Saving fuel saves the day for Matt Kenseth at Pocono

— -- LONG POND, Pa. -- Kyle Busch would still be the hottest driver in NASCAR if he had another quart or so of fuel Sunday at Pocono Raceway.

Martin Truex Jr. would have swept Pocono for the 2015 season if he'd had two or so more quarts of fuel.

Joey Logano was way short, up to maybe a gallon and a half.

All three of them could have won the Windows 10 400 because of the various foibles, especially Logano who was cruising to victory when he ran out of fuel with three laps left. At that point Busch was running second and Truex third.

The beneficiary was Matt Kenseth.

Busch could only watch his teammate roll to victory as Busch's No. 18 coasted into the entrance of Turn 3 still sitting on four victories and no guaranteed spot in the Chase.

And Kenseth had plenty of fuel in reserve as he proved with a burnout and a run down the frontstretch, waving the checkered flag for his 33rd career victory and first at Pocono.

To put a twist on the favorite saying of former baseball manager Ron Washington, that's how NASCAR goes.

And for a guy that is credited with being good at conserving fuel, Kenseth deadpanned that winning a fuel-mileage race was a first for him when asked how many he had won before.

"Yeah, they actually include zero," He said. "Today is a first. I checked two things off the list.

"I won at Pocono, I didn't think that would ever happen, and I won a fuel-mileage race, I didn't think that would ever happen. ... Feels good to get one like that. We had a fast car, and we were able to get the fuel mileage good enough to get the win."

Kenseth and crew could afford to gamble on fuel as he already had a victory and an almost guaranteed spot in the Chase by virtue of being 331 points up on 30th place.

But that didn't mean there weren't some nerves in play down the stretch. His crew chief Jason Ratcliff, the man behind the calculations on whether Kenseth could make it, was happy to have one fall their way.

"I was surprised he made it back [to the finish line] after seeing our teammates running out, and I was real surprised he had enough [fuel] left for a burnout," he joked.

It was a blow to Busch's Chase chances but likely not a serious one. Had he won, he would be inside the Top 30 with five victories. He ended up finishing 21st and is 32nd in the standings, but he's only 13 points behind 30th and a guaranteed spot in the playoffs. He has five races to make up those points before the Chase begins at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 20.

"I didn't know we were that close," Busch said. "Normally, when we're close or that close, I get harped on pretty hard to save fuel. They were just telling me to save, just to not put too much pressure on the car and everything else.

"Man, that's a bummer. I wish I would've saved a little more there that last run. I wish I would've known that the 22 [Logano] was that far away from making it."

It was an eventful race from the outset, with Kasey Kahne spinning off the exit of Turn 3 and straight onto pit road without scrubbing much speed on Lap 6. He hit the inside wall where the pit boxes are -- a steel wall at that -- as helmets sitting on the wall went flying and people behind the wall started scrambling.

"I just got loose and basically spun and that was it," said Kahne, whose car sustained enough damage to put him out of the race and relegate him to a last-place finish. "I tried saving it to try and avoid running into the wall, pit wall, then ended up hitting the one on the left and not the one on the right.

A piece of the No. 5 ended up being caught in the wall and a red flag delayed the race for nearly 15 minutes while crews welded the wall back together.

It was a big blow to Kahne's Chase chances as he was already just outside the cutoff when the race began.

"It's bad for just our team to lose a car that quickly into this race," he said. "And the last month has been really bad. And that was worse."

Only 15 laps later, Kevin Harvick -- one of the pre-race favorites -- lost his engine in Turn 2 while leading.

Other contenders met misfortune, as well, with Brad Keselowski hitting two of his crewmen on Lap 62 and then Kurt Busch spinning and getting hit hard by Sam Hornish Jr. on Lap 67, which put Busch 10 laps off the pace. Keselowski rallied all the way back to second.

For his part, Hornish had been slammed into by Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on Lap 29. That crash put Stenhouse out of the race.

With a competition caution happening on Lap 15, all the stoppages started putting teams on different race strategies with tires and fuel early, and that evolved throughout the race.

Turns out Kenseth and Ratcliff were ahead of that evolutionary curve.