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2013 Darlington NASCAR: Kenseth back on a winning streak

Matt Kenseth won the Southern 500 at Darlington Speedway with his team mate Denny Hamlin completing the race in second, on a night dominated by Joe Gibbs Racing.
In a race that might not go down as one of the most thrilling and spectacular on track, the significance of the 2013 Southern 500 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Darlington Speedway was all in the numbers.

It was the first time that Kurt Busch had started from pole position in nearly two years, for example. And he went on to lead the first 69 laps of the race right ahead of his little brother Kyle Busch, who took over on lap 74 and went on to complete 265 of the 367-lap race in the lead and threatened to completely dominate the event just as he had its Nationwide equivalent the previous night.

But a late flat right rear tyre on the #18 dropped Busch to sixth place and allowed his Joe Gibbs Racing team mate Matt Kenseth to take over the lead with just 13 laps remaining, and he went on to record his third win of the year in what's been a truly winning week for him and the #20: together with the 38 points he got handed back after a successful appeal for penalties for a rules infraction at Kansas last month, the win propels Kenseth into third place in the Sprint Cup championship having exited last week's race at Talladega bumping along in 11th.

"Honestly, I've only dreamed about winning the Southern 500," said Kenseth, who notched his first victory at Darlington, his third of the season and the 27th of his career. "This to me probably feels bigger than any win in my career ... We had a fifth- or sixth-place car, fighting loose, [before] those last two adjustments [on pit road, which] were just awesome."

It was even more impressive given that this is the race that Kenseth's regular crew chief Jason Ratcliff has to sit out as a result of his reduced penalty suspension. "I really feel bad that Jason isn't here. This is obviously his team and his effort," said Kenseth, who relied on interim crew chief Wally Brown at Darlington.

It was a good day for another JGR driver as well: having tentatively returned to racing last week for just 23 laps following the compression fracture he sustained at Fontana the week before Easter, Denny Hamllin completed the full race distance at Darlington and he wasn't just making up the numbers - he finished in second place, three seconds adrift of Kenseth.

"For me, we kept grinding away," said Hamlin, adding that it felt like starting the season all over again. "To start it back over at Darlington for 500 miles, there's some muscles that have gotten weak. I've gotten pretty sore and tired, mentally tired as well. We'll have a couple of weeks really to rest until the next long event, and we'll be good to go then."

That starts the long road to recovery for Hamlin in the standings: the second place gains him four places in the standings, but that still leaves him well down the order in 27th because of his enforced five-race absence.

Behind Hamlin at Darlington was Jeff Gordon, who had his own numbers to celebrate: this was his 700th start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, quite a landmark and a pleasingly strong result to mark the occasion.




Related Pictures

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Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 The Home Depot / Husky Toyota, performs a burnout in celebration of winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles` Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 11, 2013 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images)
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 The Home Depot / Husky Toyota, celebrates with his crew in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles` Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 11, 2013 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Emerald Green Chevrolet and polesitter Kurt Busch, driver of the #78 Furniture Row Racing / Serta Chevrolet, lead the field at the start of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles` Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 11, 2013 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Matt Kenseth, driver of the #20 The Home Depot / Husky Toyota, wins the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Bojangles` Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on May 11, 2013 in Darlington, South Carolina. (Photo by Rainier Ehrhardt/Getty Images)
Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 United States Air Force Ford, walks through the garage area prior to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Scott Halleran/NASCARA via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Interstate Batteries Toyota, and Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard Chevrolet, lead a group of cars during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe`s Patriotic Chevrolet, climbs from his car after being involved in an on track incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 Target Chevrolet, is involved in an incident during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jerry Markland/NASCAR via Getty Images)
A large incident occurs in turn three during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Daniel Shirey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 United States Air Force Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 after the race was called for weather at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 United States Air Force Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 after the race was called for weather at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Aric Almirola, driver of the #43 United States Air Force Ford, celebrates in Victory Lane after winning the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 after the race was called for weather at Daytona International Speedway on July 6, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Hellmann`s Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series Subway Firecracker 250 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Scott Halleran/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Hellmann`s Chevrolet, takes the chequered flag to win the NASCAR Nationwide Series Subway Firecracker 250 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Streeter Lecka/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kasey Kahne, driver of the #5 Hellmann`s Chevrolet, celebrates in Victory Lane with Jared Fogle of Subway after winning the NASCAR Nationwide Series Subway Firecracker 250 Powered by Coca-Cola at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/NASCAR via Getty Images)
David Gilliland, driver of the #38 Love`s Travel Stops Ford, poses with Ms. Coors Light, Rachel Rupert, after winning the Coors Light Pole Award for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway on July 4, 2014 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Patriotic Chevrolet SS, qualified fifth Friday, July 4, 2014 for Saturday`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. Johnson is 2nd in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) standings. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Bobby Labonte, driver of the #33 Thunder Coal Chevrolet SS, qualified fourth Friday, July 4, 2014 for Saturday`s Nascar Sprint Cup race at Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Rusty Jarrett/HHP for Chevy Racing)

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