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Column: Kenseth strategy pays off; tire flap mars Silverstone GP

Playing a strategy that called for no fresh tires but with a premium placed on track position, Matt Kenseth leapt ahead of race-long leader Jimmie Johnson in the pits with 22 laps to go then held on to take the checkered flag of the Kentucky 400 at Sparta Sunday in a race postponed Saturday night due to rain.

Johnson breezed through the the bulk of the race uncontested, until Brian Vickers hit the wall with 26 laps to go, bringing out the ninth caution. Coming off pit road, Kenseth nipped Johnson for first by electing to forego new tires.

The gamble paid off, putting the No. 20 at the head of the pack for the crucial restart. Johnson, with the heartache of Dover apparently still in his mind on restarts, got away horribly when the green flag fell with 17 laps remaining, spinning sideways coming off Turn 2 as Kenseth grabbed the lead. Johnson, the unquestioned top-performing car of the day, restarted 25th after the caution he caused.

To Johnson’s competitive credit, he tore through the field over the final nine laps to capture ninth place. For Kenseth, it was his fourth Cup win of 2013.

Kurt Busch took the prize for best job bringing out the red flag. On Lap 48, looking to make a gain, Busch bonzaied into Brad Keselowski.

Busch had peeled down onto the apron in an attempt to springboard past the defending Cup champion as both headed around Turn 4. But the aggressive, borderline-reckless older brother of Kyle bit off way more than he could chew. Rejoining the track off the apron, Busch catapulted into the man he was trying to pass.

The ride wasn’t over for Keselowski. Following the punt by Busch, the No. 2 Penske Ford was suddenly at the mercy of a cadre of speeding cars bearing down on him. That’s when Greg Biffle pulversized Keselowski, sending both into the outside wall and producing the red flag.

Roadside Rave

Labonte milestone: With Bobby Labonte’s failure to start at Kentucky (A.J. Allmendinger took his seat in the No. 47 car), his consecutive Cup appearance streak came to a halt at 704 races.

In fact, it was the first time a Labonte (don’t forget two-time Winston Cup champion Terry) had not started a Cup race since 1978.

Johnson, despite the closing disappointment at Kentucky, holds on to his championship points lead by 28 over Carl Edwards. Kenseth lies fifth in the standings. The series goes under the lights at Daytona Saturday night.

British Grand Prix

Nico Rosberg won his second grand prix of the season at the venerable Silverstone Circuit in England, but it was the failure and dangerously threatening instability of the Formula One series’ Pirelli tires that made headlines Sunday at the British Grand Prix.

The race was marred with four separate left-rear tire failures in the first 15 laps that affected four different teams, including race leader Lewis Hamilton of Mercedes, who lost his two-second lead on Lap 9 when his left-rear intermediate Pirelli exploded into strips. Pirelli has come under steep criticism all season for the under-performance of its tires.

The race went on, and Vettel typically dominated after expertly picking off second place on the race start before passing for the lead not long after. But with 10 laps of the 52-lap race left, Vettel slowed with a gearbox issue.

The race’s fifth left-rear tire explosion — Sergio Perez’s McLaren late in the race — brought out the safety car, setting up the best racing of the season for the final seven laps. Almost everyone took fresh tires and the mad dash was on, won by Rosberg over Mark Webber, with Fernando Alonso third.

Read Alan Ross’ article on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Class of 2013 in Lindy’s Sports 2013 Pro Football Preview at newsstands everywhere.

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