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Dover, United States — Many are familiar with the old adage about how sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.
In NASCAR Sprint Cup racing, sometimes it’s better to be smart than just plain fast, although being fast never hurts, either.
In Sunday’s FedEx 400 benefitting Autism Speaks, Roush Fenway Racing driver Matt Kenseth used both his brain and a heavy right foot to put the No. 17 Wiley X Sunglasses Ford Fusion in victory lane following 400 grueling laps at Dover International Speedway.
When Juan Pablo Montoya hit the Turn 4 wall to bring out the afternoon’s seventh and final caution on lap 363, all of the lead-lap cars except for Mark Martin came down pit road for tires and fuel. But as he was heading towards his pit stall, Kenseth called an audible, telling crew chief Jimmy Fennig that he wanted just right-side tires and not fresh rubber all around as originally planned.
That allowed Kenseth to be first off pit road and take the lap 367 restart second to his former teammate and mentor Martin. But Kenseth sailed past Martin on Lap 369, and held on for the remaining 32 laps, crossing the line 2.122 seconds ahead of Martin. Marcos Ambrose had an outstanding third-place finish, the best of the year for the Australian expatriate and his No. 9 DeWalt Ford Fusion. Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers completed the top five.
Carl Edwards led 117 lap in his No. 99 Aflac Ford Fusion and appeared headed for victory, but had to settle for seventh after getting beaten on track position during the final stop.
The victory was the 20th of Kenseth’s Sprint Cup career, which began at this very track in 1998. More importantly, it was the second of the season, which virtually assures him of a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
And there’s no question that strategy decided the race.
“We came down pit road and as I slid into the stall I keyed the mic and said, ‘Jimmy, are you sure you don’t want to try two?’ and he didn’t hesitate and said, ‘two tires, two tires’ and it was in plenty of time,” said Kenseth. “It was no problem and it went smooth almost like we planned it.”
“They didn’t back into this thing,” said team founder and co-owner Jack Roush. “They deserve to be up there and Jimmy—actually Matt initiated—but between the two of them they made the gutsy call for two tires. As many times as they have been burned by it I was surprised they did that.”
For Ambrose, the third-place finish was another strong result. “We have had two top-10’s on the 1.5-mile speedways this year and I am really excited that our team is learning,” he said of his Richard Petty Motorsports squad. “They are learning me and I am learning them. I am learning how these cars work. This result today I am really excited about because I think it is going to lead to a great Charlotte, Pocono, Indy, Kansas, all those tracks coming up I feel like we are suited to those tracks and I am excited about it.”
Edwards continues to lead the Sprint Cup points standings, by 24 ahaead of Jimmie Johnson, 37 ahead of Kyle Busch and 52 ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr.
“You can’t look back, you have to look forward,” said Edwards of his run. “We still have the points lead and the fastest car here today. Everybody did a good job on the Aflac Ford and a teammate won, so that is good.”