Matt Kenseth thought he was dreaming at the end of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race but he was wide awake when he scored his first career win at Darlington Speedway.
Despite his crew chief being under suspension, Matt Kenseth drove the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota to the win in the Bojangles' Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Darlington (S.C.) Speedway on Saturday. It was Kenseth's third win of the season, but the first of his career at Darlington.
"I've only dreamed about winning the Southern 500," Kenseth said. "This is probably one of the biggest wins of my career."
His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Denny Hamlin, in the No. 11 Toyota, finished second in his first full race after being sidelined for about a month-and-a-half for a back injury.
"I'm tired, just worn out," Hamlin said after the race.
Jeff Gordon finished third in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
"I thought (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) called a great race," Gordon said. "We made the right adjustments at the right time."
Kyle Busch dominated much of the race, leading 265 laps of the 367-lap distance. He wound up just outside the top-five in sixth at the finish. Busch was still leading with 13 laps to go when he was passed by Kenseth for the top spot. In the remaining laps, he continued to lose positions. The No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Jimmie Johnson got by him for a fourth-place finish, and the No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet of Kevin Harvick got by to finish fifth.
Pole sitter Kurt Busch in the No. 78 Furniture Row Racing Chevrolet led the way until just before lap 80 when both Kyle Busch and Kenseth passed him to take the top-two spots. The JGR duo of Kyle Busch and Kenseth then ran first and second, until Hamlin took only two tires on a pit stop during the first caution of the race on lap 124 to gain eight spots and restart second.
On lap 135, though, Kenseth retook second from his teammate and tried to run down Busch with no success. Both Busch and Kenseth were among the last two pit during a cycle of green flag pit stops that started on lap 178, and as a result, lost time to those who pitted earlier. When the cycle completed, it was the Hendrick Motorsports duo of Gordon and Johnson in the top-two spots instead the Joe Gibbs Racing teammates of Busch and Kenseth.
Busch wasn't out of the lead for long. He got by Gordon to take the lead on lap 205. Soon after, Gordon was also passed by Johnson for second. Busch and Johnson occupied the top-two spots for a while, until Johnson gave up second to head down pit road during a caution that came out with 55 laps to go.
Johnson's pit stop moved Kenseth up to second to restart next to Busch, and Kasey Kahne in the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and Gordon to restart third and fourth. Johnson restarted fifth on four new tires.
Both Kahne and Johnson got by Kenseth on the restart to take second and third. Another caution came out a few laps later, putting Busch and Kahne side-by-side on the front row for the restart. Kahne challenged Busch for the lead when the race went back to green, and Kahne was even able to briefly get in front of Busch. But Kahne hit the wall with 34 laps to go, right after he had Busch's No. 18 cleared, to bring out the fifth and final caution of the race.
"We were racing hard," Kahne said. "I cleared him getting into (turn) three. I knew he wouldn't be able to turn getting into the corner."
By the time the yellow had waved, JGR was in possession of the top-three spots in the running order, with Busch up front, Kenseth back up to second and Hamlin in third. A few laps after the race went back to green, Busch began losing spots and continued to drop back until the checkered flag.
Carl Edwards was the only Ford driver to finish in the top-10, finishing seventh in the No. 99 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. The top-10 was rounded out by a trio of Chevrolets -- the No. 42 Earnhardt Ganassi Racing Chevrolet of Juan Montoya, the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet of Dale Earnhardt Jr., and the No. 39 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet of Ryan Newman.