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Keeping Pace

Kenseth survives 25-car crash on final lap, wins Talladega thriller

The handling of Matt Kenseth's car was on the loose side, forcing the driver of the No. 17 Ford to run the middle lane. That turned out to be a blessing, as Tony Stewart and Michael Waltrip collided near the bottom of the track.


Oct. 7, 2012

By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service

TALLADEGA, Ala. — The Big One waited until the final corner.

Matt Kenseth escaped a massive pileup in Turn 4 on Lap 189 of Sunday's Good Sam Roadside Assistance 500 at Talladega Superspeedway to win the fourth race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

Jeff Gordon likewise dodged the 25-car crash, triggered by contact between Tony Stewart's Chevrolet and Michael Waltrip's Toyota, and ran second, followed by Kyle Busch, David Ragan and Regan Smith.

Brad Keselowski finished seventh and extended his championship lead to 14 points over Jimmie Johnson, whose Chevrolet was heavily damaged in the wreck and limped home in 17th.

The handling of Kenseth's car was on the loose side, forcing the driver of the No. 17 Ford to run the middle lane. That turned out to be a blessing, as Stewart and Waltrip collided near the bottom of the track.

“The track kept getting looser for me as the day went on and we never could get it tightened up,” said Kenseth, who posted his second victory of the season, his first at Talladega and the 23rd of his career. “On the last lap that's why I chose the middle groove. I knew I couldn't be on the bottom or I'd get spun out, so I had to run the middle or the top to try to make a move… .

“I didn't know what was going happen and I'm still not sure what happened. Somehow I think Tony got turned and caused a big wreck.”

Jamie McMurray, who had led 39 laps, spun in the tri-oval on lap 183, as he got a push from Kevin Harvick. McMurray brought out the fourth caution, but, miraculously, no other cars were collected in the incident.

Clint Bowyer led the field to the restart on Lap 188, but Stewart quickly took the point. Trying to block Waltrip in the final corner, Stewart turned across the nose of the No. 55 Toyota and triggered the wreck.

Stewart took full responsibility for the melee that scrambled the order of finish.

“I just screwed up,” Stewart said. “I turned down across — I think it was Michael — and crashed the whole field. It was my fault, blocking to try to stay where I was at. I take 100 percent of the blame.

“I was trying to win the race, trying to stay ahead of Matt there, and Michael got a great run on the bottom, had a big head of steam. When I turned down, I turned down across the right-front of his car. It was just a mistake on my part, but it cost a lot of people a bad day because of it.”

Gordon wasn't surprised at the last-lap chaos. He was surprised it didn't happen earlier.

“I don't know how we made it to the white flag,” said Gordon. “Coming through that tri‑oval, being hit from behind, hitting the guy in front of me, you're sandwiched in-between basically cars. There are cars doing the same thing on that side of you, cars on that side of them doing the same thing.

“I really don't know how we made it to the white flag. It was just insane. But you're doing all you can to try to move your lane and hope that you make it back around. In today's case, we did.”

The first round of green-flag pit stops proved the undoing — albeit temporarily — of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Kyle Busch and Trevor Bayne, all of whom were flagged for speeding on pit road. After serving pass-through penalties, all three drivers were lapped by the pack.

Just past the halfway point, Kenseth surged past Kurt Busch into the lead, marking a full recovery from a Lap 42 spin off the bumper of teammate Biffle and subsequent spectacular save.

Bayne got his lap back as the “lucky dog” on Lap 99, when Kurt Busch lost fuel pressure off Turn 2 and spun off the bumper of McMurray's Chevrolet, slamming the wall and causing the second caution of the afternoon.

Driving James Finch's Phoenix Racing Chevrolet for the final time before debuting for Furniture Row Racing next weekend at Charlotte, Busch —helmet off and out of radio contact with his team and NASCAR — drove away from the accident scene before NASCAR had cleared him and was parked for his effrontery.

It wasn't until 40 laps later that Earnhardt and Kyle Busch regained their lost laps. Earnhardt paced the field as the last car on the lead lap when NASCAR called a caution for debris on Lap 39. Busch also rejoined the lead lap as the highest-scored lapped car and restarted third on Lap 144 after the vast majority of drivers returned to pit road to top off their fuel tanks on Lap 142.

Caught up in the wreck on the last lap, Earnhardt came home 20th.

