SPARTA, Ky. — A gutsy no-tire call on his final pit stop and a spin by points leader Jimmie Johnson with 20 laps to go combined to help lift Matt Kenseth to his series-best fourth NASCAR Sprint Cup win of the year in Sunday’s Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
Johnson had been the dominant force all afternoon in the race that was postponed a day due to heavy rains Saturday evening. The five-time Cup series champion led 182 of the 267-lap test but was undone with 20 to go when he lost air and spun in Turn 2 after restarting second on the inside of Kenseth following the final round of pit stops.
What put Kenseth up front to begin with was a gamble by crew chief Jason Ratcliff to take no tires their final trip down pit lane. With clear air to work with and Johnson’s No. 48 Lowe’s monster out of the way, Kenseth drove off in the final 17 laps to notch his third win this year on a 1.5-mile track.
“I knew if we could get Matt position he would make a good fight out of it,” Ratcliff said. “Thankfully we got a couple good restarts. I knew that was the only shot to get it done today and … we can afford take some shots like this, we can take some chances.”
Jamie McMurray finished in second with Clint Bowyer third. Joey Logano and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five.
Johnson charged back after that late spin to finish ninth.
Where Kentucky was one of five wins Brad Keselowski whipped off during his championship season in 2012, Sunday’s race was an extension of the funk his No. 2 Miller Lite Ford has been mired in of late.
Keselowski, who had just one top-10 finish in previous last nine races, was sent spinning on Lap 49 when Kurt Busch went onto the apron on the front stretch and sliding back up into Keselowski, setting off a multi-car wreck that also collected Greg Biffle, who slammed into Keselowski from behind.
The mishap caused the race to be red flagged for 18:37 — and brought about an apology from Busch, not that such words helped Keselowski’s cause to secure a spot in the Chase.
“I know he didn’t intentionally wreck me but … I’m still wrecked,” said Keselowski, who did return to the track on Lap 154 while the race was under caution. “The track has that really bad bump down there and we all know it. He is smarter than that, he knows better than that.”