|Kenseth wins Sprint Cup race at Kentucky|
|Monday, July 01, 2013 12:10 AM|
SPARTA, Ky. — Matt Kenseth has raced long enough to know that rough starts can still have good outcomes.
Especially when his crew chief takes chances.
Case in point was Kenseth’s fuel-only pit stop gamble that helped him beat Jimmie Johnson late to win the rescheduled 400-mile NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at Kentucky Speedway.
A race that was Johnson’s to lose ultimately became Kenseth’s series-high fourth victory of the season — and third on a 1.5-mile track — after crew chief Jason Ratcliff passed on putting new tires on the No. 20 Toyota following the race’s ninth caution.
“I thought he was slightly crazy when that happened,” said Kenseth, who widened his lead when the field went 4-wide after the restart on lap 246 and saw Johnson’s No. 48 Chevy spin from second place on a day he led three times for 182 of 267 laps. “I didn’t think there was any way that we were going to hold on for that win. He made the right call at the right time and those guys got it done.”
Kenseth led twice for 38 laps, including the final 23. Johnson, the 5-time champion and series points leader, finished ninth and leads Carl Edwards by 38.
The restart bothered Johnson, who accused Kenseth of breaking the pace-car speed. But Johnson took solace in salvaging his 11th top-10 despite between sandwiched in the logjam that could have been worse.
“We were kind of in an awkward situation in that restart there,” he explained. “We were like 3- and 4-wide going in the corner, then something happened with the air and just kind of turned me around. Unfortunate but at least we rallied back for a good finish.”
Second was Jamie McMurray in a Chevy, followed by Clint Bowyer (Toyota), Joey Logano (Ford) and Kyle Busch (Toyota).
Rain Saturday night forced NASCAR officials to postpone the race to a daytime start.
The event was red-flagged for 18 minutes following a 7-car wreck involving defending race and Sprint Cup winner Brad Keselowski, who returned to finish 33rd. It was the biggest incident of 10 cautions for 42 laps but things were clean after Johnson brought out the final yellow flag.
The checkered flag crowned Kentucky’s third different champion in as many events though Kenseth, like Johnson, was due for a breakthrough on the 1.5-mile oval.
He finished seventh here last year and sixth in the 2011 inaugural race. However, victory didn’t seem likely for the 2003 Cup champion after qualifying 16th and running outside the top 20 during the first quarter of the event.
“I thought our first run, we were all right and I guess probably after the second run, we were able to move forward pretty good,” Kenseth said. “I felt pretty good about what we had. I thought we need to get it better.”
From then on, the first-year Joe Gibbs Racing driver was a perennial top-5 contender. Trouble was, he and other hopefuls seemed to need Johnson to suffer misfortune to have any shot of catching him. The way he was running, that appeared unlikely.
Turns out, Kenseth needed to rely on the left-side tires Ratcliff ordered the previous stop. Taking fuel only the final time allowed him to gain the lead coming off pit road and the rubber held up on the rough, bumpy track, both on the restart and through the final laps.
Ratcliff was shocked that more teams didn’t follow suit with that strategy.
“I felt like more guys would make that call and so I thought it was worth a shot to get out there,” the crew chief said. “When we rolled off pit road and saw what everybody did, I looked to the guy beside me and I’m like, ‘I can’t believe we are the only ones that did that’.”
The decision led to a surprising late turn of events and the tense finish in which McMurray and Bowyer took turns trying to chase down Kenseth provided a nice makeup after Saturday night’s washout.
In a season of struggles, McMurray was just happy with his first top five.
“Every week it’s been something,” he said, “so it’s nice to have some good luck.”
Bowyer remained third in points and gave Michael Waltrip Racing its second straight top-2 run following teammate Martin Truex Jr.’s road win last week in Sonoma, Calif.
Johnson was a favorite after strong practices and a third-place qualifying run and quickly picked up where he left off to become the story on Sunday with the best car after several early lead changes.
The race’s biggest incident came on lap 49 when Kurt Busch spun out Keselowski near turn 1, triggering an accident that red-flagged the race. Greg Biffle slammed into Keselowski, lifting his car off the asphalt and leaving both Fords mangled.
Somehow, both returned to finish 33rd and 34th respectively.
But at the time of the wreck Johnson had already taken his first lead of the race and appeared headed to a walkover victory before Ratcliff’s risk resulted in Kenseth’s reward.
Fittipaldi, Barbosa win at Watkins Glen
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Christian Fittipaldi and Joao Barbosa won the Six Hours of The Glen on Sunday for their second straight Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series victory.
