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Kenseth powers to third checkered flag of season

Posted: Monday, June 17, 2002

BROOKLYN, Mich. (AP) -- Jack Roush propped his arm up on his crutches and shifted ever so slightly. If there was any discomfort, driver Matt Kenseth's victory made it all go away.

Kenseth became the first three-time winner of the season, holding off a furious charge from Dale Jarrett to beat him to the line at Michigan International Speedway -- Roush's home track.

Roush, the car owner who survived an April plane crash, is recovering from his injuries at his Michigan home, but was at the track on crutches to watch Kenseth and his other three cars compete in the Sirius Satellite Radio 400.

''When we do really poorly here, and I remember the times we've done poorly as much as the times that we've won, it's a huge embarrassment and I can't wait to come back for the next race'' Roush said.

So there was no chance he wasn't coming to Michigan, his third race since suffering a head injury, a shattered left leg and broken ribs when the small plane he was piloting hit power lines and crashed into an Alabama lake.

A former Marine rescued Roush from the water, but doctors had initially given him 20-1 odds against survival.

But like his race teams -- they've now got five wins this season after notching only two last year -- Roush has rapidly rebounded.

''It's just great to give Jack a win here,'' Kenseth said. ''This is home, this is his favorite track and he's been through a lot so far this year. This helps.''

Rookie Ryan Newman was third and was followed by Michael Waltrip and Winston Cup champion Jeff Gordon, the defending race champion who came back from a lap down earlier in the race.

Johnny Benson was sixth, followed by Rusty Wallace, Ricky Rudd, Mark Martin and Kurt Busch.

Kenseth, who also won in Rockingham, N.C., and Texas this season, had to overcome a late red-flag and battles with Jimmie Johnson and Newman before his last-lap duel with Jarrett.

Kenseth had battled back and forth over the final third of the race for the lead with Johnson, but appeared headed to an easy victory with six laps to go until Elliott Sadler crashed in Turn 2.

NASCAR stopped the race to clean up the debris and ensure a green-flag finish.

''I was hoping caution wouldn't come out,'' Kenseth said. ''We had a 5-second lead, but they made it interesting by throwing the red flag. Red flags are a tough, tough deal, but it makes it interesting for the fans.''

That it did, as all the teams plotted strategy before the pits opened following a seven-minute stoppage -- leading to a frantic finish of three- and four-wide racing.

When the pits opened, Kenseth, Johnson and Newman all stayed on the track as the leaders even though their tires were old.

Jarrett, the pole-sitter and last week's winner at Pocono, and another pack of cars went with the opposite strategy by going in for tires. That put them far behind the leaders, but gave them faster cars.

''Had to come in for four tires, it was the key and the only way we were going to make any kind of run at it,'' Jarrett said.

The race went green with three laps to go and Newman, in third on the restart, got a terrific jump to fool Johnson and send him backward into the pack.

''Newman banzaied the start, it collected me and sent me up the track and it just broke my momentum,'' said Johnson, who went from a shot at winning the race to a 14th-place finish.

''From now on I've got to remember who I'm racing and not fall victim to it again.''

With Johnson out of the way, Newman had a clear shot at chasing down Kenseth. But he never could get past him because he quickly had to deal with Jarrett.

''I had a run on Matt, but I didn't think it was going to stick,'' Newman said. ''I tried it anyway just for the sake of doing it, and that cost myself and that's when Dale got by me.''

Jarrett, 11th on the restart, passed Newman with one lap to go and was on Kenseth's back bumper off Turn 4. But Kenseth threw a a block that kept Jarrett behind him as he crossed the finish line 0.131 seconds ahead.

''All I needed was one more corner,'' Jarrett said. ''I'm not just being cocky or a smart-aleck in saying that, but my car was much faster through the turns then these guys who had no tires.''

The points standings remained almost intact -- Johnson's finish allowed Gordon, his partial car owner, to pull into a second-place tie with him in the championship race.

The Hendrick Motorsports teammates trail Sterling Marlin by 110 points in the standings. Marlin, who changed his engine before the race and had to start in the back of the field, finished 21st.



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