KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Matt Kenseth knew that he had a front-running car Sunday.
It was simply a matter of getting there.
So when a caution flag came out with several leaders on pit road, and Kenseth found himself leading the pack into the pits, he had a feeling things were going his way.
“That was the key,” he would say later.
Kenseth won the race off pit road after taking two tires under caution, and a No. 20 Toyota that had been strong all day slowly pulled away. Kasey Kahne trimmed into the lead once he moved into second, but Kenseth managed to block every move he tried to make.
Kahne pulled alongside him entering Turn 4 with the white flag flying, but Kenseth pulled back ahead along the front stretch and then cruised to the win at Kansas Speedway.
“When it was in front, we knew it was really fast,” Kenseth said after his second straight win at the track. “And if we could get out there first, we’d be tough to beat.”
It was the third straight win from the pole in the Sprint Cup series.
Jimmie Johnson did it two weeks ago at Martinsville, and Kyle Busch did the same last weekend at Texas. The last time three straight winners came from the pole was in 1985, when Bill Elliott and Dale Earnhardt combined to do it at Michigan, Bristol and Darlington.
“The fastest car is supposed to win, right? That’s what racing is about,” Kenseth said. “I think it’s a little bit of a coincidence, the way things worked out.”
Points leader Johnson finished third with a car that kept getting better during long, green flag runs. Martin Truex Jr. came home in fourth and Clint Bowyer was fifth.
“Matt’s good. He always has been,” Johnson said. “He impresses me in his ability to lead the team, make adjustments on the car, and his knowledge of the car, but most importantly, inside the car, and finding a little bit more. The guy can do it.”
So can Brad Keselowski, who put a positive spin on an ugly week for Penske Racing.
Keselowski picked up some minor damage to the rear of his car early in the race, and fell a lap down when he was slow getting off pit road under caution. The damage kept getting worse as the laps ticked along, and eventually a huge piece of his rear end ripped off.
The No. 2 team managed to get it fixed up enough, and Keselowski slowly picked off positions in the waning laps to finish a heartening sixth after a frustrating week.
Penske Racing is appealing heavy sanctions handed down by NASCAR after an unapproved rear-end housing was found on its two cars last week at Texas. The penalties include six-race suspensions for seven-crew members, including both crew chiefs, $200,000 in fines and 25-point penalties.
The date of the appeal hasn’t been set, allowing both teams to arrive in full at Kansas.
“Usually you’re not happy unless you win,” Keselowski said, “but you know, a day where you can fight through adversity like we did today and get a solid finish, that’s kind of is a win.”
Joey Logano didn’t have the same chipper feeling.
He was struggling to find speed when Busch got in trouble along the wall, shot down to the apron of the track and smacked into his No. 22 Ford in a devastating head-to-head collision. The wreck knocked both cars out of the race and left debris scattered all over the asphalt.
“What was going through my mind? ‘This is going to hurt,'” Logano said. “I was committed to going by him on the bottom at that point and as soon as a committed to it he started heading down the race track. At that point I was just kind of screwed.”
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. spent most of the afternoon running at the front, with Kenseth chasing the No. 17 Ford that he drove to victory last year at the newly resurfaced Kansas Speedway.
But Stenhouse was among several leading drivers, including Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle, who were forced to pit under green with about 50 laps to go. They were just getting back onto the track when the rear-bumper on Keselowski’s car that had been hanging on by a thread finally came loose.
The metal chattered across the track and brought out a caution.
Kenseth beat Truex in the race off pit road — critical at Kansas, where a second groove didn’t start to round into shape until late in the race. Kahne had them both in his sights, but by the time he moved into second place, Kenseth had more than a full second on the field.
“I felt like restarting fourth, I needed to get to third, to second and to first as quickly as I possibly could,” Kahne said. “I got by Jimmie and when I got to Truex, I just went around him before he could block the move, but by then, Kenseth was already gone.”
Kahne, trying for his first win at Kansas, took advantage of some lapped cars to pull within a car-length with about seven laps left, only to slip backward when the traffic thinned out.
He made one last charge with two laps remaining, pulling door-to-door in Turn 4. But he couldn’t make the move stick, and Kenseth pulled away over the final lap for the win.
“We had a good car, and everything worked out at the end,” Kenseth said. “We were in front for the last pit stop, and that was the key.”