Matt Kenseth got a once in a lifetime birthday present on Sunday by winning the Kobalt Tools 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Kenseth, who turned 41 years old, gambled on tires late in the race and then held off a hard-charging Kasey Kahne in the closing laps to claim his 25th career Sprint Cup Series victory but his first with Joe Gibbs Racing. It came in just his third start as driver of the No. 20 Toyota for JGR.
During the last round of pit stops, Kenseth and Brad Keselowski elected to take fuel only while the other front runners put on two new tires. Kenseth came out ahead of Keselowski and grabbed the lead with 41 laps to go.
Kahne dominated most of the race by leading 114 of 267 laps. He chased down Kenseth after a restart with 26 laps remaining, but Kenseth, with old tires, managed to hold him off at the finish by 0.6 seconds.
"I was real nervous all day, because (Kahne) had the best car," said Kenseth, who won at Las Vegas for the third time. "We didn't quite have the fastest car at the end, but we had it where we needed to be. We had great pit stops and great pit strategy. We were in the right place at the right time and took advantage of it today."
He won back-to-back races at this 1.5-mile track from 2003-04.
Kenseth, who won the Cup championship in '03, spent the past 13 years with Roush Fenway Racing before moving over to JGR for the 2013 season. He finished 37th in the Daytona 500 after suffering engine failure late in the race. Kenseth rebounded one week ago with a seventh-place run at Phoenix.
"I just feel really good about this group, and I really feel like this is just the beginning," he said of his new team.
Kenseth became just the third driver in series history to win a race on his birthday. Cale Yarborough did it twice. Yarborough scored the victory at North Wilkesboro, N.C. the day he turned 37 years old on March 27, 1977. He won at Atlanta six years later to the date as well. Kyle Busch took the checkered flag at Richmond when he celebrated his 24th birthday on May 2, 2009.
Kahne held the lead before the last round of pit stops, but as he was leaving his stall, he had to stop to avoid hitting Tony Stewart, who was entering into his pit area. Kahne fell to sixth in the field.
"I came out in sixth there, but Matt would have beat us out anyway since he didn't take any tires," Kahne said. "I don't think I was quite as good on two left-side tires. I couldn't turn down the track quite as well as I could the runs before. It just got greasy out there, and that was it. He beat us."
Keselowski, the defending Sprint Cup champion, finished third, followed by Kyle Busch and Carl Edwards, who snapped a 70-race winless streak in the series at Phoenix.
Busch bounced back from a pit-road speeding penalty early in the race.
"I got us boxed in with a pit-road penalty early, but we clawed our way back up through there," he said.
Jimmie Johnson and his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Dale Earnhardt Jr., finished sixth and seventh, respectively. Martin Truex Jr. was eighth, while Richard Childress Racing drivers Kevin Harvick and Paul Menard completed the top-10.
Danica Patrick struggled throughout the race, finishing six laps behind in 33rd. Patrick had to start 37th since the starting lineup was determined by owner points. Friday's qualifying session at Las Vegas was rained out.
After the third race of the season, Johnson holds a five-point lead over Keselowski, while Earnhardt Jr. is 10 points behind.