Brant James
Sunday April 10th, 2011

Matt Kenseth wasn't sure he'd ever reach victory lane again. Not winning for two years will do that to the mind of even a former champion. An otherwise mundane race was somewhat spiced with desperate pit strategies -- and Carl Edwards may or may not have obliterated a bird, which he wryly noted is a bad move for a guy so associated with a duck.

1. Ford had a productive weekend. Kenseth ended a 76-race Sprint Cup winless streak (dating back to his 2009 win at Fontana, Calif., the week after he won the Daytona 500) as all three of his Roush Fenway teammates -- Edwards (third), Greg Biffle (fourth) and pole-sitter David Ragan (seventh) -- and Ford-driving Marcos Ambrose (sixth) finished in the top 10. Edwards won the Nationwide race on Friday, putting the Mustang in Victory Lane for the first time. Also, Scott Maxwell and Joe Foster claimed the first competition victory for the Boss 302R in the Grand Am Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge at Barber Motorsports Park (Ala.)

That'll do.

"Our cars are good right now, and we are enjoying it," said Edwards, the new Sprint Cup points leader. "We just have to keep going."

2. Kurt Busch found inspiration in his desperation. The 2004 series champion was on his way to another lackluster performance after finishing 17th at Fontana, 16th at Martinsville and falling from the points lead to fourth. By Lap 140 on Saturday night, Busch was carping about how hard he had to drive the No. 22 Dodge simply to maintain pace. So crew chief Steve Addington got creative after making major changes to the car with 135 laps remaining.

"I didn't think we would be that much off to start the race," Addington said. "It seemed like when we adjusted on the car, we would get different results. It's a bit of a mystery. We had to use [a different] strategy and we really shouldn't have to do that. We should be up front challenging for wins. We just need to get a handle on this thing right now."

Busch was able to stretch his fuel to about four laps beyond the 54-lap projected window on his next-to-last stop, giving him the lead with 77 laps remaining. Forced to pit with 55 laps left, he surrendered the lead again, took it back as those on conventional strategy pitted -- waiting for an expected caution. But the last 114 laps, amazingly, were run caution-free, and Busch ceded the front spot and a nine-second lead for the final time to Kenseth with 13 laps left.

"Just a hard-fought battle all night," said Busch, who dropped another rung to fifth in points. "We qualified 10th, finished 10th. We led laps when we were off-sequence, but overall a hard fought battle to get the car dialed-in once again. We struggle to make adjustments as we go. We got something towards the end to make something of it."

At least Busch made it. Tony Stewart, on a similar tack, ran dry on the last lap and fell from third to 12th.

3. Marcos Ambrose is either getting better or just getting in the way. The Tasmanian, in his third full Sprint Cup season, finished sixth to improve to 19th in points, made more noteworthy by the amount of carping he induced from his competitors. A week after Dale Earnhardt Jr. was lauded for his decision not to turn Kevin Harvick to break his now-100-race winless streak at Martinsville, he opined loudly over his team radio about doing just that to Ambrose. They were jostling for seventh place on Lap 245 of 334 at the time. Jimmie Johnson later had a brush with the No. 9 Ford.

4. Denny Hamlin might really be in trouble ... or maybe not. The turnaround of his miserable follow-up to a 2010 runner-up campaign was supposed to occur last week at Martinsville, where he swept last year's Cup races. (Hamlin led 89 laps but finished 12th last week because of a fuel mileage issue and pit crew issues, he said.) The turnaround was sure, then, to occur this week at Texas Motor Speedway, where he had swept the Sprint Cup races in 2010. Instead, Hamlin finished an inconsequential 15th, a lap down; and now, his early-season body of work resembles that of a driver suffering through the aftereffects of a draining and unsuccessful attempt to end Jimmie Johnson's tenure as Sprint Cup champion. Hamlin has one top-10 (7th at Las Vegas) in seven races, finished 20th or worse three times and 30th or worse twice. He is 20th in points and languishing, but wasn't as cryptic as in recent weeks in assessing the race.

"Really, we just had one bad run and that was the one that got us caught a lap down and we just couldn't get it back," he said. "We stayed in the 'lucky dog' position for the last -- it seemed like 150 laps, but just never got the caution to capitalize on it. Just a little frustrating, but still once again we didn't have a 15th-place car. We had about a seventh or eighth-place car, somewhere in that neighborhood."

5. Do not eat Carl Edwards' mom's new dishes. Rarely does a son dare criticize his mother's cuisine. Even less frequently does he do it on live national television. But Edwards spent 501 miles in gastric distress on Saturday night, requiring healthy dosings of anti-ohmygodohmygod medicine during pit stops to avert the use of a back-up driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. According to SB Nation, the culprit was a first-time recipe for rice and beans. Clint Bowyer was thoroughly amused by the whole thing, saying after the race that he'd do the cooking for Edwards next week (Hamburger Helper? .... better give a couple days). When asked how seriously he considered evacuating the No. 99 Ford mid-race, the Missourian fired at jayhawker Bowyer: "I guess if I was from Kansas or something I might have to do that. But we don't do that where I am from, do we Clint?" Nausea and regional pride. Tremendous. Now pass that gastric goulash.

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