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Last Lap Flat For Busch = Win For Kenseth
By Reid Spencer, Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
DARLINGTON, S.C. (May 8, 2009) -- Maybe Matt Kenseth's luck has turned again.
On Friday afternoon, Kenseth was the surprise pole winner for Saturday's Southern 500 Sprint Cup race at Darlington Raceway.
On Friday night, he completed the daily double with a victory in the Diamond Hill Plywood 200 Nationwide Series race at the 1.366-mile egg-shaped track, after misfortune struck the dominant car of Kyle Busch in the closing circuits.
Kenseth inherited the lead when Busch was forced to pit under yellow with a cut right-rear tire and won the race under the record-tying 10th caution period of the night, when Morgan Shepherd spun moments after a restart for a green-white-checkered-flag finish that took the race six laps beyond its scheduled 147 laps.
The victory was Kenseth's first of the season, his third at Darlington and his 25th in the series, fifth best all-time. Jason Leffler came home second, followed by Carl Edwards and rookie Erik Darnell, who posted his first top-five finish in his third start in the series. Fellow rookie Justin Allgaier ran fifth.
"Today couldn't have gone any better than it did, that's for sure," said Kenseth, who won the first two Cup races of the season before his fortunes soured and a series of miscues and mishaps dropped him to 12th in the standings. "Like I said earlier, it's all really about the cars and the people that work on them and your pit stops and all that.
"I can't go fast with slow cars, which I proved over the last couple months. It feels good to be able to win one of these things… On the Cup side, it feels good to make changes today, and the car actually reacted to it and seemed to drive a lot better than our stuff has lately, so it's been a good day for us. Hopefully, that will continue (Saturday)."
With Busch finishing 16th, Edwards trimmed the Joe Gibbs Racing driver's advantage in the series standings to 37 points.
Busch, who led a race-high 143 laps, was two circuits away from victory when a wreck on the backstretch involving Scott Lagasse Jr. and Joe Nemechek brought out the ninth caution and set up the green-white-checkered-flag finish. Busch ran over debris from the wreck.
Busch's right rear tire sustained a cut to the inside sidewall. The tire likely would not have survived the restart, and Busch and crew chief Jason Ratliff made the prudent call to pit and change tires.
Notes: Friday's Nationwide qualifying session was rained out, and the starting field was set according to owner points. Busch started from the pole and Kenseth from the sixth spot… Brad Keselowski survived three spins, the first on the initial lap of the race, to finish 11th… Ryan Newman drove Kevin Harvick's No. 33 Chevrolet to a sixth-place finish. That car now leads Busch's JGR Toyota by seven points in the owners' standings.
Unofficial Race Results click here
Post-Race Driver Point Standings click here
The Race: Diamond Hill Plywood 200
The Place: Darlington Raceway
The Date: Friday, May 8
The Time: 7:30 p.m. ET
The Distance: 200.8 miles / 147 laps
TV: ESPN2 & TSN2, 8 p.m. AT
Radio: Sirius NASCAR Radio / MRN
2008 Winner: Tony Stewart
2008 Pole: Carl Edwards
Event Schedule: Friday-Final Practice 8:30-11:00 a.m.; Qualifying 3:10 a.m.
Year-To-Date Results & Standings: click here
Broadcast Times - AT*
Qualifying: Friday May 8 at 4 p.m./SPEED
Countdown: Friday May 8 at 8 p.m./ESPN2 & TSN2
Race: Friday May 8 at 8:45 p.m./ESPN2 & TSN2
*AT is one hour ahead of ET, i.e. if it's 2 p.m./AT - it's 1 p.m./ET...
Qualifying Notes & Starting Lineup
Complete Starting Lineup click here
- Jason Keller Reaches For 5,000-Mile Mark At Darlington...Jason Keller (No. 27 Rite-Aid Ford) is not only the “Iron Man” of the NASCAR Nationwide Series, but also is earning that nickname at his home track, Darlington Raceway.
