Kenseth wins Nationwide race at Kansas Speedway
Matt Kenseth is proving to be unbeatable at Kansas Speedway.
The winner of the last two Sprint Cup races at the track, Kenseth got into his Nationwide car and drove it to victory Saturday, taking advantage of a controversial late-race wreck that involved Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch to conserve enough fuel for the end.
“We had a lot of speed right off the truck. It felt really good,” Kenseth said. “I thought it was the best car we had all year at an open track.”
Kenseth crossed the finish line well ahead of Paul Menard, who got around Regan Smith on the final lap to take second. Busch finished fourth and Justin Allgaier was fifth.
The outcome was almost an afterthought, though, to the renewal of a long-standing feud between Keselowski and Busch that has threatened to spill over into Sunday’s Sprint Cup race.
Their teams locked in a battle for the owner’s championship, the two were side-by-side in the closing laps when Busch got into Keselowski’s left rear. That sent the No. 22 car backing into the outside wall and knocking Keselowski out of the race.
Keselowski angrily jumped out of his car and, rather than hop into the ambulance, jogged over the grass toward pit road. He gestured wildly at Busch’s crew before finally running to the infield care center — a long jog that did little to quell his temper.
“I got wrecked by a dirty driver. There’s no other way of putting it,” Keselowski said. “I’ve raced him really cool over the last year to be respectful to him and trying to repair our relationship. I’ve watched him wreck my truck and cost me from winning races. He put me in the fence in Chicago in the truck race. Nationwide races, he’s been pulling this crap.
“It’s not going to last,” Keselowski said, “I can tell you that.”
Busch said that he wasn’t trying to wreck Keselowski, and that he simply got tight coming out of the final corner. That forced the front of his car to drift toward the wall.
“It was hard racing. There were a lot of moments where I may be felt a little crowded,” Busch said. “The contact that ultimately ended it, I just got real tight.”
The wreck tightened up the ownership race. Keselowski’s Penske Racing team, which carried a 28-point lead over Busch’s No. 54 car for Joe Gibbs Racing into the weekend, now leads by just five points heading to next weekend’s race at Charlotte.
The incident could also throw some drama into the Chase.
Busch is third in the standings and just 12 points back of Kenseth, while Keselowski — the defending series champion — failed to qualify for NASCAR’s version of the playoffs.
“He has a lot more to lose than I do,” said Keselowski, apparently indicating that he would retaliate on Sunday. “I guess that’s the good thing about not being in the Chase.”
Busch said he would be prepared if Keselowski comes after him.
“If he wants to take it to the other side of the garage area, whatever,” Busch said, “but I have more class than that.”
Austin Dillon finished sixth to take over the points lead from Sam Hornish Jr. with four races left in the season. Dillon had trouble all afternoon with a blistering left front tire, but that was nothing compared to the mess that Hornish got himself in.
He was among several drivers who slapped into the outside wall, sustaining heavy damage to the right side of his car. Hornish lost a handful of places in the pits late in the race.
Dillon now has an eight-point lead over Hornish in the standings.
“We didn’t want to race like that. We had a car we thought we could run up front with,” he said. “But a sixth-place finish is great for us. We’re the point leader. That’s awesome.”
Parker Kligerman, Brad Sweet, Trevor Bayne and Elliott Sadler rounded out the top 10 in a race that was filled with cautions. There were 11 in all totaling 50 laps.
All the yellow flags left teams to choose among several pit strategies when Keselowski’s wreck brought out the final one. Smith elected to take four tires, most of the rest took two, but Kenseth had already put on his final set of tires and remained on the track.
It turned out that he had enough tread — and enough fuel — to hold on for the win.
“It’s hard to get away from anybody,” Kenseth said. “I knew it was important to get going, Regan gave me a little push there, I had just enough speed to get around them, and then I could use the whole track from there.”