"Show me where to park this thing!", Matt Kenseth said over the radio to his crew chief Jimmy Fennig in recognition of just how long it's been since he's needed to know where to find Victory Lane.
It's been 76 races since Kenseth's last wins at the Daytona 500 and Auto Club Speedway in February 2009 (and nine years since his last win at Texas), and the pressure - both internal and external - had been building on him. It all came right on the night in the evening darkness of Texas Motor Speedway, where he led 169 of the 334 laps - by comparison, he led only 61 laps in the entire 2010 season. He admitted that staying in front in the clean air was the secret of his success: "A couple of times, when we got behind a little bit, it took awhile to get to the front.
"It feels good to get back to victory lane. It has been a long time and we have had a lot of second place finishes and gotten beat at the end here a lot," said Kenseth. "Last fall I had to come back and look at my guys after leading and then not winning. That is always really disappointing. It is nice to have this night and get this win."
Despite having found wins elusive until this weekend, Kenseth's consistently strong finishes so far this season had already been catching the eye: he has finished in the top 10 for his fourth consecutive race, having finished 12th or better in the past six races. His 19th Sprint Cup career victory this weekend boosts him up to third place in the Sprint Cup points standings.
Kenseth wasn't without his worries during the race - an issue on pit road left him short of fuel at one point - but the long green flag runs during the race that saw only five cautions proved to be key, as the #17 just got better and better during long stints, and the race finished with an unbroken run of 114 caution-free laps.
Car owner Jack Roush paid special tribute to the role played by Kenseth's crew chief: "Jimmie Fennig is a great success story. He is our oldest crew chief ... He has been with us longer than anybody else and has worked with a lot of different drivers. He and Matt are as good a combo that I have experienced in my 24 years here."
Instead, it was Tony Stewart who ended up the the biggest fuel heartache of the night. He delayed his final pit stop until 58 laps to the end, thinking that would see him through, but the lack of any late cautions meant that while he started the last lap in third, the car then ran dry and barely cruised to the chequered flag in 12th place at the very back of the lead lap. Stewart might even have been taking the white flag in the lead if it had not been for a drive-thru penalty for speeding in the pits during that final stop.
"It took almost the whole race to crack the top ten, so to be in the position we were in there at the end, I guess is a good thing," Stewart said. "But when you're in that position and you can't capitalize, it's pretty frustrating. Speeding on pit road didn't exactly help the cause either."
Unfortunately, Kenseth's pace and Stewart's ill fortune meant that the Texas crowd were denied a thrilling close finish at the end of the evening's proceedings. Second-placed Clint Bowyer was a distant 8s behind, having almost spun out while in the lead while trying too hard to put a lap on Brian Vickers, and Carl Edwards was a further 9s back down the track despite feeling seriously unwell with suspected food poisoning.
"I hate to throw my mom under the bus but she cooked something last night that I don't think was too good," said Edwards, before admitting that when it came down to the technical set-up side, "I think we chose the wrong package too."
The biggest wreck of the night occurred on lap 214, after Brad Keselowski checked up in front of Martin Truex Jr. Truex also braked, and then got sideways after light contact with Kevin Harvick that ended up catching out Mark Martin and Regan Smith in a bone-jarring impact that sent Truex, Martin and Smith to the garage with heavy damage.
"They just started wrecking in front of me and I piled in it. Couldn't stop," summarised Martin afterwards, while Regan Smith was even more blunt summing the night up: "Disappointing. Had a good car. We had a pit road penalty that really hurt us. Shouldn't have been that far back anyways. It is what it is ... We just have crap luck right now."
Harvick ended up a disappointing 20th, two laps down, after his back-to-back wins at Fontana and Martinsville. Former Sprint Cup points leader Kyle Busch was compromised by a loose wheel that forced him to make an extra stop under green for service between his last two scheduled visits to pit road.Full results and times
available in the results section.