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Richmond Results: Kenseth and Busch make the Chase

Matt Kenseth led Joe Gibbs Racing with a sixth-place finish in tonight’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway. Meanwhile teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin finished 19th and 21st respectively.

This was the final race before the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. Matt Kenseth will enter the Chase next Sunday as the number one seed with 15 bonus points courtesy of his five wins, while Kyle Busch is right behind his teammate with 12 points courtesy of his four victories. An early season back injury that sidelined Denny Hamlin for four weeks kept the veteran driver from qualifying for the Chase for the first time in his career.

Kenseth started the No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota fifth and patiently raced inside the top five through the first long green flag run to open the race. He would run as high as third on lap 80 and after a round of green flag stops he was up to second on lap 100 and just a few laps later he would take the lead on lap 106. He would give up the spot a few laps later and following the first round of stops under caution The Home Depot crew would put him out to restart fourth on lap 142. Restarting on the outside lane always proves a challenge at Richmond and a few laps later he would settle into the seventh position. He would hold that spot through the halfway point when another caution came out on lap 208. He would restart sixth on lap 215. Kenseth would battle an ill-handling car on the next run and drop to 10th when the next caution came out on lap 267. The No. 20 Camry would continue to struggle with handling on the track and was running 15th when the race reach lap 300. While many other leaders began to pit for a final time under the green flag with about 60 laps remaining, the 20 team remained on the track and it proved to be a good move when a caution came out just a few laps later. That forced many to take the wave around while Kenseth was able to restart in the 10th position. Another late caution allowed Kenseth to pit a final time for a late restart and he was able to drive from 10th to sixth at the finish.

Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms/American Heritage Toyota from the 13th position and was good from the drop of the green flag to start the race as he worked his way through the top ten on the long opening run of the night. Kyle was in the top five and running fourth by lap 90. The first caution of the night didn’t come until lap 135 and the M&Ms crew delivered another stellar stop to gain a couple of stops and restart third on lap 142. The car would prove a bit more tight on the next run but Busch managed to remain inside the top five. He was running sixth at the halfway point when a caution came out on lap 208. The M&Ms crew would pick up another couple of stops and the 18 restarted fourth on lap 215. Busch would remain in the top five for much of the next run but the car’s handling suddenly dropped off and he would fall back to ninth when the next caution came out on lap 267. It appeared the longer the green flag run the more the handling on his car would struggle and he would drift back to 13th with just under 100 to go. Busch would come down pit road with 63 laps to go and just after he returned to the track a caution would come out forcing him to take the wave around and restart from the back of the field. He would race just inside the top 20 the rest of the way before finishing 19th.

Hamlin qualified the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota in the sixth position and held steady in the top ten running seventh through the opening green flag run of the race. He would remain in the top ten following the first round of pit stops while under caution and restarted 10th on lap 142. Hamlin would get caught on the outside and shuffled back on the restart before finally settling down to race in the 21st position. He would remain 21st when the next caution came out on lap 208. Hamlin would get back inside the top 20 on the next run when a caution came out on lap 267. The loss of track position on the earlier restart proved to be costly to the 11 team however, as the FedEx Camry didn’t handle as well back in traffic and Hamlin was stuck back in 20th as the race went past lap 300. He would go on to finish 21st.

Carl Edwards won the race, followed by Kurt Busch, Ryan Newman, Jamie McMurray, and Paul Menard rounded out the top five. There were five cautions for a total of 29 laps and 17 lead changes among nine different drivers.