Camry driver Matt Kenseth was victorious in Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) race at South Carolina’s Darlington Raceway.
The victory is also Kenseth’s 27th career win and his third of the season. He also won at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (March) and Kansas Speedway (April).
Kenseth led the field on three occasions for 17 laps.
Toyota driver Kyle Busch (sixth) led a race-high 265 laps.
With 282 laps led by Camry drivers on Saturday, Toyota has now paced 2,073 circuits (of 3,549) during the NSCS season — more than 58 percent of all laps run in 2013.
Camry driver Denny Hamlin returned to the driver’s seat after a month-long hiatus following a back injury at California’s Auto Club Speedway in March and finished second.
Other Camry drivers in the field included Clint Bowyer (11th), Martin Truex Jr. (12th), Travis Kvapil (23rd), Mark Martin (25th), Bobby Labonte (26th), Joe Nemechek (31st), David Reutimann (36th), David Stremme (40th) and Mike Bliss (43rd).
Three Camry drivers are currently in the top-10 in the unofficial NSCS point standings — Kenseth (third), Bowyer (fifth) and Busch (eighth).
MATT KENSETH, No. 20 Home Depot/Husky Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing | Finishing Position: 1st
Photo- Getty Images
How sweet is this victory? “They’re all sweet. Honestly, I’ve only dreamed about winning the Southern 500. This to me probably feels bigger than any win in my career. I really feel bad that Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) isn’t here. This is obviously his team and his effort, but Wally (Brown, interim crew chief) did great job filling in. We had a fifth or sixth-place car fighting loose — those last two adjustments were just awesome. To be able to duke it out with Kyle (Busch) there — he’s a great teammate and Denny (Hamlin) is as well. We have a good combination right now.”
What makes winning in Darlington special? “There’s just a lot of reasons. Just to win the Southern 500 — obviously it’s a little bit different since they moved it from Labor Day. To me it still has the same meaning. I remember when I first came here and ran it Labor Day. It was 90 degrees, the track is so slick and slow — a five-hour race. It was just a crazy, grueling, difficult race. It’s a tricky track. There’s a lot of tradition here. To be able to win a race at a track like this, especially the Southern 500, man, it’s big. In my mind, it’s one of the biggest races we have of the year really. It’s just a special place to win at.”
What was the biggest challenge adjusting the car? “That was it. We started pretty good and the track took a turn to the loose, which I think a lot of people were expecting. We just had a hard time getting it.”
Do you try to save your best for the end of the race? “Tonight it kind of worked out like that. We’ve led a lot of laps this year. We’ve been up front, not really finished them all off like last week for instance. I don’t do the right thing, we take a car that I feel like should have won and finished eighth. That’s disappointing. Tonight really through that middle portion of the race I thought we had about a fifth-place car. We had good track position. We were somewhere in there. Start of the race we were really good first two runs. Then we got off. Man, we were trying. A lot of those long green-flag runs we didn’t have time to take a breath and make huge adjustments. All those guys worked back there to make the right adjustments. Fortunately we got that caution with whatever it was — 25 to go. Had a good, solid pit stop. Had great adjustments. I told Wally (Brown, interim crew chief) if this thing goes green to the end we might be okay. You’ll never know if Kyle (Busch) didn’t have a problem whether we would have been able to beat him or not, but that certainly was our fastest run of the day and it was incredibly fast when we needed it to be.”
Do you feel like your team is at the top of its game right now? “I think the goal of a race team and an organization is to never peak. I think it’s to continue to keep getting better. That’s one thing I’ve seen over there pretty much from day one. They’re not standing still. They’re always trying to build a better car. TRD (Toyota Racing Development) is trying to build a better engine. We’re always trying to do that — working on the future. I think that’s how racing is. No, I don’t have any concern. I really feel like with this team, driving this car, I feel like the sky’s the limit. This stuff has been incredibly fast. Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and I have a special bond right away – with the whole team. Gosh, I couldn’t feel much better about our year so far.”
WALLY BROWN, interim crew chief, No. 20 Home Depot/Husky Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How do you feel about the win? “Overall the weekend went pretty good just due to the preparation of the 20 guys, Jason Ratcliff (crew chief) — they put a lot of effort, several test plans — we had our plan all weekend. It actually went pretty smooth. Once the race started, I noticed we were able to hang in there for a while. I knew at that point we’d be okay if we just kept up with the track positions that we would have a good night.”
