A two-tire call late in Sunday’s FedEx 400 at Dover International Speedway put Kenseth on the front row for a restart on Lap 367 of 400, and that was all Kenseth needed to secure his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory of the season and the 20th of his career.
In short order, Kenseth dispatched Mark Martin, who had stayed out on old tires, and maintained a comfortable lead to the finish, as those who had taken four tires under caution on Lap 363 could make little headway against those with inferior rubber. Kenseth led the final 32 laps.
Martin ran second, followed by Marcos Ambrose, Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers, as the mixture of tire strategies squelched what had been a heated battle between Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards—and later, Clint Bowyer.
Bowyer came home sixth, Edwards seventh, Martin Truex Jr. eighth and Johnson ninth. Kevin Harvick completed the top 10.
The decision to put two tires on Kenseth’s car wasn’t made until the No. 17 Ford reached its pit box for the final stop on Lap 363, and it was a suggestion from Kenseth to crew chief Jimmy Fennig.
“Honestly, I was sitting on the track and thinking that we should stay out and get clean air and try it, because I knew we wouldn’t win if we took four,” Kenseth said. “Jimmy wanted four, but as I was driving down pit road, I thought maybe we could compromise.
“While I was on the jack, I asked if he was sure we didn’t want to try two, and he said to put on two. It was really Jimmy’s call and just a suggestion by me. It was tough to pass on top of that rubber out there (that continued to build up on the track).”
All told, Kenseth led 33 laps to 207 for Johnson and 117 for Edwards. But Kenseth led the lap that counted.
Edwards didn’t blame crew chief Bob Osborne for the four-tire call that left him ninth for the restart on Lap 367. The race didn’t play out the way Edwards or Osborne expected, and Edwards leaves Dover with a 24-point lead over second-place Johnson in the series standings.
“That’s too tough of a choice to make right there, and I don’t blame Bob Osborne one bit,” Edwards said. “I thought we would be able to march up through there, and I thought the race would be between Clint and I. I did see a couple cars go fast early on two tires, but I really felt we were going to have something. If we had had a caution, who knows what would have happened.
“You can’t look back, you have to look forward. We still have the points lead and the fastest car here today.”
Johnson dominated the early stages of the race, leading 135 of the first 142 laps before Edwards passed him for the top spot through Turns 3 and 4 on Lap 143. Johnson beat Edwards off pit road on Lap 165, under caution for a brief rain shower, and regained the lead a lap later, when front-row starter AJ Allmendinger, who had stayed out to lead a lap, took his car to the garage with a blown engine.
Johnson remained out front until Lap 189, when Edwards overtook him again, and he led all but one of the next 96 laps.
Edwards and Johnson swapped positions once more during a cycle of green-flag pit stops, with Johnson passing Juan Pablo Montoya for the lead on Lap 288. Montoya, who was off sequence on pit stops, had stayed on the track while the rest of the lead-lap cars came to pit road under green.
Johnson had a 1.5-second lead after the exchange of pit stops, but Edwards chopped that down to nothing by Lap 313, when he passed for the lead, albeit briefly.
Johnson regained the top spot on Lap 314 and held it under extreme pressure from Edwards and Bowyer until Kasey Kahne’s engine failure on Lap 332 caused the fifth caution of the race.
Excellent pit work got Bowyer out in front for a restart on Lap 338, and he held the lead—with Edwards gaining ground—until Montoya’s spin in Turn 3 brought out the sixth and final caution on Lap 362.
Notes: Busch picked up his sixth top five of the season despite having to start in the back of the field after an engine change during Friday’s practice sessions. … Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran 12th and remained fourth in the Cup standings, 52 points behind Edwards. … With his runner-up finish, Mark Martin moved up three spots to 11th in points, four behind 10th-place Tony Stewart, who finished 29th and dropped three positions in the standings.