Kenseth earns first Sprint Cup this season

 

Matt Kenseth (car No. 20) celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR “AAA 400 Drive for Autism” at Dover Downs International Speedway on Sunday. (Special to the Delaware State News/Doug Curran)

Matt Kenseth (car No. 20) celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR “AAA 400 Drive for Autism” at Dover Downs International Speedway on Sunday. (Special to the Delaware State News/Doug Curran)

DOVER — Matt Kenseth had two of NASCAR’s brightest young stars in his rearview mirror and they were closing fast.

Kyle Larson and Chase Elliott each made several attempts to pass Kenseth in the final laps, with Larson pulling alongside Kenseth multiple times.

But the 18-year veteran did enough to prevent the two young guns from earning their first career Sprint Cup win.

Kenseth reached Victory Lane at Dover International Speedway in Sunday’s AAA 400 Driver For Autism for his first Sprint Cup victory of the season.

It also broke a 17-race winless streak for the 37-time Sprint Cup Series winner.

“It was one of those days where everything lined up for us at the end of the race,” Kenseth said.

An 18-car crash triggered when Jimmie Johnson’s car failed to shift gears on a restart with 46 laps remaining took out most of the contenders.

It left Larson, who led 85 laps and seemed to have the most dominant car, as the favorite. But Kenseth had the better track position, in front after a two-tire call on the team’s final pit stop.

Larson was door-to-door with Kenseth for most of the final 15 laps although he elected to not move Kenseth out of the way and tried to make the winning pass cleanly.

“I didn’t want to do anything dirty,” Larson said. “I respect Matt Kenseth a lot. He’s definitely in my eyes the cleanest racer out there. He always races me with respect. I try to do the same with him.

“I was just going to try and race him as hard as I could without getting into him,” Larson added. “He’s sitting in Victory Lane and I’m not so maybe I need to do something a little bit differently, but nothing crazy to take him out or anything.”

Larson had to settle for his fourth-career second-place finish.

His progress toward the front of the pack on the final green-flag run was slowed when Elliott passed him for second. The two cars battled side-by-side for several laps, which allowed Kenseth to get out to a one-second lead before Larson pulled clear of Elliott but ran out of time to pass Kenseth.

Elliott’s finish was the best of the rookie’s career.

“I don’t think we were quite as good as what [Larson] was there,” Elliott said. “He did a good job of getting back by us, giving Matt a shot.”

The battle between the 23-year-old Larson and Elliott (20), gave a glimpse into NASCAR’s future.

“I certainly wouldn’t complain if I was battling for wins for the next 10 years,” Elliott said. “It would be great on my watch. I don’t know about [Larson] but that’s the way I would do it. That would be great. I’d love to be in the mix moving forward.”

Still, it was the 44-year-old Kenseth celebrating on Sunday. He also helped his team owner, former Washington Redskins football coach Joe Gibbs, reach a personal milestone.

It was the 135th Sprint Cup victory for Gibbs’ team, tying him for third on the all-time owner’s wins list with Jack Roush.

“I couldn’t be prouder of Matt,” Gibbs said. “I think the last 20 laps is about as good as anybody could drive a race car.”

 

Reach staff writer Tim Mastro at tmastro@newszap.com

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