The driver of the No. 17 Roush Fenway Racing Ford was delighted to win Saturday night’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway with new sponsor Fluidmaster on his car—make that with any sponsor on his car.
In a race that saw five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson suffer a Chase-changing accident in the final 20 laps, Kenseth pulled away from Kyle Busch and teammate Carl Edwards during a 12-lap run to the finish and notched his third victory of the season and the 21st of his career.
Kenseth finished .968 seconds ahead of Busch, with Edwards coming home in third, miffed by the way Busch raced in Turn 2 as the two were contesting second place in the closing laps.
Kenseth climbed to third in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup standings halfway through NASCAR’s 10-race playoff in an event that was as much an audition as a triumph for the 2003 Cup champion. With Crown Royal leaving as primary sponsor of his car after the current season, Kenseth needs financial backing for next year.
That’s why he didn’t mind the puns about Fluidmaster, which makes systems designed to conserve water when toilets are flushed.
“After all the toilet jokes about my restarts, we finally got a good one today,” said Kenseth, who got the jump on Busch on the last restart of the race, on Lap 323 of 334. “Thankfully, we got a good one there at the end.
“Crown Royal—it’s not too late to come back. We don’t have any sponsors for next year, so this should be a good audition. And Fluidmaster for being on this week—it was a great night for us.”
Kenseth is seven points behind Edwards, who expanded his Chase lead to five points over sixth-place finisher Kevin Harvick.
“That’s good, but it only matters where you are in the last lap at Homestead (in the season finale). But it’s been a great five races, and it feels great to win.”
Busch, who led a race-high 111 laps, wasn’t elated with second, but considering that he started at the rear of the field after an engine change, Busch had reason to feel encouraged.
“It was the best run we’ve had here in a while, but we still came up short,” Busch said. “We’ve got to keep finishing like this. It’s not that hard. We finally finished where we ran—except we didn’t. We still lost a position, which is four points essentially, because you get three bonus points for winning a race.
“It’s frustrating, but we’ll take it, and if we can finish second here on out, we might win this deal.”
Edwards was upset by the line Busch took as they raced for second after the final restart—and Edwards told Busch as much after the race.
“We should definitely be racing each other hard,” Edwards said. “It’s just that there’s a difference between racing hard and then cutting across a guy’s nose.
“What I told Kyle is I just wonder why, coming off of Turn 2 when I got underneath him, that he drove down instead of going up to the wall like we would normally do. And I just let him know that next time that happens, I’ll just stay where I’m at and he can drive across my hood and wreck himself.
“It just surprised me. Now he told me that he didn’t mean to do it, and so I got to believe that, but I don’t know what else there is to say about it. Just it’s racing, and we didn’t wreck, and we’re going to race hard like that—that’s just how I saw it.”
Busch had his own explanation.
“I got loose, and it was steering me down the track instead of my butt going up the track, and I was just trying to hold on and not do anything. Then I side-drafted him to stay along side of him down the backstretch, and that was it. I was trying to keep my position.”
Running in close quarters with Ryan Newman on Lap 316, Johnson slid sideways and slammed nose-first into the Turn 2 wall. With a 34th-place finish, Johnson fell from third to eighth in the standings, 35 points behind Edwards.
“I’m OK—that one stung for sure,” Johnson said after the wreck. “Just thankful to have safe racecars, safe walls, softer walls, and everything did its job. Pretty big impact. Unfortunate that we wrecked. We got into Turn 1 and the 39 (Newman) was real tight on my outside and pulled me around. From there on I was just hanging on.”
Johnson’s hopes for a sixth straight title may have started circling the bowl—and that’s a toilet joke Kenseth might actually enjoy.