ThatsRacin

NASCAR at Pocono: Matt Kenseth’s slow-down strategy saves fuel, earns win

Matt Kenseth (20) drives back up the front stretch past a coasting Kyle Busch (18) after winning the NASCAR Pocono 400 auto race, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015, in Long Pond, Pa. Busch was leading the race when he ran out of fuel on the final lap.
Matt Kenseth (20) drives back up the front stretch past a coasting Kyle Busch (18) after winning the NASCAR Pocono 400 auto race, Sunday, Aug. 2, 2015, in Long Pond, Pa. Busch was leading the race when he ran out of fuel on the final lap. AP

Kyle Busch called himself a little “greedy” Sunday, which is understandable after winning three consecutive Sprint Cup races.

But that approach ran him out of gas on the final lap of the Windows 10 400 at Pocono Raceway, leaving him to finish 21st and remain just outside of the Chase qualifiers.

In a race in which leaders Joey Logano and Busch both ran out of fuel, Matt Kenseth took the checkered flag. Brad Keselowski finished second and Jeff Gordon was third followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Greg Biffle.

Busch had won a fuel-related finish Saturday in the Truck Series. It looked like he would win another Sunday when Logano slowed to a crawl with three laps left. But then the same fate befell Busch, who never officially finished the last lap.

The difference between Logano and Busch is Logano already is in the Chase. Because Busch missed the first 11 races this season with a broken foot and leg, he must still finish at least 30th in the driver standings to reach NASCAR’s version the playoffs.

Busch chose to go for the victory rather than conserve fuel in a big-picture agenda.

“We got greedy. I don’t know how greedy,” Busch said. “We went for broke today. I can’t fault my team.”

Or as Keselowski described, “It looks to me like those two raced each other out of gas. That’s part of racing.”

The beneficiary was Kenseth, but even more so Gordon, in his last season as a full-time Sprint Cup driver.

Kenseth and Keselowski had won this season, essentially clinching Chase berths. Gordon is in a far more tenuous situation, particularly after a 42nd-place finish a week earlier in Indianapolis.

“Right now every race is so critical for us. We can’t have more issues like in Indy,” Gordon said. “This (result) kind of made up for that, but we can’t have any more like that.”

Gordon was as surprised as anyone he’d climbed so high in the field because he couldn’t monitor how many other drivers ran out of gas. He thought he was 12th late when he was third.

This was Kenseth’s 33rd Cup victory, but it was unique: Fuel-mileage situations have never been his thing.

“Zero. This is a first,” Kenseth said of winning on fumes in his gas tank.

Kenseth and crew chief Jason Ratcliff were in a constant debate the final few laps over when he had enough fuel reserve to stop letting off the throttle.

“I knew we were going to have better fuel-mileage because (Logano and Busch) were hauling,” Kenseth said. “Every week we try to go as fast as we can, so slowing down is hard.”

Disappointed as team owner Joe Gibbs was for Busch, he was thrilled Kenseth was there for the win. While the big-picture call might have favored settling for second or third, Gibbs was OK with Busch’s approach.

“I think Kyle pins his ears back and goes,” Gibbs said. “As group over there, they’re doing the right thing.”

Bonnell: 704-358-5129; @rick_bonnell

Top finishers

1. (7) Matt Kenseth, Toyota

2. (9) Brad Keselowski, Ford

3. (10) Jeff Gordon, Chevy

4. (15) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevy

5. (25) Greg Biffle, Ford

6. (12) Jimmie Johnson, Chevy

7. (22) AJ Allmendinger, Chevy

8. (19) Clint Bowyer, Toyota

9. (5) Tony Stewart, Chevy

10. (8) Carl Edwards, Toyota

Next race

Cheez-it 355

Where: Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International

When: Aug. 9, 2 p.m.

TV: NBC Sports Network

Radio: MRN

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