Matt Kenseth celebrated his 41st birthday by eking out a narrow victory over Kasey Kahne in the Kobalt Tools 400 at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon. After hounding the winner in the final laps, Kahne came up short by a mere .6 seconds.
In winning, Kenseth became the third NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver to win on his birthday. Cale Yarborough and Kyle Busch were the others to win on their special day.
The race marked a milestone for green flag passes as there were 31 green flag passes for the lead, and for the full field, 2,342 green flag passes took place, beating last year’s mark by 1,041. Information derived from NASCAR’s loop data.
The victor drove the Dollar General Toyota fielded by Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth won for the 25th time in his career. For the Gibbs team, it won its 101st Sprint Cup victory. And Toyota captured its 50th Sprint Cup victory.
I was grinning all the way down pit road.
Kenseth’s victory came about as a result of the last pit stop when his team elected not to change tires while the other front-runners changed two. His team’s maneuver put him into the lead as the cars exited pit road, and he led the final 40 rounds to pick up his first win since switching to the Gibbs team.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to perform, and I have a great feeling about this season,” the winner said. “In all three races this year, we have had a great car that could have won.
“I was real nervous all day as Kasey (Kahne) had the best car. I apologized to (crew chief) Jason (Ratcliff) for getting beat. I didn’t have quite the fastest car but I was where I needed to be at the end. Great pit stops and a great strategy made the difference.”
Regarding the last pit stop, Kenseth indicated he was not concerned about his tires. “I was grinning all the way down pit road, as I had told Jason to just keep me up front if you can.”
Stated Ratcliff, “I discussed our strategy with the engineers, and we decided we could pick up a second by not changing tires.”
Regarding the victory, the crew chief added, “I knew this day would come, but doing it in our third race is very special. We just have a great group of guys.”
Gibbs complimented his team for overcoming the adversity experienced in the first two races. “The thrill of victory often depends on what happens leading up to it,” he said. “We have had a tough couple of weeks and I appreciate our partner Toyota . When tough times come, everyone bands together and we start fighting to work our way out of some tough things. I felt today we had three good cars, although two got caught speeding on pit road.
“Matt has just been special, and he has brought a lot to this team. Denny (Hamlin) and Kyle (Busch) really respect him, and I think Matt likes working with them. I think we have three guys that can really get after it. Also, I am really proud of Jason and the team.”
Third place went to Brad Keselowski in the Miller Lite Ford, who had the other car not to change tires at the end. He passed Busch in the final laps to garner the final podium position.
“We got behind on one of those pit stops, but kept working and working,” he said. “I felt if I could have just gotten the No. 20 (Kenseth) off pit road, I would have something for him. He kept spinning his tires on the restarts, so I had to slow down, so I wouldn’t beat him to the line and get in trouble. When you do that, you check everybody up. It was a good effort, and we were a lot better than we were during practice.”
Kahne led the most laps, taking charge six times for 114 of the 267 laps.
Kahne and Keselowski complimented the new Gen-6 car, the car that had been the subject of adverse comments leading into the race. “I felt I could pass and do things I couldn’t have done in the past,” Kahne noted. “The car itself today I had a lot of fun driving it. I got to race through cars and traffic, and I felt really confident in driving it.”
Busch overcame an early-race penalty to take fourth place, barely losing the third-place spot near the end. Stated Busch about the adjustments to his car that put him with the leaders, “They tightened up the car, but it was too tight for the first 10 laps,” he said. “All in all a great day even though I got us boxed in early with a pit road penalty. But we clawed our way through there and this M&M’s Toyota was fast enough to help me do that. I wish we had a little bit more at the end. Good to see Matt in victory lane, but wish it was us, although it is a JGR car and that’s good.”
Carl Edwards drove to fifth place.
Sixth to 10th were Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr., Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard.
Tony Stewart finished 11th with Joey Logano, Jamie McMurray, Mark Martin and Hamlin behind him.
19 of the 43 starters finished on the lead lap.
Danica Patrick ended up 33rd, six laps off the pace.
Five yellow flags slowed the race for 25 laps. Each slowdown was minor in nature.