LAS VEGAS — Matt Kenseth decided not to replace any tires during the final pit stop under caution, and the calculated risk put him in the lead.
Kenseth knows a bit about risk after his offseason move to Joe Gibbs Racing, and this latest gamble paid off with his third Sprint Cup victory in Vegas.
Kenseth won on his 41st birthday in his third start for his new team, barely holding off Kasey Kahne at Las Vegas Motor Speedway for his 25th career victory Sunday.
"I was real nervous all day," Kenseth said. "(Kahne) had the best car. I told (crew chief) Jason (Ratcliff) with about 12 to go that I was sorry we were going to lose. We were just too tight. … We didn't have the fastest car there, but we had it where we needed it to be."
Kenseth took charge by taking only fuel on the final pit stop during caution while almost everybody else replaced two tires. He took the lead and held it, using veteran savvy to keep Kahne's Chevrolet behind him.
The frequently laid-back Kenseth celebrated with uncommon vigor. He's still getting comfortable with his new teammates after leaving Roush Fenway Racing, the only team he had known in his 13 seasons.
As for winning on his birthday, Kenseth joked, "I showed them a fake ID when they hired me. Told them I was 28, going to be 29 this year."
Pole-sitter Brad Keselowski was third, followed by Kenseth's teammate, Las Vegas native Kyle Busch, and Carl Edwards. Points leader Jimmie Johnson was sixth, Dale Earnhardt Jr. seventh and defending Vegas champion Tony Stewart 11th.
Gibbs had his own worries before the race after a rough start to the season for Toyota. Kenseth and Busch both had serious engine trouble at Daytona two weeks ago.
"Lots of times, a victory, the thrill of it, depends on kind of what happens leading up to it," Gibbs said. "In tough times, everybody bands together around our place. We started fighting, and we worked our way out of some tough things."
The 400-mile race was the first real test for NASCAR's new Gen-6 car on the intermediate tracks for which they're meant to be best suited. Though Denny Hamlin commanded last week's headlines with his pessimism — amplified when NASCAR fined him $25,000, which Hamlin, who finished 15th Sunday, said he would not pay it — most drivers were curious how the Gen-6 would work at 1½ miles.
Any drivers who still think it's too tough to pass in the new car must not have been watching Busch, who made two charges up to early leads both before and after a pit speeding penalty dropped him back to 18th.
"I just hate it for my team," Busch said. "We had by far the best car in practice. I don't know where that went. … The worst Gibbs car ended up winning the race."
Danica Patrick was two laps down by Lap 60 and later was penalized for a tire violation. She finished 33rd. Tampa's Aric Almirola was 16th and David Reutimann of Zephyrhills 33rd.
East Bay Raceway: Waylon Hayes won the Limited Late Model feature late Saturday in Gibsonton.