Chase leader Matt Kenseth is now two for two as the countdown to the Sprint Cup championship continues.
Matt Kenseth continued with his strong run in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship, driving to victory in the Sylvania 300 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon. In winning, the Wisconsin native tightened his grip on the championship as he won a Chase event for the second time in as many tries. And he did it in his 500th Sprint Cup start, a fete only accomplished by the legend, Richard Petty.
The victor drove the Home Depot/Husky Toyota owned by Joe Gibbs Racing, giving the acclaimed team its fourth win in last six races. And Toyota won for a record 13th time in a Sprint Cup season.
Kenseth led 106 laps, taking the lead for the third time on the 208th lap and leading all but one of the final 93 laps.
Said the victor about his seventh Sprint Cup victory of the season, “This hasn’t been my best track by any means, I can’t believe I am standing here (victory lane). I have more anxiety over this race track than most, and I was more worried than usual about this weekend. We had three strong cars this weekend, and I am having the time of my life.
“My car was fast in race trim on Friday and Saturday, and I felt really confident. But to have a fast race car and be out front and win are two different things. I am happy to be part of this group.”
Said crew chief Jason Ratcliff, “We unloaded strong off the truck and any time you do that, typically it will be a good weekend. We ran pretty good here two months ago and took what we learned then and applied it this weekend. Matt (Kenseth) doesn’t give himself enough credit. At this place, you have to be exceptional on restarts, especially when the other guys are on old tires. His restarts were exceptional, and that’s one of the keys that got us a victory.”
Added J. D. Gibbs, “When you have the right guys in the organization, the rest is easy. We just have a great team and Matt and Jason have jelled well.”
Regarding his late-race tussle with Busch, Kenseth admitted there’s no one better to be racing against and that he was over-driving his Toyota to retain the lead.
Less than a half second behind was Kenseth’s teammate Kyle Busch followed by Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brian Vickers, Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. The latter dominated in the early going and led 98 laps.
Brad Keselowski took 11th ahead of Denny Hamlin and Chase contenders Kurt Busch and Joey Logano.
In points, Kenseth sits 14 ahead of new runner-up Kyle Busch and 18 ahead of Johnson. Edwards gained one spot, moving into fourth and Biffle advanced by six into fifth.
Sixth through 10th are Kevin Harvick, Kurt Busch, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer.
Discussing his strong run, Busch commented, “We were never as fast as the No. 20 was this weekend. We tried everything we could to catch up with them, but it was tough to do. We ran a good race, and the guys did a good job for me. Those last re-starts were frustrating, as I spun my tires at least once. It is frustrating when you feel like you are getting beat on restarts.”
Added Biffle, who battled mightily in the closing laps to take the third spot over Johnson, “We had an up-and-down day for us. We started out in top-10 but then fell back when I got a bad draw on some restarts, but at the end, we just kept gaining positions and got into top six. On the final restart, the outside lane got going for us and we reeled in the top two cars. The No. 18 was definitely faster than the No. 20, as (Matt) Kenseth looked like he was using his tires up. It was about to start getting exciting, as I thought Kyle was going to catch him. I am pleased with third.”
McMurray and Earnhardt had strong runs, as the former had to recover from an early-race spin and the latter had to overcome a botched pit stop.
For Gordon, he ended up 15th after leading 36 laps, only to see his lead and track position disappear when he over-shot his pit stall and had to back-up. He fell to 22nd in the standings at that point.
Seven caution flags slowed the field for 37 laps.
The Sprint Cup Series races next weekend at the Dover International Speedway.