In a day filled with drama, Matt Kenseth won the NASCAR Sprint Cup Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Sunday in almost sedate fashion. Kenseth crossed the line nearly eight seconds ahead of his teammate Denny Hamlin, but the win was far from the story of the day.
Kevin Harvick needed a win or at least a good finish after a crash at Chicagoland the week prior left him with a 42nd place finish. Sunday, he led a race high 216 laps and was the class of the field but ran out of fuel with three laps to go handing the lead to Kenseth who had enough fuel to score a series high fifth win of the season and the 35th of his career.
“We had to be there to win,” Kenseth said. “We didn’t pit that one time and I was like, ‘Ahhh,’ and Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) was like, ‘It’s fine, relax.’ We made it to the front faster than we thought. I was giving it everything I’ve got and I thought he (Kevin Harvick) was going to beat us and he had a better car today, but I guess he was a little short on fuel. This is unbelievable. This feels unbelievable. “
With Hamlin’s win in the first race of the Chase, Joe Gibbs Racing has now secured two spots in the next round of NASCAR’s elimination championship. Joey Logano was third, Greg Biffle who was on the same pit cycle as Harvick saved enough fuel, held on for fourth and Carl Edwards rallied back from a pit road penalty for taking equipment from his pit box to finish fifth.
“Everybody at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) just does such a great job working together,” Edwards said. “It’s really – it’s cool to be a part of it. Everybody does well and we’ve got every part of team working well. Everybody does a good job – the pit crew, the guys preparing the cars, the engines are great. It’s cool to be a part of it.”
While Kenseth was celebrating his win, several other Chase drivers took big hits in the points and will need luck and great finishes if they hope to move on to the Challenger round which starts after next week’s stop in Dover.
Chief among them is Harvick. He came into New Hampshire 15th in points. He started second and was the car to beat most of the afternoon. He pitted on lap 212 as others stayed out including Kenseth and Hamlin. Harvick had worked his way back to fifth when the races ninth and final caution came out on lap 237. His crew chief Rodney Childers was going to bring him in, but missed the call and Harvick stayed out. That proved the game changer as Harvick wasn’t able to save fuel and ran out with three laps to go. He remains 15th in points.
Kyle Busch was another Chase driver who had a bad day. He was running comfortably inside the top 10 when on lap 159 he lost a right front tire entering turn three and hit the wall hard. He was able to return but finished 37th, 38 laps down. Busch fell nine spots and heads to Dover outside the top 12 who will advance to the next round.
“We were going to run third there in Kyle’s (Busch) second race back and wrecked with a lap car, you know? “,Busch’s crew chief Adam Stevens said of Dover. “I’m sure our cars have gotten better and Kyle’s gotten more in shape and knows what he wants a little better, so there’s no reason we can’t go there and have a good day. But you know things like this happen too. They happen to us and they can happen to anybody else, so it’s not a win at all costs situation at all, which is comforting.”
Brad Keselowski looked to be one of the few cars who could contend with Harvick but he was penalized by NASCAR for a restart violation on lap 241 when NASCAR ruled that the Penske Racing driver had jumped the start and forced him in for a pass through penalty. Keselowski rallied to finish 12th.
“I had to pry myself from the car,” Keselowski said. “I got the chance to do something again for the first time. The first person to ever be penalized for jumping a restart when I didn’t pass anyone, so that’s a new one, but we moved on and we made the most of a good day with the Miller Lite Ford and got a solid finish that hopefully will make our Dover a little bit easier, so that was good.”
Jimmie Johnson came back from an unscheduled pit stop for a flat tire to finish sixth, Jeff Gordon seventh, Martin Truex Jr. was eighth with Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman rounding out the top 10. The full results can be found here.
“We were fortunate to catch a couple quick cautions to get us back on the lead lap and get new tires on the car,” Johnson said. “From there, we had to go racing with I think, 50 (laps) or so, to go. The car was strong. Maybe it wasn’t a race winning car, but certainly a top 5 car. I think we got inside the top 10 and then it sounds some guys ran out of fuel and got us to sixth, which I’m really happy about.”
Other Chase drivers who had forgettable days: Kurt Busch was 19th; Earnhardt was 25t after both ran out of fuel in the closing laps, and Clint Bowyer , who struggled all day was 26th. The race featured 9 cautions and a six minute red flag for an accident on lap 204 when Danica Patrick spun entering turn 1 after contact with Ryan Newman. She spun down the track and was hit hard by the Toyota of David Ragan leaving debris littering the track.
Kenseth is atop the Chase standings, followed by Hamlin, Edwards, Logano, and Johnson. Kyle Busch, Paul Menard, Harvick and Clint Bowyer occupy the final four spots and face elimination from the Chase next week. The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the final race of the Elimination round, the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway next Sunday with live coverage on the NBC Sports Network at 2:30 p.m. ET.