Matt Kenseth drove the #20 Dollar General Toyota to victory for the 16th Annual Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, making this his 25th victory in 475 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races, and his first win for Joe Gibbs Racing. This was Toyota’s 50 Sprint Cup Series victory.
Kenseth, who turned 41 Sunday, became only the third driver in the series history to win on his birthday, joining Cale Yarborough, who has won twice on his birthday, and Kyle Busch in that exclusive club.
The turning point in the race for Kenseth was during his final pit stop while under caution most everyone took two tires, whereas the #20 team gambled with fuel only. Kenseth took the lead with 40 laps remaining and held onto it, using his veteran know-how and instructions screamed at his new spotter to move lap down cars from his path, to keep Kasey Kahne behind him, crossing the finish line 0.594 seconds ahead of second place Kahne, who led a race-high 114 laps.
“I’m not a huge goal person, but my goal was to win, and to win early,” said Kenseth. “Nobody has put any pressure on me except for myself, but I also know that Coach (Joe Gibbs) hired me to come in there, climb in that car and win races. You certainly want to do that, and you don’t want to disappoint people. I’m glad we got a win, but it’s still only week 3. I feel like this is the beginning and have a lot of confidence, had a lot of confidence after our first meeting and decider to go do this and just had a great feeling about it. And I still do.”
Kenseth is still getting into the swing of things with his new teammates at Joe Gibbs Racing after leaving Roush Fenway Racing after spending 14 seasons at RFR, making it the highest-profile driver move of the offseason.
“I was like, ‘Man, this is not the guy you want to have to race with 10 to go because, he’s going to do everything right,’” said Kahne of Kenseth. “You’re going to have to figure out how to squeeze by him. And you know he had a fast car, too, so it was difficult. He did a perfect job, and we came back second, but still a good run. We had a great car, did everything right, we just didn’t quite get there.” Kahne said.
Defending series champion Brad Keselowski overcame an issue on pit road, when a dropped lug nut cost him 10 positions during a pit stop under caution on lap 161. Keselowski was happy with the third place finish but he felt his car was capable of more.
“I want to win really bad,” said Keselowski. “But I guess the consolation is starting out the year with three solid finished and a top 5 and just kind of backing up where we finished last year with solid runs. For that I’m proud, proud of the effort today to recover from a couple mishaps. Certainly didn’t give up there at the end. I thought I might have had a shot.”