Matt Kenseth won the Bojangles' Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway Saturday night by beating his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin by over three tenths of a second to win his third race of the 2013 season and the 27th of his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career.
Kenseth won with a pass on teammate Kyle Busch with 13 laps to go.
"I've only dreamed about winning the Southern 500," Kenseth said in victory lane. "This to me feels bigger than probably any win in my career."
It was Kenseth's first career win at the historic Darlington Raceway. He also won with interim crew chief Wally Brown on the pit box with Jason Ratcliff serving a one race suspension.
Busch led 265 of the 367 laps and was dominate much of the night but experienced an issue with his right-rear tire in the closing laps and dropped to sixth.
Denny Hamlin finished second in his first full race back since March. Jeff Gordon was making his 700th career start in the Bojangles' Southern 500, and recorded his 300th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series top five finish. Gordon ended up third. Finishing fourth was Gordon's teammate Jimmie Johnson. Johnson was running a green and white scheme for this weekend's race. Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five after a nice run which saw Harvick and his team in the top ten for most of the night.
The Bojangles' Southern 500 began with Kurt Busch on the pole and Busch led all but four of the races' first 73 laps. Those laps came during a round of green flag pit stops. Kyle Busch followed closely in his older brother's tracks the whole time while Matt Kenseth made the biggest move by moving up to third by lap 38.
Kurt Busch lost the lead on lap 74 to Kyle Busch who began to show his muscle and made the first green flag pass on Kurt for the lead in the race. From that point forward it would be the Kyle Busch show at the front of the field.
The first caution came out on 124 for debris on the track. There were only 16 cars left on the lead lap and Ryan Newman received the free pass running in 17th at the time. On the pit stops Denny Hamlin was the only driver to take two tires and moved from tenth to second. Kyle Busch maintained the lead and took off on the lap 132 restart. Hamlin fell quickly on the two tires but settled in eighth.
Jeff Gordon gained the lead on green flag stops that took place between laps 178 and 185. Gordon pitted from fifth but did it well before the four drivers ahead of him on the track which allowed him to make up a lot of ground. He took the lead on lap 186 when Kyle Busch pitted and led until lap 202 when Kyle worked by the No. 24 and took control of the race again.
On the next round of green flag stops Clint Bowyer received a penalty when his gas can came outside the box when he left his stall. The pass through penalty cost him one lap and dropped him from the top 10 to 17th. This time Kyle Busch held the lead after the green flag stops.
Another round of green flag stops had just started when the second caution of the race flew for Regan Smith who spun coming off of Turn 2 due to a flat left-rear tire. Smith was running mid-pack when the spin occurred on lap 302 and he finished 24th four laps down. There were only nine cars left on the lead lap at the time and they were Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Kasey Kahne, Matt Kenseth, Denny Hamlin, Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Tony Stewart, and Carl Edwards. Juan Montoya and Kevin Harvick got back on the lead lap to make it 11 cars.
When the race restarted on lap 308 Busch was still the leader due to good pit work by his No. 18 crew. Three laps later, the races' third caution flag of the night would fly when Casey Mears, Kurt Busch and Paul Menard got together. Busch came up the track pinching the other two. Mears hit the outside wall and would collect Brad Keselowski. He had a loose wheel earlier in the race and had to pit. The loose wheel put Keselowski two laps down but he was back to only one lap down when this contact occurred. The accident did significant damage to both Keselowski and Mears' car. Keselowski would finish 32nd and Mears would finish 37th. Clint Bowyer received the free pass in the 12th position.
Busch was still leading on the next restart at lap 317. It was short lived for Busch because on lap 327 Josh Wise and David Reutimann would crash in Turn 2. Wise's No. 35 Ford broke loose under Marcos Ambrose and when he tried to collect it he slid into Reutimann's No. 83 Toyota's path. Reutimann was running 24th at the time of the crash. Both drivers were unable to continue and Wise would finish 38th and Reutimann 36th.
Ryan Newman, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr, and Greg Biffle all got back on the lead lap with the free pass and wave arounds that were handed out.
All drivers took four tires before the next restart and Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch would line up alongside each other on the lap 332 restart. Busch was the leader on the inside and Kahne was on the outside and the two drove into Turn 1 hard with Busch and Kahne side by side for the lead coming into Turn 3 where Kahne drove in hard and took the lead. Busch then pulled to the low lane and Kahne went high down the front stretch to Turn 1. Busch slide up the track and made slight contact with the left-rear of Kahne's Chevrolet. The contact was enough to send the No. 5 into the outside wall hard, causing the races' fifth and final caution. Kahne would continue but he would finish 17th the last car on the lead lap.
On the final restart of the night Busch and teammate Matt Kenseth were side by side. Kenseth spun his tires on the restart and Busch shot out to a huge lead and it looked like he would cruise to his third win of the season and a weekend sweep at Darlington. It was not over though as Busch's car began to fade late in the run due to what was reported as a flat right-rear tire and Kenseth began to catch his teammate. With 13 to go, Kenseth passed Busch for victory and Busch dropped all the way to the sixth position in the final running order.
Hamin took second, Gordon third, Johnson fourth and Harvick fifth. Finishing seventh was Carl Edwards with Juan Pablo Montoya finishing eighth, ninth was Dale Earnhardt Jr and Ryan Newman rounded out the top ten.
Other cars on the lead lap were Clint Bowyer in 11th, Martin Truex Jr in 12th, Greg Biffle in 13th, Kurt Busch in 14th, Tony Stewart in 15th, Jamie McMurray in 16th and Khane 17th. Ricky Stenhouse Jr finished 18th, Paul Menard 19th, and Aric Almirola 20th all one lap down. Mark Martin finished 25th and Danica Patrick finished 28th.
The points after the 11th race are as follows. Jimmie Johnson is the points leader with a 44 point lead over Carl Edwards who is second in the standings. Third in the standings is Matt Kenseth, who is 59 points back and Dale Earnhardt Jr is fourth 64 points out of the lead. Fifth in the standings is Clint Bowyer 74 points off the lead. Kasey Kahne is sixth in the standings with Brad Keselowski seventh, Kyle Busch eighth, Aric Almirola ninth and Kevin Harvick is tenth in points.
Other notables in the points standings include Paul Menard in 11th and Jeff Gordon in 12th. They hold the two Wild Card spots right now. Greg Biffle is in 13th, Joey Logano in 19th and Tony Stewart in 21st. Talladega winner David Ragan is 26th in the standings 62 points out of 20th and Denny Hamlin is also 62 points out of 20th in 27th after he made some nice headway in his first full race back from injury.
The next points race on the schedule for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series is the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 26th. Next week is the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series All-Star race, which is a non-points event on Saturday May 18th.
***Original article by Clayton Caldwell – Additions by Mark Eddinger
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