Kenseth wins Subway 400

Posted: Monday, February 25, 2002

ROCKINGHAM, N.C. -- Matt Kenseth admitted he wasn't too sure he would ever win again.

A charge from fourth to first late in the race gave Kenseth the victory Sunday in the Subway 400 at North Carolina Speedway -- the second win of his career and his first in 60 races.

''It felt like 160 races, like forever,'' the 29-year-old driver said after taking the checkered flag for the first time since winning the Coca-Cola 600 in May 2000 in Charlotte.

Kenseth's Roush Racing Ford was found to be one-quarter inch too low in post-race inspection several hours after the end of the event. NASCAR said it was reviewing the results of the inspection overnight.

In a similar situation last October in Talladega, Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s winning car was one-quarter inch too low and his team was fined, but kept the victory and the points.

Kenseth's car was among the fastest cars throughout Sunday's 393-lap event and his crew, which won the annual pit crew contest here last November in record time, kept him in front of the pack most of the day.

''We were slamming and banging out there and we just got real lucky,'' Kenseth said after the race was completed under yellow when NASCAR officials threw a caution flag for debris with just five laps remaining.

Kenseth built leads of more than 4 seconds after taking the top spot during a stop under caution on lap 257. He remained out front until pole-winner Rick Craven, who had fallen behind after leading the first 104 laps, regained the lead on lap 365 by staying on the 1.017-mile oval while the other leaders pitted under the eighth of nine cautions.

Kenseth was right behind Craven when the green flag flew on lap 370, but he got a poor restart and slipped to fourth, trailing Craven, Sterling Marlin and Rusty Wallace.

He managed to pass Wallace, but Bobby Labonte zoomed past both of them to grab third the next time around the oval.

Craven, whose tires were 14 laps older than the other leaders, started to give up ground quickly on the rough asphalt surface. Marlin, Labonte and Kenseth, all with fresh tires, passed his struggling Ford by lap 378, setting up the final drama.

On lap 386, Kenseth got a strong run on the low side of the third-turn banking, shot past Labonte's Pontiac and pulled alongside Marlin's Dodge coming off the fourth turn.

Marlin, right in the middle of the late battle the previous Sunday in the Daytona 500 until he collided with Jeff Gordon and bent a fender into his right front tire, tried hard to hold off Kenseth in this one.

But the No. 17 Ford, which led a race-high total of 152 laps, pulled into the lead on the first turn of lap 387 and one lap later the final yellow flag came out because pieces from Robby Gordon's blown tire littered the track.

''I don't know if the 40 and 18 (Marlin and Labonte) thought the caution had come out or got into some oil because they just slowed down,'' Kenseth said. ''I had a run off the corner and I just held it to the floor and made it back to the line.''

''We were never perfect, but what we usually do wrong, especially if we run halfway decent, is just kind of rest a little bit when we're running sixth or seventh, and we won't adjust the car.

''Today, I really tried to think all the time what the car was doing and tell that to Robbie,'' he said, referring to crew chief Robbie Reiser.

Marlin, who finished second, took over the series lead by 18 points over Daytona winner Ward Burton, who finished 13th on Sunday.

Labonte wound up third, followed by Tony Stewart, bouncing back from a last-place finish in the opener, Craven, Jeff Burton, defending series champion Gordon and Wallace.

In Daytona, NASCAR red-flagged the race six laps from the end to make sure it would end with a green-flag finish. NASCAR president Mike Helton explained that it was deemed too late when the yellow flag came out Sunday.

Marlin and his Chip Ganassi Racing team were angered by the decision.

''Whoever's running the show up there sometimes decides to do it and sometimes they don't,'' Marlin said. ''It depends on who is leading the race.

''If it ended like last week, we would have won the race, but that's racing.''

Kenseth said a red flag probably wouldn't have changed the outcome.

''If I had to be somewhere, no matter what NASCAR ended up doing, the lead was definitely the place to be,'' he said. ''It would have been a little challenging, but I felt pretty good about being back in front. I felt like when I was in front of those guys on fresh tires I could probably drive away from them and hold them off.''

Kenseth's second win in 78 career starts came from 25th in the 43-car field, the third furthest a winner has come at Rockingham. His previous best finish here was 10th last November.

The winner, who finished 32nd in Daytona, averaged 115.478 mph in the race slowed by caution for a total of 57 laps. He won $157,400.

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