After taking only two tires in the last round of stops at Dover International Speedway, Matt Kenseth rolled to a victory on the FedEx 400 on Sunday. It was his second win of the season and 20th of his career.
So, who gets the credit for making the right call?
"That was all Matt there," said Kenseth’s crew chief, Jimmy Fennig. "He figured we need to have clean air, and he called two tires and we did two and away we went."
But, hold everything: Kenseth said it wasn’t all his doing.
"Not exactly, honestly I was sitting on the track and thinking we should stay out and get clean air and try it because I knew we wouldn’t win if we took four," he explained. "Jimmy wanted four, but as I was driving down pit road I thought maybe we could compromise.
"It was really Jimmy’s call and just a suggestion by me."
Either way, the decision enabled the driver of the No. 17 car to leave behind lap leaders Jimmie Johnson (207) and Carl Edwards (117) as they fought to stay in the top 10. Mark Martin, Marcos Ambrose, Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers rounded out the top five finishers.
It was a tough pill to swallow for Edwards, who had a strong car all afternoon and seemed to be the man to beat.
"You can’t look back, you have to look forward," Edwards said. "We still have the points lead and the fastest car here today."
This time, everybody played nice. There was no, "Have at it, boys," because the track was busy fighting all of the drivers — the rubber buildup caused havoc with the tires’ grip on the corners and tested the drivers’ patience with their pit crews to make the right adjustments.
"A lot of guys really struggled with the rubber on this surface," Kyle Busch said. "You’re butt and elbows in the air."
"That rubber was awful. It has been like that the last three times here. It was really a hinderance for me more than other people," Kenseth said. "I could really run fast on a green track, but when the sun came out and the rubber started piling we went backward."
A three-way battle for the lead developed between Johnson, Edwards and Clint Bowyer with 80 laps remaining. At one point, Edwards tapped and sent Bowyer high up the track, but Bowyer made a great save in controlling his car.
With 75 laps to go, it was Johnson first, Edwards second and Bowyer third.
The fifth caution was called on Lap 331 when Kasey Kahne’s car started slowing and finally just stopped on the track. The drivers pitted during the caution and Bowyer’s nearly one-second edge over Edwards and Johnson’s pit times gave him the lead on the restart. Bowyer had a great jump on the others and took the high side when the green flag dropped.
With 50 laps left, Kyle Busch was running in the sixth position, and his nemesis Kevin Harvick was right behind him. Would more fireworks fly? It turned out neither Harvick nor Busch would cause a problem — it would be Juan Pablo Montoya.
Montoya got loose on Turn 4 and spanked out a 180-degree spin before hitting the wall and causing a sixth caution on Lap 361. Montoya, listening to his spotter, kept his foot on the brakes, which probably saved the leaders from hitting him.
While the leaders came in for service, Martin didn’t and became the new leader. Tony Stewart was penalized for speeding on pit road and sent to the tail end of the lead lap. Kyle Busch made some nice moves to move up to fourth and set the stage for the battle for third place. Busch and Ambrose battled fiercely, but with 26 laps to go, Ambrose finally won and took the third spot behind Martin and Kenseth.
Kyle Busch said before the race he was hoping the previous incidents between him and Harvick could be put behind them, but when NASCAR on FOX’s Chris Myers asked Harvick if it was over, he replied, "I don’t think it is ever over."
Myers then informed Busch that Harvick had told him he didn’t consider the matter over but did wish him good luck. Busch responded, "I don’t really care."
With 114 laps to go, Montoya became the 17th lap leader after the green-flag pit sequencing ended, but Johnson climbed back into the top spot three laps later.
AJ Allmendinger had a terrific race, staying in the top five until Lap 157 when his car started smoking. Allmendinger was asked to stay on the track by crew chief Mike Shiplett when the third caution was called because of rain. "Stay out," Shiplett told him. "Lead a lap, then come in and we’ll work on it."
Allmendinger did lead his lap, then headed to the garage before the green flag dropped. “Honestly, it sucks,” he said. “I really wanted this for us and Ford and Best Buy and everybody — the King especially. I hate this.”
Denny Hamlin was caught speeding on pit road and sent to the back of the lap leaders’ pack on the restart. Edwards took the lead from Johnson on Lap 189 after JJ couldn’t hold his position on the lower groove. The fourth caution was called for debris on Turn 3, and Kurt Busch returned to the lead lap on the restart.
Johnson did not have a very good pit, giving up almost two seconds to Ambrose. "We (hurt) you on that pit stop," crew chief Chad Knaus told Johnson over the radio. "Sorry about that."
Meanwhile, Regan Smith had possible electrical problems lurking in his car. Smith’s radio chatter indicated his car smelled like an electrical fire, then shortly after the observation, all of his car’s gauges went out.
Joey Logano was running fourth when he got loose coming out of Turn 4. He locked the brakes and skidded sideways before finally hitting the track’s inside wall and bringing out the first caution of the day. Because of a competition caution on Lap 40, the result of rain before the race, none of the cars was allowed to take fuel.
David Ragan experienced some problems entering pit road. As he dived down from the banked turn to make the commitment cone area, he got loose and ended up smacking the wall. For a few anxious moments, Ragan’s car partially blocked the pit road entrance while Jamie McMurray and Stewart were trying to enter, ostensibly causing those two drivers to lose precious time.
Stewart was having a rough day at Dover, anyway. He reportedly told his crew he was having balance problems, and after he pitted, he had to come back a second time because he apparently didn’t get enough fuel in his first stop. He also was overheard on his radio saying he was "loose as (expletive.)" When Stewart returned to the track, he was three laps down.
Edwards took the lead from Johnson on Lap 143 after Johnson had led 96 of the first 100 laps. The track was also taking its toll on the drivers: Only 19 cars were on the lead lap by Lap 145.