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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.




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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)
Jimmie Johnson, driver of the #48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS, holds his daughter, Lydia Sunday, November 22, 2015 before final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Johnson and other Jeff Gordon teammates at Hendrick Motorsports wore tribute hats to honor the retiring Chevy driver prior to the start of the race. (Photo by Alan Marler/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS, races to a sixth place finish Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Gordon finishes third in the Chase for the Cup Championship. This was Gordon`s last race as a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. He has made 796 consecutive Cup Series starts, earned 93 wins, and 81 poles - all behind the wheel of Chevrolets. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, races to a second place finish, Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. Harvick finishes as the runner-up in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship. (Photo by Andrew Coppley/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Defending Sprint Cup Champion Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John’s Chevrolet SS, races to a second place finish, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 Axalta Chevrolet SS finishes in sixth place, and Martin Truex, Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Visser Precision finishes in twelfth place Sunday, November 22, 2015 in the final race of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season at Homestead-Miami Speedway in Homestead, Florida. This Chevrolet drivers finished 2nd, 3rd and 4th (respectively) in the Chase of the Cup Championship. (Photo by Harold Hinson/HHP for Chevy Racing)
Ryan Blaney and the Motorcraft/Quick Lane Racing Team battled back from a bad re-start after the first caution of the race to finish 17th in the season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. (Photo Credit: Campbell Marketing)
Series championship contenders Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, take part in pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Former racing driver Mario Andretti, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Formula One World Champion Lewis Hamilton pose during pre-race ceremonies for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
Joey Logano, driver of the #22 Shell Pennzoil Ford, and Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/Getty Images)
Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, pits during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
A general view as cars pit during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Robert Laberge/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kevin Harvick, driver of the #4 Budweiser/Jimmy John`s Chevrolet, Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, Jeff Gordon, driver of the #24 AXALTA Chevrolet, and Martin Truex Jr., driver of the #78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet, race during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Trotman/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, crosses the finish line to win the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida.  (Photo Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/NASCAR via Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race with a burnout after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 M&M`s Crispy Toyota, celebrates winning the series championship and the race in Victory Lane after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway on November 22, 2015 in Homestead, Florida. (Photo Credit: Sean Gardner/NASCAR via Getty Images)

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