Bristol, TN (SportsNetwork.com) - Matt Kenseth's lengthy drought in the Sprint Cup Series ended on a rain-soaked day and night at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sunday.
Kenseth snapped his 51-race winless streak in the series after holding off Jimmie Johnson in a green-white-checkered finish in the Food City 500, a race that featured several rain delays and numerous cautions for accidents.
This 500-lap race had been scheduled to start shortly after 1 p.m. local time, but it was delayed for almost an hour and a half due to rain. The event was then stopped three more times, including a four-hour delay, because of inclement weather and moisture on the track.
With the race running under the lights at this 0.533-mile, high-banked oval, Kenseth, the pole sitter, grabbed the lead for the fourth and final time on lap 478 when then leader Kurt Busch pitted during a caution. There were three cautions for multi-car wrecks during the last 40 laps here, including a five- car incident on the backstretch on lap 495 that set up the overtime finish. Carl Edwards and Busch, both in contention to win this race, were involved in that last crash.
After the yellow flag waved for the 11th and final time, light rain began falling on the track, forcing NASCAR to stop the race briefly for track drying. This event concluded after 511 laps were completed.
Jimmie Johnson ran in fourth for the last restart, but Johnson quickly charged past third-place runner Ryan Newman and then second-place Jeff Gordon, his teammate at Hendrick Motorsports. Johnson could not catch Kenseth in time, as he crossed the finish line 0.287 seconds behind.
"Everything worked out," Kenseth said. "We had a good car on the short run, not so good on the last 40 or 50 laps of the run, and we had all them cautions and short runs at the end that really benefited us."
Kenseth scored his 32nd career win in NASCAR's premier series but his first since September 2013 at New Hampshire, his maiden season driving the No. 20 Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.
"It means a lot," Kenseth said of his first Sprint Cup win in 19 months. "I have a great race team. Last year was tough and not winning again this year so far has been tough. We've been putting ourselves in position. Really need to thank (crew chief) Jason (Ratcliff) and all these guys (No. 20 team). Our pit stops have been great. I haven't been doing as great and the cars haven't been as good, but these guys have been really doing it."
It's the fourth time Kenseth has won a Sprint Cup race at Bristol. His first three victories here occurred in the August night race. Kenseth became the sixth different driver to win a race this season, which virtually guarantees him a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
Johnson bounced back from two separate crashes during the mid-stages of the race to finish second. Gordon placed third, followed by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Newman.
Tony Stewart, Kyle Larson, Justin Allgaier, Danica Patrick and Austin Dillon completed the top-10. Patrick scored her sixth career top-10 finish in Sprint Cup, which set a series record for most top-10s by a female driver.
Kevin Harvick, the defending series champion and current points leader, led the most laps with 184, but Harvick was involved in an accident with David Ragan, Jeb Burton and Johnson on lap 311. He spent more than 40 laps behind the wall for repairs and wound up finishing 38th. It's the first race this season that he has placed outside the top-10.
After this race started around 2:30 p.m. ET, the first 19 laps ran under green before Team Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano crashed together and suffered damage to their Fords. Keselowski got loose coming out of turn 4 while attempting to pass a lapped car. He hit the wall and then collected Logano.
During the first caution, it began to rain heavily, as NASCAR displayed the red flag to stop the race when 22 laps had been completed. It was sprinkling at the time of Keselowski and Logano's crash.
"I hate racing in the rain, but I understand the position that NASCAR is in," Keselowski said. "They want to get the race going, and this is one of those days where it's gonna just keep raining off and on. We're trying to get as many laps in at a time as we can to give the fans the best race possible, but we're racing in the rain to do it, and that's what happens."
Both drivers later returned to the track after repairs were made, with Keselowski finishing 35th and Logano 40th.
When the race resumed in the evening, Denny Hamlin, who is Kenseth's teammate at JGR, did not return to his No. 11 car. Hamlin experienced a neck spasm on lap 12, and his pain intensified during the rain delay, making him unable to continue driving in the race. Erik Jones, a development driver for JGR and winner of the Xfinity Series race at Texas earlier this month, relieved Hamlin.
"I just pulled something in my neck to upper back around lap 12," Hamlin said after the race had resumed. "I started going backwards at that point because the pain was bothering me. I stretched it out, and we've been working on it the last few hours.
"I'm not 100 percent, and with this format, it's all about winning. And there's no way I would be able to compete for a win. It's just doing my team a complete injustice for me to run a bunch of laps."
Hamlin won the March 29 race at Martinsville to all but assure himself a position in the Chase.
Jones drove Hamlin's car to a 26th-place finish, with Hamlin being credited with that position. It was the first time Jones, who is 18 years old, competed in a Sprint Cup race.
"It was a huge learning experience," Jones said. "I learned a ton. I wish we could start the night over and do it all again. It was an interesting situation for sure. I never turned a lap in one of these cars until the green flag dropped. I can't wait to try it again."