Matt Kenseth became the sixth different winner in seven NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in 2011, following a dominant performance on Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway.
The Roush Fenway Racing driver scored maximum points by virtue of leading more than half the race distance on his way to breaking a 76-race winless streak he carried since February of 2009.
Kenseth claimed the lead for the first time under the second caution of the day, thanks to a good pitstop that allowed him to jump Kurt Busch, who had fended him off before that.
Once Kenseth was ahead in clean air, there were very few who looked capable of challenging the #17 Ford for the rest of the night. First was Richard Childress Racing's Clint Bowyer, who was able to claim the lead at one point in the second half of the race, before almost spinning out while trying to avoid contact with the Red Bull Toyota of Brian Vickers as he tried to lap him.
Tony Stewart (Stewart Haas) also looked a challenger as he tried to make a different strategy work in the closing laps, gambling on an earlier final stop relative to his rivals. However his move was compromised when he was caught speeding while entering the pits for the last time, which subsequently perhaps forced him to burn the fuel that he was missing on the final lap of the race, when he ran completely dry while running third.
Following David Ragan's pole position and Carl Edwards' Nationwide Series victory from pole on Friday night, the weekend was one to celebrate for Jack Roush, whose cars were clearly the class of the field again on Sunday, all of them crossing the finish line in the top seven. Kenseth's supreme speed gave his boss a record eighth win at Texas, the second one for the former Cup champion at the mile and a half oval.
"I haven't had something like this for a long long time," said Kenseth, who jumped up to third in the points standings with his 19th career Cup win. "It has been a long time... The goal every year is to win a championship and you can't do that if you aren't in the Chase so we have been pretty good over the last four weeks and now we have a pretty dominating win. Hopefully we can carry this momentum back to victory lane a couple more times."
Bowyer was second in the end and admitted his mistake when trying to lap Vickers probably cost him victory.
"Yeah, that was my fault," said Bowyer. "I shouldn't have stuck it in there. Track position is so big. You come up on those lappers, it hurts you so bad that it almost killed my chances to even have a finishing day. But hats off to Matt Kenseth. He was the class of the field. He deserved to win the race. We were definitely a second-place car."
Edwards was the pre-race favourite but struggled with a very loose car in the early stages of the race while also feeling unwell. He was given some medicine during pitstops in order to help him deal with an apparent food poisoning that he managed to keep under control. His third place finish puts him back at the top of the points for the third time this year.
"I hate to throw my mom under the bus but she cooked something last night that I don't think was too good," said Edwards. "I think we chose the wrong package too. [crew chief] Bob [Osborne] and I were just talking about it. I feel good because Matt and those guys did a great job. Congrats to them... The nice thing is that I know exactly what he was running.
"I felt a little bit [ill] this morning, but I felt good and then once the race started I got a little sick again for a minute. I am good right now though. A good run like that makes you feel great. Although we would like to win, that is pretty cool to see Matt in victory lane."
The third Roush Ford of Biffle was fourth ahead of the ever improving Paul Menard, followed by Australian Marcos Ambrose and the other Roush car of polesitter Ragan. Reigning champion Jimmie Johnson had a slow start as he struggled for balance but recovered to finish eighth ahead of his Hendrick Motorsports team-mate Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Penske's Kurt Busch was one driver taking different strategy approaches at various stages during the race, the last one in the closing laps as his team pushed his final stop as late as possible hoping a caution would come out to help him gain track position. It did not pay off in the end but he still was able to get a top-10 finish, recovering from running further down the order in the first half of the event.
Caution lights came on just five times during the race, meaning there were plenty of long green-flag periods that saw only 12 drivers finishing on the lead lap, the last of them being Stewart, who coasted to the start-finish line after running out of fuel.
Former points leader Kyle Busch was only 16th and a lap down in the end following a loose wheel that forced him to pit under green shortly after his penultimate stop. His Joe Gibbs Racing team-mate Denny Hamlin, victorious twice at Texas last year, had yet another lacklustre race, finishing right ahead of Busch.
Results - 334 laps: Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap 1. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford 3h21m26.000s 2. Clint Bowyer Childress Chevrolet + 8.315s 3. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 17.158s 4. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 18.066s 5. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 19.217s 6. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford + 21.267s 7. David Ragan Roush Fenway Ford + 21.548s 8. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 22.034s 9. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 22.663s 10. Kurt Busch Penske Dodge + 24.216s 11. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 27.168s 12. Tony Stewart Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 32.770s 13. Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 1 lap 14. Ryan Newman Stewart Haas Chevrolet + 1 lap 15. Denny Hamlin Gibbs Toyota + 1 lap 16. Kyle Busch Gibbs Toyota + 1 lap 17. Trevor Bayne Wood Brothers Ford + 1 lap 18. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 1 lap 19. AJ Allmendinger Petty Ford + 2 laps 20. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 2 laps 21. Kasey Kahne Red Bull Toyota + 2 laps 22. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 2 laps 23. Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet + 2 laps 24. Joey Logano Gibbs Toyota + 3 laps 25. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 3 laps 26. Casey Mears Germain Toyota + 3 laps 27. Brian Vickers Red Bull Toyota + 4 laps 28. Landon Cassill Phoenix Chevrolet + 4 laps 29. David Reutimann Waltrip Toyota + 5 laps 30. Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet + 5 laps 31. Robby Gordon Gordon Dodge + 6 laps 32. Andy Lally TRG Chevrolet + 10 laps 33. Ken Schrader FAS Lane Ford + 15 laps 34. Tony Raines Front Row Ford + 15 laps Retirements: Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota 213 laps Mark Martin Hendrick Chevrolet 213 laps Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet 212 laps David Starr Leavine Fenton Ford 122 laps Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota 60 laps Michael McDowell HP Toyota 56 laps JJ Yeley Whitney Chevrolet 52 laps David Gilliland Front Row Ford 44 laps Mike Skinner Germain Toyota 36 laps