The Greenville, S.C., native is the series’ all-time leader in starts (465) and Friday night, he’ll attempt to add to his resume and become the first NASCAR Nationwide driver to reach the 5,000-mile plateau at Darlington. That accomplishment would supplement another mark he holds there – the most NASCAR Nationwide Series laps completed (3,598).
Keller returns to Darlington to make his 27th series start at the famed 1.366-mile track. He’s currently ranked seventh in the series standings and is aiming to finish the season in the top 10 in points for the first time since 2005, the last time he drove full-time in the series for the same owner.
The owner tandem of Mike Curb and Gary Baker have watched the series-only veteran return to his old self in his first full season at Baker Curb Racing. Keller has three top 10s this year, including a ninth-place finish at Richmond International Raceway last Friday night. His other two top-10 finishes came at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.
“I think we’ve had some strong runs and can take a lot of positives so far,” said Keller. “The entire team is doing everything we can to continue to improve (each) week. If you look at where this team is now compared to the end of last year, we’ve done just that. Having said that, we’re not content with where we are and still need to improve as the season continues.
The team is 11th in series owner points, just 15 points out of 10th. Heading to Darlington, Keller has posted three top fives and 10 top 10s over his 26 starts at the egg-shaped oval.
- Steve Wallace Breaks Into Top 10 In Points For The First Time...Steve Wallace’s (No. 66 US Fidelis Chevrolet) maturation continues.
With his 11th-place finish at Richmond International Raceway he has climbed to 10th in the driver standings, coming full circle from his 42nd-place finish to start the season at Daytona. This is the first time in Wallace’s NASCAR Nationwide Series career he’s been ranked in the top 10.
Last season Wallace posted two top fives in succession at Richmond and Darlington, his career-best finishes. This year, his consistency since Daytona has proven to be his key to success. He has three top 10s thus far in 2009, the earliest in his career he’s accumulated that many.
Entering Darlington, he has the opportunity to continue his early momentum. The 2009 NASCAR season-to-date Loop Data shows him with a Driver Rating of 80.8 and a Average Running Position of 16.720. Both stats are up from 2008 where he posted a Driver Rating of 76.5 and a Average Running Position 18.995.
Wallace isn’t alone. His Rusty Wallace Racing organization has gotten off to a good start this year. Brendan Gaughan (No. 62 South Point Casino Chevrolet), a Raybestos Rookie of the Year candidate, is one spot behind his teammate at 11th in the standings. Gaughan has three top 10s and a pole in 2009. He’s third in the rookie rankings behind Michael McDowell (No. 47 Tom’s Toyota) and Scott Lagasse Jr. (No. 11 America’s Incredible Pizza Co. Toyota).
Friday night will be Gaughan’s first NASCAR Nationwide Series attempt at Darlington. He has one start there in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series where he finished 27th in 2004.
- Jason Leffler Not Backing Down From Busch, Edwards In Championship Chase...Kyle Busch (No. 18 Z-Line Designs Toyota) and Carl Edwards (No. 60 Scotts Ford) are trying to steal the show, but Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota) continues to be a factor.
His 10th-place finish at Richmond was his fourth top-10 in a row and the sixth time this year he’s finished in that group which has launched him to the best start of his career.
Sitting third in the points, Leffler is still within striking distance of series standings leader Busch (198 points back), and is 116 behind Edwards, who is in second.
Leffler had top-10 finishes in each of this last three races at “The Lady in Black,” and leads six series-only regulars in the top 10 in driver points heading to race No. 10 on the year.
Leffler has a chance to gain even more ground in the points on Busch and Edwards. The NASCAR Pre-Race Loop Data for the Diamond Plywood 200 has Leffler ranked higher than Busch and Edwards in Average Running Position — Leffler is ranked eighth (9.643); Busch is ranked ninth (10.201); Edwards is 21st (21.034).
Leffler also bests Edwards in Driver Rating. He has a Pre-Race Driver Rating of 102.6, while Edwards stands at 79.3.
- No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Team Returns To Darlington To Continue Winning Streak...The No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota has dominated recently at Darlington, winning the last three races (Denny Hamlin 2006, 07 from the pole; Tony Stewart last year).
