SPARTA, Ky. —
Rain Saturday night forced NASCAR officials to postpone the race to a daytime start.
The event was red-flagged for 18 minutes following a seven-car wreck involving defending race and Sprint Cup winner Brad Keselowski, who returned to finish 33rd. It was the biggest incident of 10 cautions for 42 laps, but things were clean after Johnson brought out the final yellow flag.
The checkered flag crowned Kentucky's third different champion in as many events though Kenseth, like Johnson, was due for a breakthrough on the 1.5-mile oval.
He finished seventh here last year and sixth in the 2011 inaugural race. However, victory didn't seem likely for the 2003 Cup champion after qualifying 16th and running outside the top 20 during the first quarter of the event.
"I thought our first run, we were all right and I guess probably after the second run, we were able to move forward pretty good," Kenseth said. "I felt pretty good about what we had. I thought we need to get it better."
From then on, the first-year Joe Gibbs Racing driver was a perennial top-five contender. Trouble was, he and other hopefuls seemed to need Johnson to suffer misfortune to have any shot of catching him. The way he was running, that appeared unlikely.
Turns out, Kenseth needed to rely on the left-side tires Ratcliff ordered the previous stop. Taking fuel only the final time allowed him to gain the lead coming off pit road, and the rubber held up on the rough, bumpy track, both on the restart and through the final laps.
Ratcliff was shocked that more teams didn't follow suit with that strategy.
"I felt like more guys would make that call, and so I thought it was worth a shot to get out there," the crew chief said. "When we rolled off pit road and saw what everybody did, I looked to the guy beside me and I'm like, 'I can't believe we are the only ones that did that."