DARLINGTON, S.C — Despite not having crew chief Jason Ratcliff at Darlington Raceway, Matt Kenseth won Saturday night’s Southern 500 after passing his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Kyle Busch, for the lead in the closing laps.
Busch had dominated the race by leading 265 of 367 laps, but he suffered a cut right-rear tire within the 20 final laps, allowing Kenseth to chase him down and then make the winning pass with 13 laps to go.
Kenseth claimed his third win of the season, which is the most in the series. He also earned his 27th career Sprint Cup Series victory, including his first in this famed 500-mile race at Darlington.
Denny Hamlin, who is Kenseth’s teammate at JGR, finished second in his first full race since suffering a compression fracture in his lower back seven weeks ago in Fontana, Calif. It gave JGR a 1-2 finish.
Jeff Gordon’s third-place run allowed him to claim his 300th top-5 finish in his 700th career start in the series.
Jimmie Johnson, the defending race winner, and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top-five. Busch ended up finishing sixth. He won Friday night’s Nationwide Series race at Darlington, leading 107 of 147 laps in that event.
On Wednesday, Kenseth’s No. 20 team had its severe penalties significantly reduced by the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel. Ratcliff’s suspension was shortened from six points-paying races to only one (Darlington). Wally Brown, who filled in for Ratcliff, collected his first Sprint Cup victory as a crew chief.
NASCAR assessed the penalties to the No. 20 team on April 24 after officials found one of the connecting rods on Kenseth’s engine used at Kansas did not meet the minimum connecting rod weight. The violation was discovered during a secondary post-race inspection of his motor at the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, N.C.