CONCORD, N.C. – NASCAR’s championship race took a huge swing Saturday night when Matt Kenseth staked a claim on the title moments after a viscous wreck sent Jimmie Johnson spiraling in the standings.
Kenseth passed Kyle Busch with 25 laps to go at Charlotte Motor Speedway and was pulling away when Johnson’s wreck brought racing to a halt.
The five-time defending champion was running seventh with 17 laps remaining when contact with Ryan Newman sent him headfirst into the wall. The hit was so hard, his back tires briefly lifted off the track.
He finished 34th and dropped to eighth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup standings with five races remaining.
Johnson, winner of last week’s race at Kansas, had started the race ranked third in points and only four points behind leader Carl Edwards.
“That one stung for sure. Pretty big impact,” Johnson said. “Definitely not the night we wanted. This is not going to help us win a sixth championship.”
Kenseth, meanwhile, was celebrating in Victory Lane for the third time this season.
He quietly hung near the front all night, but missed several chances to take the lead because of botched restarts. He finally got it right with 25 laps remaining when he sailed past Busch, and held him off again on the final restart with 13 laps to go.
The victory moved Kenseth up two spots in the standings to third, only seven points behind Edwards at the halfway point of the Chase.
“It was tough to get by him and I am glad we could make it by him because it was challenging,” Kenseth said. “I was going to be pretty mad if I was going to lose this thing on restarts. Finally got one on the end.”
Busch, who led a race-high 111 laps, settled for second.
Kasey Kahne and Marcos Ambrose, two drivers not competing for the championship, finished fourth and fifth. It was the third straight top-10 finish for Ambrose, the first time in his career he’s pulled that off.
Kevin Harvick was sixth, and he went from one point behind Edwards to fourth. AJ Allmendinger was seventh and was followed by pole-sitter Tony Stewart, who overcame late contact with Greg Biffle to finish eighth.
Denny Hamlin was ninth and Ryan Newman rounded out the top 10.
Hornaday wins again
Pole sitter Ron Hornaday Jr. waded through a crash-filled Truck Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his second straight victory and record 51st overall.
The 53-year-old Hornaday made a statement with his win at Kentucky and used his veteran savvy to stay on a slippery track on Saturday, pulling away after each caution to hold off Matt Crafton and Timothy Peters to take the checkers at Las Vegas for the first time.
Hornaday, a four-time series champion, climbed back in the points race after leaders Austin Dillon and James Buescher were involved in early crashes.