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.
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.