 3 brought out a caution on Lap 148 and again the lead-lap cars pitted for tires and fuel. During the stops, Jeff Gordon was penalized as his team had a tire get loose from its pit stall. On the restart on Lap 153, Stewart returned to the lead.
Debris again brought out a caution on Lap 156. Stewart was out front on the restart on Lap 159, followed by Busch and Edwards.
More green-flag pit stops started on Lap 193 and this time Busch managed to pick up some valuable time, emerging as the leader. He was followed by Stewart and Edwards.
Trevor Bayne, who had been running among the top 10, ran out of gas and stalled on the track to bring out a caution on Lap 239. Busch still held the lead when the race restarted on Lap 243.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. was forced to pit under green on Lap 252 for a vibration. His team changed all four tires and discovered his right-rear wheel had been loose.
As teams were starting another round of green-flag pit stops, Dave Blaney lost the engine in his car on Lap 288.
All the lead-lap cars stopped for fuel and tires, with Busch still in the lead on the restart on Lap 293. He was followed by Kenseth and Kahne.
Shortly after the restart, David Ragan got into Kahne and the incident also collected Gordon to bring out a caution on Lap 293.
After the restart on Lap 298, Biffle and Stewart got together and Biffle's car slammed the wall to bring out the seventh caution on Lap 300. On the restart on Lap 304, Busch led Edwards.
While racing Newman for position, Johnson spun and hit the wall hard on Lap 317 to bring out the eighth caution. While's Johnson's chance at a race win - and possibly another championship - were done, Kenseth remained in the lead on the restart on Lap 323.
"That one stung for sure. Pretty big impact," Johnson told The Associated Press. "Definitely not the night we wanted. This is not going to help us win a sixth championship."