Matt Kenseth celebrated his 41st birthday in style by holding off Kasey Kahne to win round three of the 2013 NASCAR Sprint Cup at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Kenseth's new Joe Gibbs team made the winning move by not changing tires during the final round of pit stops. Despite Kahne having dominated the race up until that point for Hendrick Motorsports, he was unable to find a way by Kenseth's Toyota.
“I'm not a goal person, but my goal was to win and win early,” said Kenseth. “Nobody put any pressure on me except for myself, but I also know that Coach (Joe Gibbs) hired me to come here and climb in the car and win races. You certainly want to do that — you don't want to disappoint people…
“It's still only week three, but I feel like this is the beginning.”
Kahne was unlucky. His crew was forced to delay releasing him from his pit due to the arriving Tony Stewart, and those additional seconds ultimately cost him the win.
With qualifying rained out, defending champion Brad Keselowski started from pole. But although the Penske Ford man led the opening lap, he was soon passed by the charging Kahne.
Like most drivers Keselowski fought a loose car in the opening stages, but a series of changes brought it to his liking and he fought wheel to wheel with Kyle Busch for third in the closing laps. Still, he was disappointed.
“Yeah, I want to win,” said Keselowski. “It's a different perspective, because I'm not happy with top-5s. The last three weeks, really the last two weeks--and I'm sure when I get home tonight I'm going to go home and throw around some pillows and punch some things, because we've had a shot at winning all three races and come up short, whether it's circumstances or bad luck or, today, just a little bit of execution.
“In retrospect, once you get a day to cool off from it, you say, ‘Wow, that's really good, three top 5s; that's how I'd have wanted to start the year.' But with the way I finished last year, I wanted to win. I wanted to win all three of these races, and I'm not happy unless we can do that.”
Kahne said Kenseth raced mistake-free in the closing run, despite having older tires.
“I was like, ‘Man, this is not the guy you want to have to race with 10 to go because, he's going to do everything right,'” Kahne said. “You're going to have to figure out how to squeeze by him. And you know he had a fast car, too, so it was difficult.
“He did a perfect job, and we came back second, but still a good run. I think we were seventh maybe after that one restart (actually sixth for a restart on lap 231) and fought back to second, so we had a great car, did everything right. We just didn't quite get there.”
Fourth represented a great comeback for Vegas local boy Busch, who dropped a lap for speeding during a green-flag pit stop. He pulled off some stunning moves -- including a great third-to-first dive following a mid-race restart -- but the long-run pace of his Gibbs Toyota was not enough to keep him at the front.
His teammate Denny Hamlin was also hit with a speeding penalty and in true Vegas fashion his team gambled in the closing stages to get him back on the lead lap. But it was not enough to get him in the lead mix and he finished 15th.
Jimmie Johnson was a force in the early stages in his Hendrick Chevrolet, leading a lot of laps. But he could not keep pace with the leaders and slipped to sixth on the penultimate lap as Carl Edwards passed him in his Roush Ford.
Results - 267 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Matt Kenseth Joe Gibbs Toyota 2h44m16.000s
2. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet + 0.594s
3. Brad Keselowski Penske Ford + 2.887s
4. Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Toyota + 5.828s
5. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 8.435s
6. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 9.091s
7. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 10.901s
8. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 10.921s
9. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 11.125s
10. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 12.400s
11. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 13.139s
12. Joey Logano Penske Ford + 13.468s
13. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 14.588s
14. Mark Martin Waltrip Toyota + 16.476s
15. Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Toyota + 16.747s
16. Aric Almirola Petty Ford + 18.386s
17. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 20.229s
18. Ricky Stenhouse Jr Roush Fenway Ford + 22.468s
19. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 28.116s
20. Kurt Busch Furniture Row Chevrolet + 1 lap
21. Austin Dillon Childress Chevrolet + 1 lap
22. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 1 lap
23. Trevor Bayne Wood Brothers Ford + 1 lap
24. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 1 lap
25. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 1 lap
26. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 1 lap
27. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota + 2 laps
28. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 2 laps
29. Casey Mears Germain Ford + 2 laps
30. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 4 laps
31. David Ragan Front Row Ford + 4 laps
32. David Stremme Swan Toyota + 6 laps
33. Danica Patrick Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 6 laps
34. David Reutimann BK Toyota + 6 laps
35. Josh Wise Front Row Ford + 7 laps
36. JJ Yeley Baldwin Chevrolet + 8 laps
37. Ken Schrader FAS Lane Ford + 9 laps
Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet 234 laps
Travis Kvapil BK Toyota 217 laps
Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 216 laps
Scott Speed Leavine Ford 143 laps
Landon Cassill Circle Sport Chevrolet 66 laps
Michael McDowell Parsons Ford 21 laps