Subbing for sidelined Trevor Bayne, Kenseth won the 26th Nationwide race of his career. Carl Edwards ran second, followed by Kyle Busch, polesitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Reed Sorenson. Brad Keselowski, Steve Wallace, Brian Scott, Aric Almirola and Elliott Sadler completed the top 10.
By Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
CONCORD, N.C. -- In his first Nationwide Series start of the season -- and his first ever in the current-generation racecar -- Matt Kenseth out-dueled Roush Fenway Racing teammate Carl Edwards to win Saturday’s Top Gear 300 race at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Subbing for sidelined Trevor Bayne, Kenseth won the 26th Nationwide race of his career. Edwards ran second, followed by Kyle Busch, polesitter Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Reed Sorenson. Brad Keselowski, Steve Wallace, Brian Scott, Aric Almirola and Elliott Sadler completed the top 10.
In his Nationwide debut, Kimi Raikkonen fought the handling of his No. 87 Toyota before a pit-road speeding penalty and damage to the front splitter relegated him to a 27th-place finish.
"It feels really good to beat Carl," Kenseth said. "He’s one of the best out there every Sunday and Saturday, and when you can beat him at the game, you know you had a good day."
Within one victory of tying Mark Martin for the career wins lead in the series at 49, Busch passed Edwards for the lead on Lap 60 and held it -- with the exception of Lap 74 under caution -- until Kenseth slipped past him at the finish line to complete Lap 103 of 200.
"It’s funny; Matt comes and runs a one-off and beats us both," Busch said with a wry chuckle. "Those guys (Kenseth and Edwards) were definitely faster than us today. They had the cars to beat."
Kenseth was still out front after a cycle of green-flag pit stops when caution flew on Lap 148 because of debris on the backstretch. Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Stenhouse, Keselowski, Sorenson and Joey Logano were among those who came to pit road for fuel and tires on Lap 150, while Edwards, Busch, Kasey Kahne and Jason Leffler stayed out, confident they had enough fuel to go the distance.
But Edwards, who last pitted on Lap 137, pulled away from Busch after a restart on Lap 155 and maintained a half-second lead over Kenseth. In the final 15 laps, however, Kenseth closed the gap and challenged his Roush Fenway Racing teammate for the top spot.
On lap 195, they swapped the lead, with Kenseth powering past Edwards through Turn 2 and Edwards regaining the point in Turn 3. Kenseth waved at Edwards when he made the initial pass.
"I would have felt pretty stupid if I hadn’t gotten back by him," Kenseth said in victory lane.
Kenseth made the pass stick on Lap 198 and pulled away to win by .763 seconds.
Edwards said the handling of his car tightened up in the final few laps.
"The car just got tighter and tighter, and with these cars, when it gets tight, you slow down through the middle of the corner -- and it’s over," Edwards said.
Sadler retained the series lead by one point over Stenhouse and two over Sorenson.