J.D. GIBBS, team president, No. 20 Home Depot/Husky Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
What makes Joe Gibbs Racing so strong at Darlington? “Yeah, I really don’t know. It was just a blessing. Great to be a part of it. I told the guys that ran the track, ‘Hey, I raced here years ago.’ I was probably the worst driver ever, ever, ever at Darlington they’ve seen here. I just think our whole team – we’ve just got a great team. So from top to bottom, drivers, crew chiefs, guys that travel, guys back at the shop, I think that really pays off on the weekend. It pays off in Nationwide. That’s kind of our training ground for our guys to move up to Cup. Then it pays off in Cup. We have guys that work hard, long hours. They enjoy it. They enjoy winning races, too.”
DENNY HAMLIN, No. 11 Sport Clips Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing | Finishing Position: 2nd
How was your race? “We ran good. We didn’t run as strong as what I hoped throughout the day. We were kind of mired in the fifth to eighth for most of the day. Track position was so key. You had two to three laps on restarts to get your positions and after that you were in defense mode. For me, we kept grinding away. Pit crew picked us up some stops obviously throughout the night. It was one of those days where we got our car better, pit crew picked us up positions, took us to the most optimum spot we could get to and that was second.”
How do you feel? “Good. I’m sore and I’m tired, but you know it just takes a while. Really it’s like starting your season over with. To start it back over at Darlington for 500 miles – there’s some muscles that have gotten weak. I’ve gotten pretty sore and tired – mentally tired as well. We’ll have a couple weeks really to rest until the next long event and we’ll be good to go then.”
What does it feel like to have a good run after being out of the car? “Yeah, it feels good to just be competitive again. Watching the races from the sidelines for really five weeks, it’s tough. You know you can change things. You can do things to change your outcome. But you’re not in the race car. My back held up good. I’m more sore — shoulders, neck, things like that. I got to get back in racing shape. It will take time to get back to where I need to be. The season for us is always pretty easy because we start off with Daytona, which is not too grueling, then a pretty easy race in Phoenix. For us, it was good. I definitely didn’t feel any back pain. It was just more stamina that I had issues with.”
DAVE ROGERS, crew chief, No. 18 Doublemint Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Did you have a flat right rear tire? “We had a cut right rear tire. It’s unfortunate. The Doublemint Toyota Camry — Kyle Busch was fastest thing here from flag to flag. Just had a great car. The guys did a great job back at the shop preparing these JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) cars. Thought we were going to capitalize, but when we came in there was only 12 pounds in the right rear and you can see a hole in the tread. Thankfully, Kyle (Busch) stayed on the wheel and didn’t wreck the car. Congratulations to the 20 (Matt Kenseth) crew and all JGR. We have some fast cars right now. We’ll hang our hat on that.”
What does this weekend say about Joe Gibbs Racing? “I think it’s all people back at Joe Gibbs Racing. Joe (Gibbs, owner) says it all the time, ‘You don’t win with race cars, you win with people.’ The folks back at Joe Gibbs Racing are working really hard right now and building really good race cars and we worked our guys really hard this off-season. I think we outworked the competition, but the Toyotas are all strong. The MWR (Michael Waltrip Racing) cars looked to be the fastest cars yesterday — looks like the lost a little bit today, but they were still decent. All the Toyotas are doing pretty good. I think our friends down in Costa Mesa (Calif.) build really good horsepower right now and reliability has improved, fuel mileage has improved, so I think our engine program this year is a lot stronger than it was last year and that just compliments our cars.”
Did Kyle Busch say what happened with Kasey Kahne on the radio? “No, he’s pretty tore up that they’re racing hard and (Kasey) Kahne tore up another car. This is the third time we’ve been involved in an incident with Kasey and all of us over here have a ton or respect for that program. Kyle thinks the world of Kasey Kahne and I think Kenny Francis (No. 5 crew chief) is a great guy and Kyle still has a ton of friends over there in the 5 car — he used to drive that car — has a ton of good buddies. They all hang out. He certainly doesn’t want to create more work for those guys. He was just really somber and disappointed that it happened, but unfortunately it’s part of the sport. They were putting on a heck of race. Kasey made a great move to pass us and Kyle was just trying to pass him back and I don’t know. I can’t tell if we touched or not, but it was obviously really close racing.”