Matt Kenseth won Sunday's AAA 400 Drive for Autism despite a hard-nosed effort late from Kyle Larson, who was unable to make a final pass for the win.
Harvick dominates early
Kevin Harvick started the race in pole after qualifying was rained out, and he did not waste any time. By Lap 20, he had opened up a three second lead over second place Carl Edwards. Harvick had worked that lead up to six seconds when the first caution came out on Lap 40; a competition caution after overnight showers passed over the track.
The field came down pit road for their first pit stops of the race, and when they came off, Edwards was in the lead, with Harvick in the second position. Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was in third coming into the pits, fell back to the fifth position.
Edwards led the field back to green on Lap 47 but was immediately passed by Harvick, who got back out to a massive lead, although Edwards prevented it from being the big lead it was before the competition caution.
It was a healthy one second lead on Lap 118 when Matt Dibendetto hit the outside wall, bringing out the second caution of the day, right before what would have been green flag pit stops.
Pit road issues for Denny Hamlin
Denny Hamlin was one of the takers, as he had a vibration, but was assessed a pit road penalty for improper fueling, forcing him to restart from the rear of the field.
Edwards had a successful stop, as again he won the race off pit road, allowing him to restart from the front of the field, with Kenseth restarting in the second position.
Edwards took the green flag on Lap 124 and held the lead until Lap 130 when Kenseth got around him to take the lead, his first of the race. Kenseth was the leader on Lap 142 when Regan Smith hit the wall.
This brought out the third caution of the race and saw an interesting pit strategy from the 78 team. They were the only team to not pit under this yellow, putting them in position to restart with the lead.
Martin Truex Jr. restarted the race in the lead, with Edwards in the second position. He was one of the few drivers to lead the field to green, and not give it up before the next caution, which came on Lap 172 for debris.
Greg Biffle led the field back to green, becoming the fourth different leader of the race. He only led for less than a lap, as Larson passed him for the lead quickly. He did not have the lead for very long, as Austin Dillon hit the outside wall to bring out another caution on Lap 182.
Larson holds the lead
Larson led the field back to green on Lap 191, and maintained the lead until Lap 214 when Reed Sorenson blew a motor, leaving an oil spill on the track, which collected Jimmie Johnson and Harvick, although they avoided damage, they did spin in the oil.
Brad Keselowski won the race off pit road, and restarted the race on Lap 219 with the lead, but Denny Hamlin passed him almost immediately to take the lead. The green flag was not out for long, as just two laps later, Michael Annett hit the outside wall, bringing out the caution.
There was some interesting strategy played under this caution, as Ryan Newman and Johnson both came in to pit, but they were the only ones, as they wanted to make it a one-stop race.
Keselowski led the field back to green, and while he maintained the lead for a while, he had close pressure from Larson, who eventually passed him to re-take the lead on Lap 280.
He led at Lap 289 when a debris caution came out, allowing the field to make their second to last pit stops. The field returned to green, but went yellow for a quick debris caution, but when the green flag eventually came back, Larson was in the lead, with Truex Jr. keeping the race close.
Truex finally took the lead with 70 laps to go. Although Larson didn’t let him get too far away. Those two had a nice battle going when Tony Stewart broke a track bar and collected Chris Buescher, which brought out the caution with 58 to go. It was a long caution, as Stewart leaked oil all the way down pit road, which took a few laps to clean up before they could open pit road.
Huge wreck on the restart
Johnson won the race off pit road, and restarted the race in the first position, on the high side of the track. When the green flag waved, he did not shift gears and started an 18-car wreck that forced the red flag to be displayed.
The green flag was displayed again with 40 laps to go, but the caution came out immediately as Edwards get bumped by Larson, sending him hard into the inside wall for yet another caution.
One final restart sets up the ending
The field restarted with 35 laps to go, with everybody in the top seven looking for their first win of the season. Kenseth restarted with the lead, and had it with just three laps to go when Larson caught him and tried to make the pass for the win, but he was unable to make it stick, and Kenseth went on to take the checkered flag for the first time this season.
The next race for the Sprint Cup Series is Friday night when they will have the heat races to determine who runs in the All-Star race on Saturday night. There will be coverage throughout the weekend on the @NASCARonVAVEL Twitter account.