This weekend, it is Joey Logano’s (No. 20 GameStop Toyota) turn at continuing the team’s winning streak. The defending car owner champion is currently fourth in the owner rankings, 96 points behind its Joe Gibbs Racing running mate, the No. 18 Toyota driven by Kyle Busch. His crew chief, Jason Ratcliff, is a native of Sumter, S.C.
Logano will be making his first NASCAR national series start at Darlington this weekend. He just missed his fourth straight top-five finish with a sixth-place result at Richmond last Friday night.
Logano is fourth in driver points despite not being entered at Las Vegas.
He isn’t scheduled to run a full season in 2009, instead concentrating on his NASCAR Sprint Cup rookie campaign. But his strong showing in the NASCAR Nationwide series isn’t going unnoticed. He leads the series in season-to-date Average Running Position (7.018), and is ranked third in Driver Rating (109.8).
- Finch’s Triumphant Return Home...James Finch, owner of Phoenix Racing, bases his shop in Spartanburg S.C. and is back home two weeks after his incredible NASCAR Sprint Cup victory at Talladega with Brad Keselowski (No 88 Delphi Chevrolet) as his driver.
Finch was so close to bringing back-to-back wins home to Darlington. His NASCAR Nationwide Series driver, Mike Bliss (No. 9 Miccosukee Resorts Chevrolet), had a stellar run going last Friday night at Richmond, leading twice for 62 laps and was a factor until a broken track bar late relegated him to a 33rd-place finish.
- Burton Looking For Past Darlington Magic...Jeff Burton (No. 29 Holiday Inn Chevrolet) has four wins at Darlington, tying him with Harry Gant for second in wins there all-time. Mark Martin leads the series with eight.
In 24 races, Burton has augmented those victories with 11 top fives, 15 top 10s and two poles. He won three races in succession from 2001-02, but for Burton that’s a mini-slump at the track. That, plus he hasn’t won a series race since 2007 at Homestead.
Burton is fourth all-time in NASCAR Nationwide wins (27).
- Morgan Shepherd’s 250th Career Start...NASCAR veteran Morgan Shepherd (No. 89 Eldora Speedway/Lagina Plumbing Chevrolet) will attempt to make his 250th start in the NASCAR Nationwide Series this weekend at Darlington. Shepherd, who has a combined 811 starts in NASCAR’s national series, has recorded 15 wins in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, as well as 44 top five and 67 top 10s.
Shepherd, who is running the full series schedule in 2009, has two top-20 finishes in nine races so far this season, a 19th-place finish at Auto Club Speedway and a 13th-place run at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
At age 67, Shepherd is the oldest fulltime competitor in NASCAR and is the second-oldest driver to ever have won a NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
In 21 starts at Darlington in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Shepherd has three top fives and six top 10s.
- Tie-Dye Team Tribute...Smith-Ganassi Racing with Evander Holyfield will sport a colorful tie-dye paint scheme to raise awareness of Bluegrass musician Barney Barnwell’s plight at Darlington.
The No. 42 Dodge team led by owner Eddie Smith, driver Kenny Hendrick and crew chief Tim Weiss, has decided to donate their unsponsored hood space to worthwhile causes. For the Darlington race, the “Bail Out for Barney” campaign will be the featured cause. Barnwell is well-known Bluegrass musician and singer with the Plum Hollow Band, who has fallen on hard times after being diagnosed with throat cancer.
- McDowell Reclaims Rookie Lead...Michael McDowell has shot to the front of the rookie standings after a eighth-place finish at Richmond, his second top-10 result of the season.
McDowell leads the rooklie standings by a slim two-point margin over Scott Lagasse Jr. Brendan Gaughan and Justin Algaier (No. 12 Verizon Wireless Dodge) who are locked in a three-way tie for second.
McDowell was the season’s first rookie leader after Daytona, but was supplanted by Gaughan following the second race at Auto Club Speedway.
Gaughan held the top spot until after the race at Bristol Motor Speedway, when Allgaier claimed the lead. He held that position for a season-high five races before McDowell reclaimed the the No. 1 slot.
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