By Reid SpencerLONG POND, Pa. – Matt Kenseth, the unexpected winner of Sunday’s Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway, had to do a double take.
So did second and third-place finishers Brad Keselowski and Jeff Gordon.
Kenseth got a gift on the final lap of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race when Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch ran out of fuel halfway through the final lap at the 2.5-mile triangular track.
Seeking his fourth straight victory in the series, Busch didn’t save quite enough fuel on the last green-flag run to complete the 160-lap event, but he still gained 10 points toward his goal of reaching the top 30 in the series standings.
Busch, who finished 21st after getting a push toward the finish line from Reed Sorenson, is now 13 points behind 30th-place David Gilliland. Busch has five races to crack the top 30 to become eligible for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Because Busch was pushed by another car, he did not get credit for completing the final lap, but that did not affect his finishing position.
Collectively, the top three finishers led seven laps. Joey Logano, who handed the lead to Busch when the No. 22 Team Penske Ford ran out of fuel with fewer than three laps left, led 97.
But Kenseth wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth, especially after the driver of the No. 20 JGR Toyota did what others failed to do—save enough gas to get to the finish. Kenseth’s second victory of the season locked him into the Chase.
“There’s nothing like wins,” said Kenseth, who collected his first victory at Pocono and the 33rd of his career. “We had a lot of wins in 2013 and were pretty spoiled and last year we had a big dry spell, and this year we were able to win Bristol.
“We’ve been up front a lot, so just really, really thankful to be with these guys and to get the win. I never thought I’d ever win at Pocono, and I never ever thought I’d win a fuel mileage race, so we did both today.”
Despite coming tantalizingly close to a fourth straight win, Busch was philosophical about the near miss.
“Man, that’s a bummer,” said Busch, who ran out of fuel on the Long Pond straightaway approaching the Tunnel Turn, less than a mile-and-a-half from the finish line. “I wish I would’ve saved a little more there that last run.
“I wish I would’ve known that the 22 (Logano) was that far away from making it. He was way far away from making it. Man, that was just a shame that we weren’t able to get it done there.”
Busch took a moment to reflect on what might have been. The empty fuel tank also cost him entry into the top 30.
“We would be celebrating a win and a Chase berth,” he said ruefully. “We got greedy. I don’t know how greedy, but that’s the position we’re in.
“If it came down to other things that we haven’t had the success that we’ve had here lately, we would’ve had to have pitted and just made the opportunity of it and made the best finish that we could. But, we went for broke today and come up a little bit short, so can’t fault the team.”
Keselowski, who ran out of fuel as he approached the finish line, recovered from an early penalty for sliding through his pit, knocking his jack man off his feet and knocking a tire out of his front carrier’s hands.
The No. 2 Ford lost a lap, regained it and came home second, 9.012 seconds behind Kenseth, as lack of fuel took its toll on the frontrunners. The outcome left Keselowski with mixed feelings.
“Unfortunately, just another race where I kind of feel like it didn’t all come together for us, and this one certainly on my end with having problems on pit road and kind of sliding through the box,” said the 2012 series champion. “That dug a hole, got us a lap down with the penalty and so forth.
“I think the last restart with, had to be somewhere around 60 or 70 to go (actually 63), we restarted 12th and we were able to drive up to sixth and looked like we were going to be able to get to fifth, and then the fuel play came in there at the end. We were able to take care of it to bring home second, which is a very respectable day. Certainly probably not where we were going to finish without the fuel, but I guess that’s sometimes how it works.”
Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran fourth and Greg Biffle fifth, as none of the top five finishers were threats to finish that high before the varying fuel strategies scrambled the final order.
“There at the end we were one of the last ones to pit which allowed us to run hard all the way to the finish not having to conserve or save fuel,” said Gordon, smiling at the stroke of good fortune. “I thought we were trying to get maybe 10th or 12th and all of a sudden they said you’re third, and I think I was probably the most shocked person out there on the race track when I found that out.
“I knew cars were peeling off, but I just didn’t realize that many were either running out or coming to pit road.”
Note: Both Martin Truex Jr. and Logano, who along with Busch had the strongest cars all afternoon, were cited for speeding on pit road after running out of fuel and were dropped to 19th and 20th, respectively, in the finishing order, the last two cars on the lead lap.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race – Windows 10 400
Long Pond, Pennsylvania
Sunday, August 02, 2015
1. (7) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 160, $233601.
2. (9) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 160, $205166.
3. (10) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 160, $181686.
4. (15) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 160, $134375.
5. (25) Greg Biffle, Ford, 160, $139908.
6. (12) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 160, $144851.
7. (22) AJ Allmendinger, Chevrolet, 160, $125323.
8. (19) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 160, $124073.
9. (5) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, 160, $116279.
10. (8) Carl Edwards, Toyota, 160, $87915.
11. (18) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 160, $94440.
12. (27) Kyle Larson, Chevrolet, 160, $112908.
13. (4) Austin Dillon, Chevrolet, 160, $120611.
14. (29) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 160, $82250.
15. (17) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 160, $111541.
16. (20) Danica Patrick, Chevrolet, 160, $89125.
17. (24) David Ragan, Toyota, 160, $107539.
18. (21) Aric Almirola, Ford, 160, $116956.
19. (13) Martin Truex Jr., Chevrolet, 160, $106015.
20. (3) Joey Logano, Ford, 160, $128853.
21. (1) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 159, $140811.
22. (11) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 159, $93645.
23. (14) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 159, $110670.
24. (31) Justin Allgaier, Chevrolet, 159, $102528.
25. (28) Alex Bowman, Chevrolet, 159, $92203.
26. (39) Michael Annett, Chevrolet, 159, $77895.
27. (33) Cole Whitt, Ford, 159, $88853.
28. (26) Casey Mears, Chevrolet, 159, $92092.
29. (36) Matt DiBenedetto #, Toyota, 159, $75895.
30. (35) JJ Yeley(i), Toyota, 159, $75745.
31. (32) Brett Moffitt #, Ford, 158, $74095.
32. (40) Travis Kvapil(i), Ford, 158, $73920.
33. (37) David Gilliland, Ford, 158, $81720.
34. (41) Reed Sorenson, Chevrolet, 157, $73520.
35. (38) Jeb Burton #, Toyota, 157, $73370.
36. (43) Timmy Hill(i), Ford, 156, $73120.
37. (6) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 150, $90931.
38. (42) Alex Kennedy #, Chevrolet, 126, $68102.
39. (30) Sam Hornish Jr., Ford, 123, $90375.
40. (23) Trevor Bayne, Ford, Overheating, 91, $104605.
41. (34) Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Ford, Accident, 27, $64030.
42. (2) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, Engine, 20, $104855.
43. (16) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, Accident, 3, $66530.