DOVER

Dorchester Star - - Sports - Fol­low Caro­line/ Dorch­ester Ed­i­tor Dustin Holt on Twit­ter @Dustin_ Star­Dem.

A rel­a­tively calm race turned into calamity dur­ing a restart with 45 laps to go. Leader Jim­mie John­son slowed com­ing to the green flag, and he spun across the track in front of the field, trig­ger­ing an 18car wreck.

Kenseth, who started on the in­side of the front row, es­caped, along with El­liott, Carl Ed­wards, Kurt Busch, Lar­son and Ryan Blaney.

Fron­trun­ners, Martin Truex Jr. — who led 47 laps — and Kevin Har­vick — who led a race-high 117 laps — got col­lected in the wreck along with Kyle Busch, Dale Earn­hardt Jr., Joey Logano and Ryan New­man, among oth­ers.

“As soon as I went from sec­ond and tried to go to third, I kind of got up into the neu­tral gate of the trans­mis­sion and didn’t even go to third,” John­son said. “It stopped be­fore it ever went to third. And then I tried fourth and third and fourth and even­tu­ally I got hit from be­hind. There was a long pause there where I was try­ing to, I thought maybe I missed a shift ... but it wouldn’t go in gear.

“Martin (Truex, Jr.) was good and pa­tient with me,” John­son added. “He gave me a cou­ple of op­por­tu­ni­ties to try to find a gear and it just locked out and wouldn’t go into gear for some rea­son. It was still that way at the end and I couldn’t drive the car and I don’t think I’m all that dam­aged, but un­for­tu­nately I lost a shot at win­ning and I hate to see all those cars tore up.”

Har­vick, who scored a dom­i­nat­ing Dover win last fall, led 116 of the first 120 laps from the pole be­fore Ed­wards and Truex traded the lead.

Lar­son took the top spot for 34 laps, pass­ing Greg Bif­fle on lap 181. Lar­son re­gained the lead from Brad Ke­selowski on lap 280, and led 51 of the next 52 go-arounds.

Truex looked to have a win­ning car when he chased down Lar­son, and passed him for the lead with 78 laps to go. A cau­tion with 56 laps to go shuf­fled the field, as some driv­ers, in­clud­ing John­son and Kenseth, swapped out two tires and oth­ers took four.

While the out­side row is the pre­ferred start­ing po­si­tion on restarts, be­ing high back­fired when John­son spun across the track, and cars on the in­side sur­vived. Only El­liott, who restarted eighth, dodged the wreck in the out­side row by dart­ing low.

Af­ter a red flag, team­mates Kenseth and Ed­wards restarted on the front row. Ed­wards’ shot at win­ning ended when he drove un­der Kurt Busch, who got loose, and with Lar­son al­ready low, Ed­wards spun and hit the wall with 39 laps re­main­ing.

With many oth­ers fac­ing bad luck yes­ter­day, Kenseth was the ben­e­fi­ciary of be­ing in the right place at the right time. In 2016, Kenseth has run strong, but mis­for­tune of­ten found the No. 20 Joe Gibbs Rac­ing team.

“I feel like the way we’ve been run­ning, even­tu­ally law of av­er­ages are go­ing to work out, you’re go­ing to get your wins, your fin­ishes,” Kenseth said. “I would say as good as we have ran, that is prob­a­bly the long­est streak I can re­mem­ber be­ing on with­out hav­ing any real good fin­ishes. We fin­ished fourth last week, that was the first top five of the sea­son.

“I have all the con­fi­dence in the world in these guys,” Kenseth added. “Ob­vi­ously, the or­ga­ni­za­tion is strong. Every­body else has won races. I don’t think there’ a bet­ter crew chief in the garage than the one sit­ting next to me (Ja­son Rat­cliff).

“I felt like it was a mat­ter of time,” Kenseth con­tin­ued. “But you can never take it for granted. I still got to go out and do the work ev­ery week and make it hap­pen.”

Kenseth’s win earned him a berth in the 2016 Chase for the Sprint Cup, and marked the 135th Cup series vic­tory for Joe Gibbs rac­ing, ty­ing Roush Fen­way Rac­ing for third most in Cup Series his­tory.

Ke­selowski, Denny Ham­lin, Blaney, Truex and Bayne fin­ished sixth through 10th, re­spec­tively. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads home to Char­lotte Mo­tor Speed­way next week­end for the Sprint All-Star Race.

PHO­TOS BY DUSTIN HOLT

Jim­mie John­son gets turned across the track, trig­ging an 18-car wreck in the clos­ing stages of Sun­day’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover in­ter­na­tional Speed­way.

Greg Bif­fle, right, drive into the back of Kyle Busch, lift­ing Busch’s car off the ground dur­ing an 18-car wreck in Sun­day’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover in­ter­na­tional Speed­way.

Matt Kenseth, left, bat­tles Kyle Lar­son in the clos­ing laps of Sun­day’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover in­ter­na­tional Speed­way.

Chase El­liott, left, passes, Jamie McMur­ray for po­si­tion in Sun­day’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover in­ter­na­tional Speed­way. El­liott would later scored a ca­reer-best third-place fin­ish.

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