RACE RESULTS

1. (15) Matt Kenseth, Ford, 189, $302,036.
2.  (6) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 189, $206,171.
3. (13) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 189, $186,168.
4. (25) David Ragan, Ford, 189, $142,743.
5. (28) Regan Smith, Chevrolet, 189, $136,243.
6.  (5) Greg Biffle, Ford, 189, $124,260.
7. (22) Brad Keselowski, Dodge, 189, $130,330.
8. (36) Travis Kvapil, Toyota, 189, $119,518.
9.  (2) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 189, $130,993.
10. (26) Jeff Burton, Chevrolet, 189, $128,610.
11. (21) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 189, $132,621.
12.  (1) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 189, $101,610.
13.  (9) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 189, $112,399.
14. (23) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 189, $124,801.
15. (32) David Gilliland, Ford, 189, $96,118.
16. (31) Terry Labonte, Ford, 189, $90,435.
17. (17) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 189, $125,121.
18. (40) Bobby Labonte, Toyota, 189, $99,332.
19. (18) Aric Almirola, Ford, 189, $118,346.
20. (12) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 189, $89,485.
21.  (8) Trevor Bayne, Ford, 189, $81,235.
22.  (4) Tony Stewart, Chevrolet, Accident, 188, $130,085.
23.  (3) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, Accident, 188, $107,549.
24. (10) Sam Hornish Jr., Dodge, Accident, 188, $120,835.
25. (11) Michael Waltrip, Toyota, Accident, 188, $79,785.
26. (19) Casey Mears, Ford, Accident, 188, $79,010.
27. (20) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, Accident, 188, $106,618.
28. (16) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, Accident, 188, $86,460.
29. (39) Dave Blaney, Chevrolet, Accident, 188, $78,310.
30. (38) Landon Cassill, Toyota, 188, $105,480.
31. (34) Michael McDowell, Ford, 188, $74,985.
32. (14) Joey Logano, Toyota, 187, $82,785.
33. (30) David Stremme, Toyota, 187, $74,635.
34. (24) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, Accident, 184, $110,868.
35. (43) Robert Richardson Jr., Toyota, Accident, 180, $74,260.
36.  (7) Carl Edwards, Ford, 179, $120,351.
37. (41) David Reutimann, Chevrolet, Engine, 162, $73,980.
38. (27) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, Engine, 156, $103,819.
39. (29) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, Parked, 98, $79,000.
40. (42) Cole Whitt, Chevrolet, Accident, 16, $78,860.
41. (37) Joe Nemechek, Toyota, Vibration, 12, $70,710.
42. (35) Timmy Hill, Toyota, Electrical, 8, $70,580.
43. (33) Josh Wise, Ford, Overheating, 5, $72,464.

RACE STATISTICS

   Average Speed of Race Winner: 171.194 mph.
   Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 56 Mins, 12 Secs.
   Margin of Victory: Caution.
   Caution Flags: 5 for 17 laps.
   Lead Changes: 54 among 18 drivers.
   Lap Leaders: K. Kahne 1-7; C. Bowyer 8; K. Kahne 9-10; T. Bayne 11; C. Bowyer 12; D. Earnhardt Jr. 13-14; Kyle Busch 15-17; K. Harvick 18; T. Kvapil 19; Kyle Busch 20-22; M. Kenseth 23-32; D. Earnhardt Jr. 33-40; M. Kenseth 41; D. Earnhardt Jr. 42-49; C. Mears 50; J. Burton 51-52; T. Bayne 53-56; C. Mears 57-61; J. Johnson 62-71; J. Gordon 72-78; J. McMurray 79-89; Kurt Busch 90-93; M. Kenseth 94-96; Kurt Busch 97-98; J. Burton 99; J. Johnson 100; D. Ragan 101; M. Ambrose 102-103; M. Kenseth 104-108; K. Harvick 109-116; J. McMurray 117-118; M. Kenseth 119-126; G. Biffle 127; M. Kenseth 128-131; J. McMurray 132-139; T. Kvapil 140-141; C. Mears 142-143; G. Biffle 144-145; K. Harvick 146-147; G. Biffle 148-151; J. McMurray 152; G. Biffle 153-155; J. McMurray 156-160; G. Biffle 161; J. McMurray 162; G. Biffle 163-167; J. McMurray 168; K. Harvick 169; J. McMurray 170; M. Kenseth 171; C. Mears 172-173; J. McMurray 174-181; C. Bowyer 182-187; T. Stewart 188; M. Kenseth 189;.


Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): J. McMurray 9 times for 38 laps; M. Kenseth 8 times for 33 laps; D. Earnhardt Jr. 3 times for 18 laps; G. Biffle 6 times for 16 laps; K. Harvick 4 times for 12 laps; J. Johnson 2 times for 11 laps; C. Mears 4 times for 10 laps; K. Kahne 2 times for 9 laps; C. Bowyer 3 times for 8 laps; J. Gordon 1 time for 7 laps; Kurt Busch 2 times for 6 laps; Kyle Busch 2 times for 6 laps; T. Bayne 2 times for 5 laps; J. Burton 2 times for 3 laps; T. Kvapil 2 times for 3 laps; M. Ambrose 1 time for 2 laps; D. Ragan 1 time for 1 lap; T. Stewart 1 time for 1 lap.


Top 12 in Points: B. Keselowski - 2,179; J. Johnson - 2,165; D. Hamlin - 2,156; K. Kahne - 2,143; C. Bowyer - 2,139; J. Gordon - 2,137; T. Stewart - 2,133; M. Truex Jr. - 2,131; G. Biffle - 2,130; K. Harvick - 2,130; D. Earnhardt Jr. - 2,128; M. Kenseth - 2,117.


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