Matt Kenseth said he thought crew chief Jason Ratcliff was "slightly crazy" when he didn't want to take tires on the team's final pit stop during Sunday's Quaker State 400.
As it turned out, slightly crazy was the winning move.
Kenseth stayed out front over the race's final two restarts and got some help from Jimmie Johnson's misfortune to get his series-leading fourth win of the season in the rain-delayed race at Kentucky Speedway.
Johnson had dominated the majority of the race leading 182 laps, and he and crew chief Chad Knaus elected, along with most of the field, to take two tires when the caution flag flew for Brian Vickers' crash and tire failure. It seemed inevitable that it was going to be the No. 48 and not the No. 20 that was heading for win No. 4.
Because of how good Johnson's car was, Kenseth and Ratcliff knew that sitting fourth as the cars came to pit road, they weren't going to beat Johnson for the win if they took two tires also. So Ratcliff went the crazy route, banking on Kenseth getting out into the lead and taking advantage of the bountiful clean air.
"I didn't roll the dice, Jason did," Kenseth said in victory lane. "I thought he was slightly crazy when it happened."
The short pit stop put Kenseth in the lead for the restart with Johnson to his inside. He drove ahead of the five-time champion as the two headed towards turn one, and Joey Logano dove to Johnson's inside on turn one. That meant Johnson was in the middle of the track to the inside of Kyle Busch and when he was in the middle three-wide, Johnson's car snapped around on him. He went from 2nd to 22nd.
Over his radio, Johnson felt that Kenseth slowed down unnecessarily as he led the field to green. However, replays showed that there was no accordion-effect through the field behind Kenseth from any brake checking. Bluntly, it simply looked like Kenseth got a great jump on Johnson. (Yes, you may be having Dover flashbacks.)
After Johnson's spin, Kenseth was at the point for another restart with 17 laps to go. After briefly holding off a charge from Clint Bowyer for the first lap of green, the strength of the clean air overrode the weakness of Kenseth's old tires, and he ultimately beat Jamie McMurray to the finish line by a second for his third 1.5 mile track victory of the season.
We'll point it out for re-emphasis: The Chase features five 1.5 mile tracks. Will the No. 20 team's adeptness through the first half of the season carry over? Ratcliff noted that the team's three previous wins made going for the win a good gamble.
"I knew if we could get Matt in position he'd make a good fight at it," Ratcliff said. "And he did. Thankfully we got a couple of good restarts there and once he got out front and got rolling -- (McMurray) was coming, there were some good cars behind us there -- but that was going to be our only shot to get it done today."
Outfitted with fresh tires after looping his car around, Johnson charged through the field to finish ninth. That push, along with Carl Edwards' late fade to 21st, meant that Johnson extended his point lead to 38 points.
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- Motor Racing
- Matt Kenseth
- Jimmie Johnson
- Jason Ratcliff