The first night race on the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series schedule has come to an end. Matt Kenseth took the checkered flag in commanding fashion, as he won by more than eight seconds over Clint Bowyer.
After starting in the fourth position, Kenseth took the lead for the first time on lap 44. After giving up the lead a few laps later, following the races second caution flag, Kenseth got around teammate, Greg Biffle, on lap 58 to retake the top spot.
Kenseth would see his lead stretch out to more than four seconds over another teammate David Ragan by lap 110. By this time, the green flag had been out for 60 straight laps, and the field had already made one round of green flag pit stops.
A few laps later, the caution flew for the third time, which allowed a few drivers to mix up their pit strategy. Kenseth opted to take four fresh tires, and came out of the pits in third. He trailed Penske teammates Kurt Busch and Brad Keselowski, who each took on just two right-side tires.
Five laps after the restart, Kenseth had worked his way around both Busch and Keselowski and once again took over the top spot. He would hold the lead for the next 39 laps before yet another round of green flag pit stops ensued.
After six laps of green flag stops, the lead cycled back to Kenseth, and his lead on second place Clint Bowyer was just about five seconds.
Kenseth was forced to pit earlier than he would have liked, as a third round of green flag stops approached. On his previous stop, his team had failed to get his gas tank full, so Kenseth had to stop 10 laps earlier than he normally would have.
The move didn't hurt him, however, as the rest of the field followed him into the pits over the course of the next two or three laps.
Lap 214 brought out the only significant caution of the night. Martin Truex, Jr. was forced to check up, and in doing so, was nudged from behind. The contact sent Truex hard into the wall, where he collected both Mark Martin and Regan Smith, neither of whom had anywhere to go but straight into Truex.
The ensuing restart saw Bowyer jump out in front of Kenseth. He would hold that lead for the next 30 laps, until he got into the side of Brian Vickers as he was attempting to put him a second lap down. The contact slowed Bowyer enough to let Kenseth retake the lead.
One lap later, Kenseth once again hit pit road for the fourth round of green flag pit stops on the night. After the cycle of stops, which saw Kurt Busch and Tony Stewart stay out for extended periods of time, in hopes of catching a caution and gaining significant track position, Kenseth ultimately retook the lead.
As the laps wound down, it all became a matter of different strategies playing out. After speeding on pit road on what he was hoping would be his final pit stop, Stewart took himself out of contention after leading a handful of laps.
Kurt Busch led the race late, as he was on a completely different strategy than everyone else. When he was forced to pit for fuel with 13 laps remaining, the lead was once again handed over to Kenseth. By this point, he was eight seconds ahead of second place Bowyer.
As the laps ticked away, the only way Kenseth would lose the race, was if a caution were to fly. Fortunately for the driver of the No. 17, that caution never happened, and he ultimately took the checkered flag and won by eight seconds.
Bowyer finished second, followed by Kenseth's teammates Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle. Paul Menard rounded out the top five. Marcos Ambrose, David Ragan, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Kurt Busch made up the rest of the top 10.
The win snapped a 76-race winless draught for Kenseth, and the 169 laps that he led in the race were more than he led in all 36 races combined a season ago. The win also jumped him up six spots in the point standings to third.
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