Kenseth corrals lead with pit stop help

Updated: May 6, 2005, 11:22 PM ET
Associated Press

DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Matt Kenseth took control in the second half of the race and pulled away to a convincing victory Friday night in the first NASCAR Busch Series event under the lights at Darlington Raceway.

The 2003 Nextel Cup champion, a part-time driver in Busch races, earned his 18th career Busch victory and first since Atlanta last October, leading 50 of the 147 laps in the Diamond Hill Plywood 200 on the 1.366-mile oval.

It was his second win at Darlington.

"This is a great racetrack,'' Kenseth said in Victory Lane. "It's one of the most fun racetracks we ever come to.''

Kenseth started 24th in the 43-car field, but worked his way to the front, finally moving to the lead for the first time on lap 96. He dominated the rest of the way -- leading all but two of the last 52 laps -- to give team owner Jack Roush his fifth Busch victory in 11 races this season. Mark Martin has won twice and Carl Edwards and Greg Biffle once each for Roush.

"Really, we had a great handling car on the long runs and that was the key,'' Kenseth added. "The first couple of stops were just OK, but the last two, my guys did a great job and they got me the lead.''

The sixth and final caution came out on lap 136 when Paul Menard slammed into the wall. That gave Kenny Wallace and defending Busch champion Martin Truex one last shot at the leader, but Kenseth's No. 17 Ford was too strong.

"It's one of those deals where I'm always so close,'' said Wallace, who last won in 2001 and finished .342 seconds -- about three car lengths -- behind the winner this time. "I just got beat at the end. No excuse. I was driving my heart out.''

Truex, a two-time winner this year, was happy with his performance.

"I was just off at the start and made adjustments,'' said Truex, who got off to a slow start this season. "We were just one pit stop away from being perfect. But we won last week [at Talladega] and third here. We're on the comeback trail.''

On the final caution, Kenseth appeared to be heading for the pits and Jeff Burton, in sixth, followed. Kenseth suddenly veered back onto the track, retaining the lead, and Burton continued into the pits for fresh tires, falling to 10th. He charged back after the green flag on lap 141 to finish fifth, just behind Biffle.

"I wanted to come to pit road and get tires,'' Kenseth said. "Then I saw nobody else was coming in except Burton, so I figured I'd better get back out there. The tires held up just fine those last few laps.''

It was the eighth victory this year by a Cup regular, known as Buschwhackers.

Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press