Sparta, Ky. -- Matt Kenseth and his crew chief Jason Ratcliff gambled on a final, no-tire pit stop, and the result was a big win in Sunday’s rain-delayed Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway.
Kenseth’s No. 20 Dollar General machine was running a distant fourth behind leader Jimmie Johnson, when the caution flag waved when Brian Vickers blew a tire and pounded the fourth-turn wall. Johnson, who had dominated the race leading 182 laps, brought the field into the pits for final pit stops. Kenseth’s crew chief gambled when he saw Johnson taking two new tires and fuel. Ratcliff sent Kenseth out with worn tires and fuel, beating Johnson onto the track in first place.
When the green flag waved over the field for the critical race restart on lap 247 Kenseth, amazingly on old tires, outgunned Johnson and pulled out a four car-length lead going into turn one. Johnson apparently spun his tires a got such a slow restart that third-place Joey Logano shot to the inside of the five-time Nascar champ going into turn one. Johnson did a slow spin in the middle of the turn, but Logano backed off and let him recover without making contact with the inside wall.
Once Johnson got going, he was in 25th place behind the fleeing Kenseth. With 30 laps remaining, Johnson’s chance for victory on a track he has never won on was virtually gone.
Kenseth gradually pulled away, winning by about nine car lengths over Jamie McMurray.
Kenseth’s win in the Quaker State 400 proves that sometimes the fastest car doesn’t always win, and he admitted that point in his post-race interview.
“I didn’t think we had a prayer today!...I thought at the time (before last pit stop) we had a 5 percent chance of winning,” said Kenseth. “It was a great call (taking no tires). It was the only one that gave us a chance to win. We had just enough to hang on! Obviously it’s great to have the four wins. Hopefully, we can keep it rolling!”
Crew Chief Ratcliff also admitted that taking no tires was a critical gamble.
“We’ve had some success at the start of the season (three wins), and we can take some shots like this...I knew that was going to be our only shot to get it done today,” said Ratcliff. “This Cup Series win is a huge, huge deal!”
A happy and perhaps philosophical team owner Joe Gibbs added his thoughts on the gamble that paid off in Kenseth’s win at Kentucky Speedway.
“You can’t have a great comeback unless you’re behind!” exclaimed Gibbs.
Jamie McMurray finished a season-best second with Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, and Kyle Busch rounding out the top five finishers. One wonders if a big gamble like the one that resulted in Kenseth’s big victory in the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky will play the same role in winning when the NASCAR teams head to Daytona International Speedway for the annual Independence Day weekend Coke Zero 400 next Saturday night!
Don’t bet against it!