SPARTA, Ky. —
In a season of struggles, McMurray was just happy with his first top-five.
“Every week it’s been something,” he said, “so it’s nice to have some good luck.”
Bowyer remained third in points and gave Michael Waltrip Racing its second straight top-two run following teammate Martin Truex’s road win last week in Sonoma, Calif.
Kenseth’s victory meanwhile typified a weekend where a number of drivers were projected to win at Kentucky.
Friday’s pole qualifying generated enough excitement for the series’ third visit, with eight drivers breaking Johnson’s year-old track record of 181.818 mph.
The group included the five-time champion, who shattered his own mark at 183.144 mph before Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 183.636 mph speed in the No. 88 Chevy snatched the record and the pole, leaving Johnson to settle for the third spot.
Earnhardt’s objective was ending a 37-race drought and improving his seventh-place points standing coming in. Earnhardt succeeded with the latter, finishing 12th to gain a spot with nine races remaining in NASCAR’s regular season.
Johnson eventually picked up where he left off in practice and qualifying, becoming the story on Sunday with the best car after several early lead changes.
Edwards quickly got past Earnhardt after the green flag and led the first 32 laps, although a competition caution allowed Earnhardt to reclaim the lead with a two-tire stop, a strategy followed by the top 10. Denny Hamlin was one of those and restarted sixth on lap 36, but he quickly had to return to the pits when his right front tire went down.
Hamlin’s misfortune quickly created concern for Earnhardt and Johnson when the rubber slid off the tire rim during his exit and flew back on to the track. Earnhardt ran over it, bending his splitter’s right side, before the tire flew off and bounced off Johnson’s hood to bring out the race’s second caution on lap 39.