DARLINGTON, S.C. — This is the Matt Kenseth to which most NASCAR fans have become accustomed.
While Kenseth has run up front all season in his first year with Joe Gibbs Racing, Kenseth’s late-in-the-race pass for the lead which sealed a victory in Saturday night’s Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway was far more illustrative of his career.
JGR teammate Kyle Busch dominated virtually the entire race until Kenseth ran him down and passed him for the lead on Lap 355 of 367.
Denny Hamlin ended up second, Jeff Gordon was third, Sprint Cup Series points leader Jimmie Johnson was fourth and Kevin Harvick fifth.
Kyle Busch ended up sixth.
Pole-winner Kurt Busch took early control of the race, leading the first 51 laps before giving up the top spot during a round of green-flag pit stops.
Younger brother, Kyle Busch, passed Kurt for the lead on Lap 74 and led the next 32 laps until a second round of green-flag pit stops got underway.
Once the round of stops was completed on Lap 109, Kyle was back out front followed by Kenseth, Kasey Kahne, Johnson and Kurt Busch.
On Lap 113, Brad Keselowski was forced to pit after developing a vibration and fell two laps down while his team worked on the problem.
Debris in Turn 2 brought out the first caution of the race on Lap 125. All of the lead-lap cars pit for fuel and tires with Kyle Busch being the first off pit road. On the restart on Lap 132, Kyle was followed by Hamlin and Kahne.
As the race remained mostly caution-free, a third round of green-flag pit stops began on Lap 179. This time, Jeff Gordon used a lightning-quick pit stop to emerge as the leader when the cycle of stops were completed on Lap 187.
After spending several laps running on Gordon’s bumper, Kyle Busch passed Gordon and retook the lead on Lap 203.
Teams began a fourth round of green-flag pit stops on Lap 236. Once the cycle was completed on Lap 244, Kyle Busch remained in the lead followed by Johnson, Kahne, Kenseth and Kevin Harvick.
During the green-flag stops, Clint Bowyer was penalized for removing equipment from his pit stall and had to serve a pass-thru penalty. He fell one lap down in the process.
With 100 laps remaining, Kyle Busch continued to lead the way followed by Johnson and Kahne.
Regan Smith spun on Lap 301 to bring out the second caution of the race. All of the lead lap cars pit for fuel and tires and once again Kyle Busch was the first to come off pit road and remained in the lead on the restart on Lap 309.
Kyle was followed by Johnson, Kahne, Kenseth and Hamlin.
Kurt Busch, Casey Mears and Keselowski got mixed up in a wreck on Lap 312 to bring out the third caution of the race. Some cars pit but four remained on the track.
On the restart on Lap 318, Kyle Busch led the way followed by Kenseth, Kahne, Gordon and Johnson.
Josh Wise and David Reutimann wrecked in Turn 2 on Lap 329. All of the lead lap cars pit for fuel and tires with Kyle Busch once again exiting pit road as the leader.
On the restart on Lap 333, Busch was followed by Kahne and Hamlin.
Kahne and Busch raced hard on the restart, made slight contact, and Kahne slapped the wall on Lap 334, which brought out another caution. On the restart on Lap 338, Kyle Busch remained in the lead followed by Kenseth and Hamlin.
With 12 laps remaining, Kenseth closed quickly on Busch and moved around him and into the lead.