Commentary

Matt Kenseth the last one standing

Updated: October 21, 2012, 8:29 PM ET
By Terry Blount | ESPN.com

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- The new Kansas Speedway raced a lot like old-school demolition derby.

And you thought Talladega was crazy. That was only one wild lap at the end.

Sunday's race on the repaved and reconfigured Kansas track was lap after lap of wrecking cars, exploding tires and angry drivers in the most caution-filled race of the season.

Matt Kenseth won it -- survived it might be a better description -- but even his No. 17 Ford didn't escape damage.

Now what was that talk about 1.5-mile, cookie-cutter ovals being boring? For all the fans who've been screaming for more drama, this was your day.

[+] EnlargeMatt Kenseth
John Harrelson/Getty ImagesMatt Kenseth has two victories in six Chase races but still trails championship leader Brad Keselowski by 55 points.

The race had 14 cautions, a record at Kansas. And these weren't any yawner-style debris cautions. The yellows came from car-spinning, wall-banging, sheet metal-shattering, tire-blowing and head-jarring crashes.

With the lightning-fast new pavement and the addition of progressive banking, this 400-mile event was guaranteed for a lot of unknowns, along with possible increased danger. But no one expected this, a bashing and crashing mess like the old days at Bristol, except in fast motion.

For the championship contenders, it was way more drama (or chaos) than they needed.

"I'm just glad to survive the carnage," said Brad Keselowski, who finished eighth and retained the points lead with four races to go. "I don't know how to explain it. I'm ready to go home and have a couple of beers. I dodged a bullet of a race."

So did Jimmie Johnson, finishing ninth after it appeared his day was done with a badly wrecked car halfway through the race.

There's a reason Johnson's No. 48 Chevy team has won five championships, and it showed Sunday. The back of Johnson's ride looked unfixable when he slammed into the Turn 4 wall. But his crew did a remarkable job of repairing the car and getting him back on the track with a machine that still could run well.

Team owner Rick Hendrick was impressed.

"Never in 30 years of racing have I seen that kind of surgery [on a car] and not lose a lap," Hendrick said. "I thought our deal was over today. It's truly amazing. It says it all about what the 48 team is all about."

Johnson remains only seven points behind Keselowski heading to Martinsville, one of Johnson's best tracks.

"The car is pretty tore up," Johnson said, surveying the damage after the race. "I'm definitively proud of this team. We continue to fight. But I'm also disappointed I crashed the car. I spun out and couldn't catch it. We could have been in Victory Lane."

Or he could have ended up on the wrecker hook, the fate of more than a few cars in this race. And some paybacks are coming. A few already were delivered.

Kyle Busch threatened to wreck Ryan Newman after they collided. Danica Patrick admitted wrecking Landon Cassill on purpose, but she wrecked her own car in the process.

"Rule 1 of stock car racing," Cassill said, "learn how to wreck someone without wrecking yourself."

Patrick said she was standing her ground.

"He slammed into me on the front straight," she said. "I've always played fair, but it's been pretty consistent with him getting in to me. So at some point, I have to stand up for myself, or everybody's going to do it."

Kyle Busch also plans to stand up for himself, which isn't anything new.

"Newman just ran up the back of me and spun me out," Busch said. "I don't know what that was or why, but I'm glad he wrecked and he'll get another one before the year is out."

Most of the blame was misplaced. It was the track, a mayhem-producing change that made it tough to get through all 267 laps with the car still pointed forward.

The surprise of the day was the two- and sometimes three-wide racing on the new surface, a good omen for the future. The close proximity of the cars at times led to some of the wrecks, a bad result of a good thing.

Even Kenseth banged the wall at one point, but came to pit road and had his crew pull out the fenders enough for him to keep zooming toward a victory.

Kenseth, who moves from Roush Fenway Racing to Joe Gibbs Racing next season, now has won two of the past three Chase races. But he's ninth in the standings (55 points back) and out of contention because of a 35th-place finish at Dover.

He was no lame duck on this day, when a lot of cars looked like dead ducks before it ended.

"As the track gets older, it will be more driver/car-friendly," Kenseth said. "But with about 100 [laps] to go today, I was thinking this had to be really entertaining for everybody to watch, because a lot of wild stuff was happening."

Love it or hate it, Kansas was a happening place Sunday, more so than anyone could have imagined.

Terry Blount

ESPN Seattle Seahawks reporter

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