Matt Kenseth claimed his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win of the season as a strategy gamble paid off for him in the deciding stages of Sunday's race at Dover's "Monster Mile."
A two-tire final stop was the key to placing Kenseth in contention for victory as those previously ahead of him chose to change four tires when most of the field pitted under the final caution of the race, with less than 40 laps remaining out of the scheduled 400. The Roush Fenway racer restarted from the front row when the green flag waved for what turned out to be the final sprint of the race. He quickly disposed of Hendrick Motorsports' Mark Martin, who stayed out as everyone pitted, and pulled out a lead which he held to the checkered flag, as those on fresher rubber struggled to make enough progress.
Richard Childress Racing's Clint Bowyer, Roush Fenway's Carl Edwards and Hendrick's Jimmie Johnson were up front before the final caution but four-tire stops did not pay off for them as too many followed Kenseth's two-tire gamble.
"Honestly, I was sitting on the track and thinking that we should stay out and get clean air and try it because I knew we wouldn't win if we took four [tires]," said Kenseth. "Jimmy [Fennig, crew chief] wanted four but as I was driving down pit road I thought maybe we could compromise.
"While I was on the jack I asked if he was sure we didn't want to try two and he said to put on two. It was really Jimmy's call and just a suggestion by me. It was tough to pass on top of that rubber out there. We had a lot of power and these guys did a good job with the car."
Before the decisive final caution, Kenseth had been making steady progress while showing enough speed to be a contender for victory, but only through the two-tire call was he able to crucially gain track position and run in clean air as the track turned slicker as the race went on, making it harder to run side by side.
Martin held on to second despite being on older tires than the rest of the field in the end, holding off a charging Marcos Ambrose, who was a contender for the lead throughout the afternoon. His Richard Petty Motorsports teammate AJ Allmendinger was also a solid top-five runner before an engine failure put him out of the race.
Joe Gibbs Racing' Kyle Busch, who started the race from the rear of the field following an engine change due to a failure in practice, was the driver making the most progress of those changing four tires after the final restart, crossing the finish line fourth ahead of the similar Toyota of Red Bull's Brian Vickers, another who took two tires on the final stop.
Bowyer was sixth in the end ahead of Edwards, who was Johnson's main opponent for most of the race as the Hendrick driver led more than half the distance, while the Roush driver spent 117 laps at the front.
Michael Waltrip's Martin Truex Jr. finished eighth ahead of Johnson. The champion knew his strategy had gone the wrong way when he drove out of pit road behind another 10 cars, having run third before the final caution.
"I guess in our minds we didn't think that would take place, so many guys taking two [tires]," said Johnson, who led 207 laps after starting from pole. "It was certainly the call. I knew basically from the numbers we were in trouble when we left pit road and there were so many guys in front of us. It is just the way it is.
"There at the end, I really think that it was just dirty air and track position was the issue why the four-tire guys couldn't get through. You are just going so fast around here, even though it is just a one-mile track, that clean air, just cleaner air toward the front makes a huge difference."
Tony Stewart endured a tough day, running unusually far off the pace with handling issues all race long to finish 29th and six laps down on the winner. Last weekend's winner Regan Smith was having a solid race but suffered with a broken track bar, which caused a lengthy visit to the garage. Red Bull's Kasey Kahne ran strongly but an engine failure put him out of the race.
Results - 400 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford 3h11m07.000s
2. Mark Martin Hendrick Chevrolet + 2.122s
3. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 2.344s
4. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 3.948s
5. Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota + 4.689s
6. Clint Bowyer Childress Chevrolet + 5.771s
7. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 5.796s
8. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 6.585s
9. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 7.763s
10. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 8.489s
11. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 9.028s
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 11.353s
13. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 11.732s
14. Kurt Busch Penske Dodge + 12.257s
15. David Reutimann Waltrip Toyota + 12.362s
16. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 12.526s
17. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 13.359s
18. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 16.688s
19. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 1 lap
20. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 2 laps
21. Ryan Newman Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 2 laps
22. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 2 laps
23. Casey Mears Germain Toyota + 3 laps
24. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 4 laps
25. Mike Bliss FAS Lane Ford + 4 laps
26. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 4 laps
27. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 5 laps
28. David Ragan Roush Fenway Ford + 5 laps
29. Tony Stewart Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 6 laps
30. Landon Cassill Phoenix Chevrolet + 6 laps
31. Travis Kvapil Front Row Ford + 6 laps
32. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 7 laps
33. Andy Lally TRG Chevrolet + 11 laps
34. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 39 laps
Tony Raines Front Row Ford 341 laps
Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota 331 laps
AJ Allmendinger Petty Ford 166 laps
Scott Wimmer Gordon Dodge 77 laps
Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 55 laps
JJ Yeley Whitney Chevrolet 51 laps
Mike Skinner Germain Toyota 51 laps
David Stremme Inception Chevrolet 47 laps
Michael McDowell HP Toyota 45 laps