Matt Kenseth may sometimes thing his crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, is crazy, like when Ratcliff makes a call for fuel only during a late-race caution in the Quaker State 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta on Sunday afternoon. But it was such a call that helped Kenseth get his fourth win of the season.
“I thought he was slightly crazy,” Kenseth said. “I didn’t think there was any way we were going to hold on for this win.”
Ratcliff, on the other hand, was more confident.
“I knew if we could get Matt position, he’d make a good battle out of it,” Ratcliff said.
The Kentucky race was originally scheduled to be a Saturday night affair, but rain forced postponement of the race until Sunday afternoon. Once the race finally did take the green flag, it was dominated by Jimmie Johnson until a restart mishap in the late going shuffled him toward the back.
Carl Edwards took the lead from pole sitter Dale Earnhardt Jr. on lap one and led the way until a competition caution on lap 30. A few laps after the race restarted from that caution with Earnhardt and Johnson up front, a tire issue for Denny Hamlin brought out the second caution of the race, but not before debris from Hamlin’s tire struck both the No. 88 of Earnhardt and the No. 48 of Johnson.
A rash of cautions broke out immediately following the competition yellow. In the 20-lap period between laps 30 and 50, counting the competition caution, the yellow flag waved four times. In all, the race was mired by 10 yellow flags.
After the incident with Hamlin’s tire, Earnhardt’s team made repairs to the No. 88 car throughout the race, but the car was never back up front. Johnson’s damage, on the other hand, didn’t hinder performance and Johnson was able to dominate the race.
Things were going better than fine for Johnson, but before his spin in the final 25 laps, he was on old left side tires. While most of the race field took four during the eight caution of the race for debris, Johnson held on to his lead by just taking two. Despite taking only two tires during that caution, crew chief Chad Knaus decided that the team would, again, only take two when Johnson headed down pit road for the final tiem.
That final stop came when the ninth caution of the race came out with 26 laps to go. The right-side tires were changed, but the lefts that had been on the car since lap 149 remained. Meanwhile, Kenseth and company went with fuel only. The restart that followed didn’t go so well for Johnson. He lost several positions and then spun, immediately bringing out another caution.
On the next and final restart of the race, Kenseth restarted with the lead, with Clint Bowyer in second. Bowyer raced Kenseth hard for a couple of laps before falling in behind him and settling into the second spot. Bowyer lost that spot with four laps to go, though, to Jamie McMurray. McMurray wound up finishing second, despite being mired back in the pack, thinking he had a tire going down, prior to the final two cautions.
“The last restart, I don’t know what happened to the inside row,” McMurray said.
Bowyer finished third. Joey Logano and Kyle Busch rounded out the top-five. Busch had his own mishap earlier in the race, spinning to bring out the third caution of the race before lap 50.
– Photo courtesy of Getty Images for NASCAR