Matt Kenseth passed Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch with 13 laps to go to win his first Southern 500 on Saturday night in Darlington, S.C.
Busch had the strongest car for much of the race and led for 265 of the 367 laps at Darlington Raceway. But his machine appeared to fall away at the worst possible time and he faded to sixth.
Denny Hamlin completed his first full race since suffering a compression fracture in a vertebra in his lower back on March 24.
Jeff Gordon finished third in his 700th straight career start. Points leader Jimmie Johnson was fourth and Kevin Harvick fifth.
Kenseth’s victory came without crew chief Jason Ratcliff, who was suspended for having an illegal part in a win at Kansas.
Carl Edwards finished seventh, followed by Juan Pablo Montoya and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Ryan Newman rounded out the top 10.
“This is a dream come true,” Kenseth shouted on his radio. “Thank you guys very much.”
Kenseth had won three times at Darlington in the Nationwide Series but had never come closer than third in Sprint Cup. Once he cleared Busch, Kenseth had smooth sailing to the finish to win for the third time in his debut JGR season. It was Kenseth’s 27th career Sprint Cup victory.
No one matched Busch for most of the race. He had powered to victory in the Nationwide event Friday and was running strong again after taking the lead from older brother and pole-sitter Kurt Busch 74 laps in.
The best chance to defeat Kyle Busch appeared to come from Emumclaw’s Kasey Kahne, who pressured his JGR rival on the restart after the fourth caution period. Kahne looked like he had cleared Busch but the car got loose and the back end slammed the wall.
Kahne was not happy with Busch’s maneuver.
“Three times this year me and Kyle had contact and I had a chance – capable-winning cars. It’s disappointing on the points side and not winning some of these races,” Kahne said. “Whether he hit me or just blew the air off, whatever it was, he blew his entry. I’m not sure what he was thinking on that.”
Kyle Busch stayed on top through several stretches of green-flag racing and through the first four restarts. But his machine couldn’t keep up after Kenseth went by.
“Honestly, I have only dreamed about winning the Southern 500,” Kenseth said. “This to me feels bigger than probably any win in my career.”
BROWN TOPS IN TOP FUEL
Antron Brown raced to the Top Fuel victory Saturday at the weather-delayed NHRA Southern Nationals at the Atlanta Dragway in Commerce, Ga.
Brown earned his second victory of the season and his fifth win at the Georgia dragstrip, powering past Brandon Bernstein, who lost traction at the start and was never a factor.
Johnny Gray (Funny Car) and Mike Edwards (Pro Stock) also were winners.
Mercedes will start the Spanish Grand Prix from the front row after Nico Rosberg had the fastest qualifying time ahead of teammate Lewis Hamilton in Barcelona, Spain. … Lucas Luhr and Klaus Graf won for the second straight year in the American Le Mans Series at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca in Monterey, Calif. Luhr became series career leader in victories with 43.