Fittipaldi held off Michael Valiante by 0.265 seconds in the second-closest finish in the history of the Daytona Prototype class in the 6-hour event on the 3.4-mile, 11-turn Watkins Glen International road circuit. The No. 5 Action Express Racing Corvette DP teammates also won June 15 at Mid-Ohio.
Fittipaldi and Barbosa moved within five points of season leaders Max Angelelli and Jordan Taylor with five races left. Angelelli and Taylor finished 10th after breaking a shifter arm and shift linkage on the first lap.
Robin Liddell led the final 11 laps to win in the GT class, the fourth win in five races with teammate John Edwards in the No. 57 Stevenson Automotive Group Camaro. Joel Miller, Tristan Nunez and Yojiro Terada gave Mazda and Speedsource its fourth consecutive victory in the GX class in the No. 00 Visit Florida Racing Mazda 6.
Tony Schumacher wins at Joliet
JOLIET, Ill. — Tony Schumacher’s engine exploded in a fireball Sunday as he crossed the finish line to win the Route 66 NHRA Nationals.
Schumacher, the 7-time season champion from nearby Long Grove, raced to his third victory of the season and the 72nd of his career. He finished in 3.930 seconds at 269.29 mph to hold off Clay Millican and regain the season points lead.
Matt Hagan extended his Funny Car series lead with his third win of the season, edging 64-year-old John Force at the finish line. Hagan’s Dodge Charger posted a 4.605 at 315.34, while Force’s Ford Mustang finished in 4.113 at 304.80.
Jeg Coughlin topped the Pro Stock field and Michael Ray won in Pro Stock Motorcycle.
In Pro Stock, Coughlin raced to his second win of the season and fifth at Route 66 Raceway when he drove his Dodge Avenger away from final round opponent Greg Anderson. Coughlin covered the distance in 6.603 at 209.85, while Anderson’s Chevy Camaro lost traction near mid-track. It was Coughlin’s 54th career victory.
Ray earned his second win of the season and third of his career in Pro Stock Motorcycle, beating former teammate Matt Smith in the final round. Ray used a near-perfect reaction time and powered his Buell to a 6.986 at 191.29 to hold off Smith’s charging Buell, which finished in 6.992 at 190.22.
Rosberg wins controversial British Grand Prix
SILVERSTONE, England — Nico Rosberg won the British Grand Prix on Sunday after four drivers, including early leader Lewis Hamilton, had to deal with exploding tires and 3-time champion Sebastian Vettel quit with 10 laps remaining because of mechanical problems.
With Vettel’s Red Bull teammate Mark Webber closing fast, Rosberg managed to win his second race of the year and third of his career by 0.7 seconds in a nail-biting finish — then had to survive a stewards inquiry.
Ferrari’s Fernando Alonso, who started ninth, made a late charge up the grid and got past Lotus driver Kimi Raikkonen with two laps remaining to claim third. Hamilton also recovered to finish fourth, after his blown tire sent him to the back of the grid in the eighth lap.
Soon after celebrating, Rosberg risked seeing his victory slip away when he was referred to the stewards for not slowing down for yellow flags in turns 3 and 5. The stewards ruled that Rosberg “did not make a significant reduction in speed” but only received a reprimand, or warning. After three reprimands during a season, drivers are given a 10-place grid penalty. This was Rosberg’s first.
Hamilton seemed poised to win his first British Grand Prix since 2008 after getting a great start and extending his lead over 3-time world champion Vettel.
But on the eighth lap, the 2008 champion’s left rear tire exploded and he was forced to limp into the pits. Two laps later, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa lost his left rear tire and spun out. Then, Toro Rosso’s Jean-Eric Vergne also lost his rear tire on the 15th, sending rubber flying across the track.
That brought out the safety car until lap 22 and sparked renewed concerns about the reliability of Pirelli tires. It also prompted drivers to later warn of the dangers of exploding tires — which affected McLaren driver Sergio Perez on both Saturday and Sunday.
Alonso admitted he was “scared” after being sprayed with debris from Perez’s tire and Rosberg called for action to prevent a similar situation in Germany next weekend.
The FIA has ordered tire supplier Pirelli to attend a meeting on the issue on Wednesday in Germany.
Pirelli announced it was investigating the matter but ruled out a new bonding process for the tires that was introduced ahead of the British Grand Prix being to blame. The company added “there may be some aspect of the circuit” that contributed to the problem.