Matt Kenseth had a surprise call by his crew chief Jason Ratcliff, and while Kenseth had his doubts, that call earned him the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in the Quaker State 400.
Crew chief Jason Ratcliff made the call for fuel only for the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driven by Matt Kenseth during the ninth caution of the Quaker State 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta on Sunday afternoon to get Kenseth to the lead for a restart inside the last 25 laps of the 267-lap race. Kenseth was able to maintain the lead and drove on to his fourth win of the season, his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing.
"I knew if we could get Matt position, he'd made a good battle out of it," Ratcliff said.
Despite Ratcliff's confidence, Kenseth had his doubts.
"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."
Jamie McMurray finished second in the No. 1 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet and the No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota was third.
Once up front, Kenseth thought the car he wouldn't be able to hold off would be the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson. Johnson dominated the race until the restart following that ninth caution. Johnson lost several spots and then spun on the restart, immediately bringing out the next caution and then restarting 22nd.
Bowyer then moved into second to restart the race alongside Kenseth on the front row. Bowyer stayed with Kenseth for a couple of laps, but then fell into the clutches of McMurray. McMurray took second from Bowyer with four laps to go.
McMurray was mired back in the field just a few laps prior to the final restart, thinking he had a tire going down. According to McMurray, he just happened to be in the right line to move forward.
"The last restart, I don't know what happened to the inside row," McMurray said.
The No. 22 Penske Racing Ford of Joey Logano finished fourth, and Kyle Busch recovered from a spin in the first 50 laps of the race to finish fifth in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.
"Some pit strategy helped us out," Busch said of his ability to get back toward the front. "But we had a pretty good car all day. All things considering, it was a good day for us."
The Kentucky race was originally scheduled as a Saturday night event, but rains postponed the race until Sunday afternoon. When the race finally did take the green flag, the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr. started on the pole but lost the lead to the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford of Carl Edwards on the first lap. After a competition caution on lap 30.
Earnhardt and Johnson got off pit road during the caution to restart in the top-two spots. But a tire issue for the No. 11 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota of Denny Hamlin just a few laps later sent debris into both the No. 88 and No. 48, resulting in damage to both cars. Earnhardt's car sustained more significant damage, damage from which he never completely recovered.
The damage to Johnson's car, though, didn't affect its performance and he moved into the lead and led most of the laps until his late-race restart mishap.
While the race ran caution-free until the lap 30 competition caution, the remaining 237 laps were caution-filled, especially between laps 30 and 50. Counting the competition caution, the yellow flag waved four times during that 20-lap stretch. In all the yellow flag waved 10 times.