Matt Kenseth didn’t let a lengthy rain delay deter him as he stormed to victory in the Geico 400 at the Chicagoland Speedway. The race marked the opening round of the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Rain delayed the start of the race by nearly 90 minutes and a subsequent storm stopped the race for some five hours after 109 of the 267 laps had been completed. The race resumed under the lights and ended late in the evening.
Kenseth made it happen when he edged by teammate Kyle Busch on the last restart with 23 laps to go.
The victory went to Kenseth and Busch ended up the runner-up. He won for the sixth time in 2013, a career best, and scored his first victory at Chicagoland.
He led 89 of the 267 laps.
Kenseth drove the Dollar General Toyota and Busch the Doublemint Toyota, both entered by Joe Gibbs Racing.
Said the top-seeded Chase driver Kenseth, “It was awesome to win, and I had a really good car even though the first 30 laps didn’t go well. The first 30 laps was my fault but then Jason (Ratcliff) got me track position. Then we got the lead when Jimmie (Johnson) had his problems and we were able to adjust the car some more. When we got the rain delay, I thought we were going to be close, and I was worried about racing at night.
“We had great pit stops and a great strategy. And that push from Kevin (Harvick) at the end got us out front, which is where we needed to be.”
Added Ratliff, “The team performed great and we made good adjustments throughout the night. And during the night, the guys did a good job on pit road.”
Owner Gibbs complimented his two drivers and heaped praise on his sponsors.
The low-key nature of Kenseth surfaced in victory lane when he didn’t want to appear overly comfortable with the head start he got with the Chase. “It feels good to win, but now we have to work on New Hampshire.”
Kenseth thought the new restart rules worked well. “Kevin (Harvick) gave me a big push on that last restart, and I owe him one for that.”
“We had a really fast car today; it was awesome,” Busch said. “Yesterday, I didn’t think we had a shot, but the speed came alive tonight. But I hate it with the last yellow (flag). With that caution and restart, I was going fine until (Kevin) Harvick got to Matt’s (Kenseth) back bumper and pushed him by me. Sixteen hundred horsepower is better than 800 when you are battling like that.”
He said he tried valiantly to keep up with Kenseth going into the first turn but couldn’t make it happen. “Once he got by me, it was over,” he said.
Having won the Camping World Truck Series race on Friday and the Nationwide event on Saturday, Busch was looking for a weekend sweep, but saw it go away as the race wound down.
Kevin Harvick took third place ahead of Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson. Trailing them was Jeff Gordon, 2012 winner Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer.
Noted Harvick, who ran under the radar most of the night, “Our car ran well after the break, making adjustments toward the end.”
Regarding the final restart, he added, “I was pretty even with them (Busch and Kenseth) and was hoping they would get to racing side-by-side, and I figured pushing No. 20 was my best option.”
The push propelled Kenseth into the lead and the ultimate victory.
All were Chase contenders except for Ford aces Keselowski and Stenhouse.
Chase contenders Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne finished 11th and 12th.
Johnson, Gordon, Earnhardt, Kahne and Logano had off nights but the first two came through when it counted to chalk up top finishes.
Earnhardt and Logano suffered blown engines and ended up 35th and 37th in the final tally.
Said Johnson, “We never gave up and on that last run, I thought I had a chance to win this thing but we came home fifth.”
Two botched pit stops derailed his run early-on, dropping him to 24th at one point. However, he soldiered on and waged a hard-fought battle with Gordon in the final stages.
Kurt Busch bounced back from a pit-road speeding penalty to gain the fourth spot. “We had to come from behind, and it was a great call by Todd Berrier. We battled with Harvick and top-5’s are what it’s all about.”
In points, Kenseth leads Kyle Busch by eight and Johnson by 11. Harvick, Edwards and Kurt Busch hold down the fourth through sixth spots. Earnhardt is in 13th, 53 behind.
The Sprint Cup Series travels to the New Hampshire Motor Speedway next weekend for the second Chase race.