DARLINGTON, S.C. — Matt Kenseth passed his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch with 13 laps to go to win his first Southern 500 on Saturday night.
Busch had the strongest car for much of the race and led for 265 of the 367 laps at Darlington Raceway. But his machine appeared to fall away at the worst possible time and he faded to sixth.
Denny Hamlin completed his first full race since suffering a compression fracture in a vertebra in his lower back on March 24.
Jeff Gordon would up third in his 700th straight career start.
Points leader Jimmie Johnson was fourth and Kevin Harvick fifth.
Kenseth’s victory came without crew chief Jason Ratcliff, who was suspended for the No. 20 Toyota having an illegal part in a win at Kansas.
Carl Edwards finished seventh, followed by Juan Pablo Montoya and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Ryan Newman rounded out the top 10.
“This is a dream come true,” Kenseth shouted on his radio. “Thank you guys very much.”
Kenseth had won three times here in the Nationwide Series, but had never come closer than third in Sprint Cup. Once he cleared Busch, Kenseth had smooth sailing to the finish to win for the third time in his debut JGR season. It was Kenseth’s 27th career Sprint Cup victory.
No one matched Busch for most of the race. He had powered to victory in the Nationwide event here Friday night and was running strong again after taking the lead from older brother and pole-sitter Kurt Busch 74 laps in.
Kyle Busch stayed on top through several stretches of green-flag racing and through the first four restarts. But his machine couldn’t keep up after Kenseth went by.
Crew chief Dave Rogers said Busch had a cut tire and only 12 pounds of pressure left when he went into the garage.
“Honestly, I have only dreamed about winning the Southern 500,” Kenseth said. “This to me feels bigger than probably any win in my career.”