Matt Kenseth at the finish line (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
Las Vegas deja vu: Matt Kenseth dominated Sunday's Kansas 400 but again had to hold off a fast-closing Kasey Kahne on a warm, sunny afternoon in this Midwestern heartland.
Kenseth, as at Las Vegas, was untouchable in the three-hour race.
But a late yellow shook up drivers in the end game. A yellow for debris off Brad Keselowski's car with 75 miles to go, just as teams were starting the final round of scheduled pit stops, took Ford challengers Ricky Stenhouse, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle out of the game, and Chevy teams filled the void.
Kenseth's three teammates, Kyle Busch, Brian Vickers (subbing for injured Denny Hamlin) and Elliott Sadler, all struggled. Busch spun out twice by himself, on the lightning fast track, and the second time he hit the wall and then got clobbered by Joey Logano.
Jimmie Johnson conceded he didn't have enough speed to run with Kenseth. Still, Johnson finished third and came out of this town with a solid 37-point lead in the Sprint Cup standings, heading this week to Richmond. Johnson had his second straight mediocre run, though he did lead nine laps.
Kenseth was remarkably strong, leading 163 laps. Yes, he won here last October, then driving a Jack Roush Ford. But this time no one could stick with him.
However Kenseth had to fight through some obstinate traffic the final miles, and that brought Kahne back in the game.
Only eight races into his new gig with Toyota's Joe Gibbs and already Matt Kenseth has wins at Las Vegas and Kansas (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
"Felt like Vegas all over again -- I could catch him but I couldn't do anything with him," Kahne said.
"With 40 to go on that restart, I knew I had to get up close to the front as I could," Kahne said of his charge. "But by the time I got to Kenseth, he was gone. I was sliding around and it would have been tough to pass. This new surface is really nice, but it's really fast."
Kenseth, like at Vegas last month, had to use all his wiles to hold off Kahne.
"I really thought he had me," Kenseth said. "I got really loose in turn three with three to go."
But the cars prepared by crew chief Jason Ratcliffe have been amazing all spring.
"Man, it's a dream come true to drive this stuff. It's awesome," Kenseth said. "We don't have all the finishes to show for it, but this car has been fast all year."
Brad Keselowski, who has had a topsy-turvy week, with a White House visit with President Obama and a crushing NASCAR penalty that would sideline his crew chief and engineers for six weeks, had a remarkable Sunday. Just about anything that could do wrong did, and yet he managed to finish sixth.
"Usually you're not happy if you don't win, but after all the problems we had today a sixth feels like one," Keselowski said.
Ironically Keselowski inadvertently brought out a key caution that took Ricky Stenhouse, Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle out of contention, when a piece of badly battered car flew off and landed as debris on the track. If NASCAR had called Keselowski to the pits earlier for repairs, the Ford trio might have been able to do something with Kenseth.
Or maybe not, as strong as Kenseth was.
Jimmie Johnson finished third, taking a commanding lead in the Sprint Cup championship standings. But he just didn't seem to have that usual zip (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
The most savage incident of the race came when Joey Logano slammed into Kyle Busch's spinning car 150 miles into the 400.
"He was spinning out, and I saw it the whole time," Logano said. "I saw he got loose and thought 'Okay, he's going to come back across.'
"And he didn't.
"It looked like he was going to stay up next to the wall. So I'm like 'I'm going to gun it and get by him.'
"But as soon as I committed, I saw him start coming back down. At that point you're just lined up to him, and hit him a ton."
With drivers running record speeds here, the track itself seemed narrower, Logano said. "This track is just so narrow right now. You can't move around."
Busch was not a bit pleased with his second crash of the weekend. He wiped his Truck in Saturday's race. And he was forced to a backup for the 400 after slapping the wall in Friday Cup practice.
"Spun out twice on our own," Busch grumbled. "Just don't know what to do with Kansas.
"It had absolutely no grip for me. We're running third and doing fine...and you spin out. Then we're back in traffic, and traffic is way worse. Just trying to get back to the front....but the car just snaps out from under you every corner."
Busch was not the only man with that complaint.
A few miles later Vickers had a similar issue, in turn two. He finished 10 laps down, 31st.
Not a good day for Matt Kenseth's teammates. Here Kyle Busch has troubles (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
And not long after the restart Marcos Ambrose got loose in the same spot, and triggered another crash, taking out Sam Hornish, Casey Mears, and David Gilliland.
Hornish bit his tongue and broke the dashboard tach with his knees, and said he would talk with his crew about fixing that issue.
"I saw Marcos sitting sideways right at the exit of the corner, and I lifted and turned down....which made my hit to the inside wall harder," Hornish said.
Why were so many drivers so loose in the race? Even Jeff Gordon said it was a surprise, "because the track had good grip Saturday."
Gordon had crashed hard Friday in qualifying and had to go to a backup, and started dead last. He finished 13th.
Hornish said the track and tires didn't really work well together:
"There was a point we were really good on the restart and could go for 10 laps... and then the car would get really free in and off the corners. And then after about 20 laps it would be fine for about the next 15... and then it would start doing it again.
"It's just a weird way the car and the tires and everything were reacting together.
"The exit of turn two is pretty tough for a lot of people -- just sliding, and getting off the corner, because if you run high, you're already a little bit loose, and if you try to run low, you just can't keep the rear under you to put the power down."
Brad Keselowski has had a very up and down week....and felt relieved to pull out a sixth in Sunday's Kansas 400 (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)