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Gamble works out for Kenseth at Kentucky

The SportsXchange

SPARTA, Ky. -- Jimmie Johnson looked to be in total control of Sunday's Quaker State 400 at Kentucky Speedway, but Matt Kenseth's crew chief decided to roll the dice by pitting for fuel only with 25 laps to go.

The move shocked even Kenseth, but he made it pay off by staying out front and leading the rest of the way for his fourth win of the season and his first with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Crew chief Jason Ratcliffe's gamble vaulted Kenseth from fourth to first while Johnson, who had led 182 of the first 242 laps, came out of the pits in second place.

Then, with 22 laps to go, Johnson got a bad restart and moments later was tagged by Joey Logano as they battled for third place,

Johnson spun in front of the entire fieldm but no one hit Johnson, who kept his car off the inside wall to bring out the ninth yellow flag of the afternoon.

Johnson was livid, telling his crew over the radio that NASCAR should penalize Kenseth for being too slow on the restart.

"He jammed everybody up," Johnson said.

As the leader of the race, Kenseth is in charge of the restart and NASCAR has made it clear that no one can pass the leader until he gets to the start-finish line.

Johnson pitted for four tires and was 22nd when the race got the green flag for the final time. He raced his way back to ninth and Kenseth held off a fast-closing Jamie McMurray for his 28th career victory and third this season on 1 1/2-mile tracks. Five of the final 10 races are on 1.5-mile circuits.

"I knew if we could get Matt out front that he would be able to stay there," Ratcliffe said. "I knew no tires and fuel only was our only shot.

"This is a really special win. All four are important, but this one stands out above the rest as I gave away a couple here when I was a crew chief on the Nationwide Series."

Kenseth made it clear that "Jason was the one that rolled the dice. I thought he was crazy. I didn't think there was any way we could hold onto the lead. But clear air makes such a difference.

"The 1 (McMurray) was coming, but I knew he didn't have enough laps (after passing Clint Bowyer for second with four laps to go). This is just incredible. I might have dreamed of a season like this when I decided to move to JGR (from Roush Fenway Racing), but I never really thought we would have this kind of season so fast. We just have to keep it up."

Bowyer finished third, followed by Logano, Kyle Busch, Kurt Busch, Martin Truex, Jr., Jeff Gordon, Johnson and Kevin Harvick.

The race was supposed to have been run Saturday night, but rain showers on and off all afternoon and early evening forced NASCAR to postpone it until Sunday.

Defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski won the 400 a year ago, but any thoughts of repeating ended on Lap 48 of the 267-lap race when he was tagged by Kurt Busch after Busch dropped to the apron to try and pass Keselowski.

"That was all my fault," Busch told his crew, "The track just shot me back into him."

The contact sent Keselowski spinning and he finished 33rd to drop from 10th to 13th in the Sprint Cup standings.

Naturally, Keselowski wasn't too pleased with Busch.

"Wreck happens, but it takes a chain of events to get there," Keselowski said. "There is no reason to drive like an animal. There is no reason to go down there, but he still did."

Pole-sitter Dale Earnhardt, Jr. had his victory aspirations ended a few laps earlier when Denny Hamlin had a right-front tire go flat.

As Hamlin was limping back to the pits, part of the tire flew off and hit the front of race-leader Earnhardt's car, badly damaging the front splitter and part of Earnhardt's grill. Earnhardt was forced to pit for repairs and was never able to get back to the front, finishing in 12th place.
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