If you looked at statistics alone, you'd say that Kenseth dominated Sunday at Kansas Speedway in the eighth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race of the season. After all, Kenseth won the event from the pole and led 163 of the 267 laps.
In reality, Kenseth prevailed in a race of extraordinary strategic complexity, with divergent approaches shuffling and reshuffling the running order until an opportune caution on Lap 218 put Kenseth back in the lead at just the right time.
Nonetheless, it took all of Kenseth's consummate skill to hold off fast-closing Kasey Kahne, who narrowed what had been a lead of more than one second to .151 seconds at the finish. Jimmie Johnson ran third, followed by Martin Truex Jr. and Clint Bowyer.
The victory was Kenseth's second at Kansas, his second of the season and the 26th of his career. The driver of the No. 20 Toyota has won both races at Kansas since the track was repaved last year.
"It was kind of like musical chairs," Kenseth said. "You had to be out front when the music stopped. Our car was very fast in clean air. It was reasonable in dirty air, but it wasn't quite good enough to catch all them guys and pass 'em (in traffic).
"Thankfully, I had a couple of really crazy-good restarts for some reason and made up some ground and got us back in position."
Kahne started 27th, but the speed in his No. 5 Chevrolet SS belied the qualifying effort. Kahne's crew tightened up the handling of his car for the final run, but not quite enough. There was a sense of déjà vu for Kahne, who chased Kenseth to the finish line Mar. 10 at Las Vegas.
"We were very close at the end, battling with Matt," Kahne said. "Felt like Vegas all over again, just kind of felt like really similar to that in how I could catch him but couldn't really do anything once I got close. It made my car a little bit looser. So I tried a few things there, and he kind of blocked those spots and went those directions and gained the speed that I (had), and then we were even again.
"It was tough, but we still had a great race."
Defending Cup champion Brad Keselowski came home sixth, despite sustaining heavy damage to his rear bumper when the field checked up on the first lap.
That damage had far-reaching effects—so much so that it changed the complexion of the race on Lap 218. The rear bumper cover from Keselowski's No. 2 Ford dislodged, causing the eighth caution—right after Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle had made green-flag pit stops.
But since all lead-lap cars came to pit road under the yellow, those four drivers were able to regain the lead lap through wavearounds. Kenseth led the field to the restart on Lap 225, with Truex beside him and Hendrick teammates Johnson and Kahne on the second row.
Kenseth pulled away after the restart, and Kahne charged into the second spot. On Lap 236, Johnson passed Truex for the third position and that's the order in which they ran to the finish.
With his third-place finish, Johnson opened a 37-point lead in the Cup standings over second-place Kahne, who gained five spots. Johnson is 38 points ahead of Keselowski in third.
Keselowski position in the standings reflects a 25-point penalty levied after the Apr. 13 race at Texas, where NASCAR confiscated the rear axle housings of both Penske Racing cars and subsequently levied penalties on the organization. Penske has appealed, but Keselowski won't regain the 25 points unless the appeal is upheld.
Note: For the third straight race, a driver won from the pole. The last time that happened was 1985 (Bill Elliott at Michigan, Dale Earnhardt at Bristol and Elliott at Darlington).
Jimmie Johnson: We did not rat out the Penske cars
Forget that the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage is a selfpolicing society. Forget that the transporter of reigning Cup champion Brad Keselowski was parked next to that of five-time champ Jimmie Johnson last week at Texas or that their garage stalls were in close proximity.
Johnson said emphatically that no one on his No. 48 team blew the whistle on Keselowski's team last week, when infractions involving rear end housings subsequently led to huge penalties for both of Penske Racing's Cup cars — the No. 2 of Keselowski and the No. 22 of Joey Logano.
Crew chiefs Paul Wolfe (No. 2) and Todd Gordon (No. 22) were fined $100,000 each and suspended for six Cup points races as well at the NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race in May. NASCAR also suspended the car chiefs and race engineers of both teams, along with Penske team manager Travis Geisler, for six weeks.
The punishments are stayed pending the hearing of Penske's appeal, but if they are upheld, the loss of personnel will test severely the depth of the Penske organization.
Where the actual detection of the violations is concerned, Johnson said in no uncertain terms that the No. 48 team had nothing to do with it, despite speculation to the contrary earlier in the week.
"No, the Hendrick group and the No. 48 team did not rat out the Penske cars," Johnson said Friday morning before Cup practice at Kansas Speedway. "There are two decisions teams are faced with in the garage area. Everybody has people watching. We've been very impressed with the No. 2 car's staff and their ability to have somebody just stand and watch other teams."
Johnson says that, while someone from the 48 team may try to discern what other teams are doing, it's not their style to play garage tattletale.
"This environment does take place in the garage area. Yeah, there are eyes open, but when a team sees something, they have two options. One, they go home and try to adapt it to their car and understand it and see if they can make it work, or they go in the [NASCAR] truck and say something. We don't say something. We're a company built on performance. We're a company that tries to understand the rule book as close as we can to the law.
"Sure, we have had our issues with it, but that's racing -- it's been that way since day one of racing. We go in there and we try to be as smart as we can and conform to the rules and put the best race car on the track. With all that being said, no, sure there was a lot of activity around the Penske cars during the test day, just like all the other cars. Everybody is watching, everybody is looking, but in no way shape or form did anybody from the No. 48 car walk into that truck and say anything."