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Kenseth holds off Harvick for Nationwide win

NASCAR at Atlanta
Saturday, March 08, 2008

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Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth may not have had the dominant car in Saturday's Nicorette 300 NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but his No. 17 Ford was first to the finish line.

Benefitting from Kyle Busch's blown tire, which took the dominant car out of contention, Kenseth held off Kevin Harvick by 0.159 seconds during a green-white-checkered-flag finish that took the race three laps beyond its scheduled distance. The win was Kenseth's first of the year and 24th in the series.

Busch, who finished 24th, had led 153 of 170 laps when his right front tire exploded at the entry to Turn 1. Busch's No. 20 Toyota slammed into the outside wall, ending his chance to lead the championship standings in all three of NASCAR's top series entering Sunday's Kobalt Tools 500 Sprint Cup race.

"I knew Kyle opened the door for everybody," Kenseth said. "There was no way anybody was going to beat him on speed. But he kind of opened the door, and we were able to get to the front and take advantage of it."

Harvick, the 2006 champion, took the series lead by 25 points over 2007 champ Carl Edwards, who ran fourth. Jeff Burton was third and Bobby Labonte fifth. Brad Keselowski, Mike Bliss, Kasey Kahne, Jason Leffler and David Reutimann completed the top 10.

"I think we were better than the 17," Harvick said, "but he was better than we were for a couple of laps."

Harvick felt he lost the race in the pits on Lap 172, when a slow stop dropped him from first to sixth in the running order.

"We fell behind on that final pit stop and didn't have enough time to recover from it," Harvick said. "When you have opportunities like this, you've got to take advantage of them."

The demise of Busch's dominant car sparked the hopes of those who had been chasing him. After pit stops under the caution caused by Busch's accident, David Ragan restarted in the lead with 20 laps left in the 195-lap event.

Ragan's advantage was short-lived. On Lap 177, Burton surged into the lead, pulling the No. 17 Ford of Matt Kenseth with him. Burton, whose No. 29 Richard Childress Racing Chevy won the owners championship last year, held the lead until Kenseth claimed the top spot with a pass to the outside on Lap 186.

Three laps later, as Dale Earnhardt Jr. pulled to the inside of Eric McClure's No. 24 Chevrolet, McClure spun and triggered a multicar crash that also destroyed the No. 41 Dodge of Bryan Clauson and crumpled the hood of Earnhardt's No. 5 Chevy.

Kenseth led Harvick to a restart with three laps left, but debris from David Ragan's car, which faltered approaching the line, brought a quick end to the green-flag condition. That set up the two-lap dash to the finish.

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