By Brian Citino
Mark that one down in the memory banks folks, because Sunday’s “AAA 400 Drive for Autism” NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway was one for the ages.
Matt Kenseth celebrates in Victory Lane after the “AAA 400 Drive for Autism” NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway on Sunday, May 15. GETTY IMAGES
Side-by-side battles, big wrecks and a tight finish were aplenty, with Matt Kenseth coming out on top, barely holding off Kyle Larson and rookie Chase Elliott over the final 35 laps for one of the most thrilling finishes in the track’s history.
“We put on quite a good show for the fans,” said Jason Ratcliffe, Kenseth’s crew chief.
“I thought it was one of the greatest races ever here because I won,” joked Kenseth. “But no, seriously, it was a close race. There have been some good races here and this one was up there.”
Cars pile up on the frontstretch during a massive wreck during the “AAA 400 Drive for Autism” NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race on Sunday, May 15. GETTY IMAGES
“I couldn’t be prouder of Matt,” said Joe Gibbs, Kenseth’s team owner. “That last 20 laps was about as good as anybody can drive a racecar. Kyle and Chase did a really good job battling.”
Kenseth, a three-time Dover Cup race winner and the 2003 NASCAR Sprint Cup champion, was pushed to his limits, mostly by Larson as the race wound down. Time and time again, Larson got close, nearly overtaking Kenseth on quite a few occasions.
“I wasn’t very confident that I was going to be able to hold him off,” Kenseth said. “He was all over me. Luckily, Chase caught him and got side by side, and that gave me a little room.”
The driver of the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota lauded his competition for the way he raced as well, as Larson was clean in all of his attempts to get by the competition.
“He raced me really hard, really clean,” he said. “He’s a great racecar driver and it doesn’t seem right to me that he hasn’t won yet. But he’s got a lot of victories in his future.”
Larson said he wanted to race Kenseth cleanly, noting his deep respect for the veteran.
“I got close to his bumper a couple of times; I may have even gotten into him once,” he said. “I didn’t want to do anything dirty. I respect Matt Kenseth a lot. He’s, in my eyes, the cleanest racer out there.
“I’m also still early in my career so I don’t want to make anyone mad or any rivals. I try to race everyone with respect.”
The Monster Mile must have been hungry, because after only one yellow flag, a competition caution, over the first 120 laps, chaos ensued. A total of 22 drivers were involved in accidents, 18 of whom were caught up in a massive wreck following a restart at lap 356.
On that restart, Jimmie Johnson started out front. However, when the green flag dropped, the No. 48’s transmission locked up, disabling him from getting up to speed. Stock cars don’t have brake lights, something the 17 cars behind Johnson probably wished for as they all wrecked into each other before reaching Turn 1.
Fortunately, while the Monster ate up quite a few cars on the day, the drivers all walked away with nothing more than some bumps and bruises.
The win for Kenseth was the 135th for Joe Gibbs Racing, tying the organization for the third most all-time with Roush Fenway Racing. With the victory, Kenseth is firmly locked in place for the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
The race ran for three hours, 39 minutes and 29 seconds. It featured 19 lead changes among 10 drivers, and 12 cautions for 65 laps.
The top 10 was rounded out by Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney, Martin Truex Jr. and Trevor Bayne.