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Talladega redemption for Kenseth and crew

TALLADEGA, Ala. (AP) - Matt Kenseth didn't get left dancing without a partner at Talladega Superspeedway this time.

The Daytona 500 winner emerged from the smoke of a 25-car, last-lap pileup Sunday to win the race under caution, a high-speed measure of redemption from the last visit in the spring.

``All four plate races they put me in a position to win, and I felt like I let them down here last time on the move I made or didn't make,'' Kenseth said.

Kenseth was leading that race when he chose the outside line for a two-lap overtime sprint to the finish off a yellow flag restart. He got a big lead but created too much separation from drafting partner Greg Biffle, allowing the Brad Keselowski-Kyle Busch tandem to surge past him.

This time he made a nice early save when he spun onto the apron with a car that he said was pretty loose at times. He didn't let this one slip away after the latest Talladega tangle.

``Matt is leading going into the final lap of every restrictor plate race we've had this year,'' team owner Jack Roush said. ``He's won two and come up a little short on the other two.''

Kenseth gave a Talladega farewell to Roush. He's leaving for Joe Gibbs Racing at season's end.

Kenseth said he and crew chief Jimmy Fennig gave up trying to come up with a strategy for often-unpredictable restrictor plate races. The non-strategy seems to be working.

``Honestly, we got tired of it, so I think Jimmy and I talked about it last July before Daytona,'' Kenseth said. ``We decided the fans pay a lot of money to watch us race. These guys pay me money to drive the race car fast. We just race hard every lap. ``


STILL LEADING: Brad Keselowski said leaving Talladega with the points lead was ``pretty big'' but not the best cause for celebration.

``I just feel lucky to survive Talladega,'' Keselowski said.

He maintained his lead with a seventh-place finish after managing to escape the last-lap crash that caught up 25 cars, while running in the bottom lane trying to stay out of trouble that seemed imminent at Talladega.

``It's not really how I wanted to escape it,'' said Keselowski, who won at Talladega in the spring. ``I wanted to win the race but the way that it cycled out with the pit stops and everyone being really close on fuel, staying out was certainly the right move because we didn't get a second green-white checker. I'm pretty confident that a lot of guys would have run out and that wouldn't have been the right move.

``We made all the right calls today.''

Crew chief Paul Wolfe said Keselowski made a nice move navigating ``guys running four deep, pushing and shoving trying to get through a mishap.''

``I knew we were on the bottom line and that helps from getting collected,'' Wolfe said. ``He got run into, got sideways but found a way to dirt track it through the last corner. It was nice to see him come through the cloud of smoke and make it to the finish line.''

Keselowski is nursing a 14-point lead over Jimmie Johnson heading to Charlotte with six races to go in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Denny Hamlin is third, 23 points back.

``There's still a lot of racing left,'' Keselowski said. ``At least we're not fighting from a hole.''

Hamlin said he hung back and played it safe when the wreck started, just as he planned. The result was a 14th-place finish that kept him from falling too far back in points.

``We made our bet and we said we were going to stick to our guns and try to not get into a wreck, and we did that,'' Hamlin said. ``Our goal is just to not get a 20th or 30th place. That kills you.''


KURT-AIN CALL: Kurt Busch's run with Phoenix Racing ended with a parched gas tank, a spin into the wall and NASCAR orders that went either unheard, or unheeded.

NASCAR parked Busch at Talladega Superspeedway after he ran out of gas while leading on the 98th lap. As the safety crew tried to talk to the driver while he sat inside the No. 51 Chevrolet, Busch pulled away with an equipment bag on top of his car. The bag tumbled on the asphalt as NASCAR officials tried to get Busch to stop.

It's been that kind of year.

``I was hoping to get it back to the garage to work on it and get back in this race,'' said Busch, surrounded by cameras and microphones. ``NASCAR's yelling at me to stop, I didn't have my helmet on. Now, I'm in worse trouble. This is the story of my life.

``Leading the race, runs out of gas, tries to get back in the race with that competitive desire, gets yelled at by NASCAR and now I have a storm of media around me. I don't even know what to say or do next. I thanked the guys for a good year. That's just the way it turned out. I'm sorry that it did.''

Busch is moving to Furniture Row Racing, the team that signed him for 2013, next week to finish out the year in the No. 78 Chevrolet. It's another new start for Busch, joining his third team in three years.

He exchanged hugs with team members while they worked on his now-former car.

``It was more of an emotional hug of thanks for all the hard work this year,'' Busch said. ``We ran out of gas while leading. A miscalculation or a fuel cell wasn't picking up all the fuel. It's the small-team blues. You work as hard as you can to keep up with the big teams and sometimes little itty bitty numbers will take you out.''

A former NASCAR champion, Busch has one top-five finish in 30 races so far this season. He's replacing Regan Smith for the final six races, and Phoenix Racing owner James Finch said he'll use Smith next week at Charlotte. He was 39th.

Copyright 2018 by STATS LLC and Associated Press.
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