AVONDALE, Ariz. – Matt Kenseth was simply not going to be denied Sunday afternoon at Phoenix Raceway.
Kenseth put on one of the hardest charges of his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series career at the end of the Can-Am 500, ultimately writing what he called “one hell of a storybook ending” by scoring his 39th career victory and snapping a 51-race winless drought after a late pass of playoff hopeful Chase Elliott.
An emotional celebration saw Kenseth climb on the roof of his No. 20 Circle K Toyota after burning the tires down, nearly in tears as he spoke on the impact of going out with a bang.
“I don’t know what to do say, except to thank the Lord,” Kenseth said. “It’s been an amazing journey and I know I’m a big baby right now … but I’ve got just one race left and everybody dreams of going out a winner. We won today and nobody can take that away from us. It was a heck of a race with Chase there. Thank you to Joe Gibbs Racing for an amazing five years; it’s been an amazing journey.”
“What a storybook ending, you know? I wasn’t sure I was quite ready to move on to something different next year … but honestly, God made the decision for me. He put me here for a reason and is taking me out for a reason. It’s just been an incredible journey and there’s no way I could feel any better than this. I’m just at a loss for words. It’s been quite a journey and I’m looking forward to next week.”
Kenseth’s run began during a round of pit stops with 81 to go, when a hang-up on the left-rear tire for then-leader and teammate Denny Hamlin allowed Kenseth to win the race off pit road and assume the lead for the next restart.
The green flag waved with 77 laps left and Kenseth took off like a rocket, but a quick caution flew three laps later for a wayward brake hose in turn two, setting the stage for a series of chaotic restarts in the closing stages.
Kenseth held serve with 69 to go, but when Chris Buescher had a brake rotor explode and went careening into the outside wall in turn two with 61 circuits remaining, the field was stacked up again and actually halted with 58 to go after a section of the SAFER Barrier caught fire from Buescher’s accident.
After a five minute and three second red flag period, racing resumed again with 54 to go and saw Elliott’s car come to life. The No. 24 Hooters Chevrolet blasted around Hamlin for second and ended up in position to restart on the front row after Cole Whitt pounded the wall to draw the sixth caution of the day.
The next restart set up the first of two race-defining moments, after Hamlin got back around Elliott but then Elliott fought back to Hamlin’s inside coming to 42 laps to go, paving the way for a climactic end to the saga between the two.
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