Matt Kenseth wins at Loudon on his 500th start
It would be impossible for Joe Gibbs Racing to get off to a better start in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship, with Matt Kenseth and Kyle Busch finishing first and second respectively for a second consecutive week.
Kenseth led a race-high 106 laps en route to victory in today’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, while Busch just ran out of laps in attempting to catch his teammate and finished a close second. Meanwhile Hamlin spent most of the day inside the top ten before coming home with a solid 12th-place run.
Today was the 500th career start in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series for Matt Kenseth and like he has done for the majority of his previous 499 starts, the driver of the No. 20 Home Depot Husky was patient and consistent throughout the race. He started the day in ninth and patiently climbed his way through the top ten before taking his first lead on a round of green flag stops on lap 109. Kenseth would take the lead again by passing the 56 car on lap 153 and this time he would hold it for the next 13 laps until the next caution of the day came out. Various pit strategies would frequently shuffle the leaders, but Kenseth would pilot the No. 20 Camry back to the front of the field on lap 208. A caution with 56 laps to go would bring Kenseth back down pit road and a tremendous two-tire stop by his Home Depot crew kept him in the top spot for the restart with 50 to go. He would hold the spot when the next caution came out just a few laps later with 47 to go. Kenseth would stretch out his lead following the restart and then managed to hold off a fast charging teammate in the 18 car to earn his seventh victory of the season. Kenseth joins only “The King” Richard Petty to win his 500th start and this victory marks his first win ever at New Hampshire.
Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms Peanut Butter Toyota from the 12th position and patiently raced just outside the top 10 through the opening segment of the race when a competition caution came out after 30 laps due to heavy rains washing the track clean on Saturday night. The M&Ms crew would put Busch in the top ten for the restart on lap 46 and he would remain in the top ten throughout the remainder of the afternoon. Busch would slowly climb toward the top five where he would race at the halfway point. Various pit strategies would shuffle the leaders throughout the afternoon and Busch would fall back to run ninth with 100 to go. A caution with 56 laps to go would bring the M&Ms Camry back down pit road and a fast two-tire stop would allow Busch to restart fourth with just 50 laps remaining. He would get a great jump on the outside lane and was able to follow his teammate Kenseth to the front and ran second when the next caution came out on lap 253. Busch would continue to run second behind Kenseth and fought hard to catch his teammate over the course of the final green flag run but just didn’t have enough laps to reel him in. He would earn a strong second-place finish for the second consecutive week.
The consecutive 1-2 finishes to open the Chase gives Kenseth a 14-point advantage over Busch in The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship standings. With eight races remaining before a champion is crowned, it is Jimmie Johnson next in line 18 points behind Kenseth, while Carl Edwards is fourth 36 points out and Greg Biffle rounds out the top five 38 points behind the leader.
Hamlin qualified the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota in the 14th position, and the driver who won this race one year ago, was able to climb his way toward the top ten through the opening green flag run. Hamlin was running ninth when a round of green flag stops started on lap 109. He would suffer a bit of setback after he slid through his pit box, but that didn’t deter Hamlin who battled his way back to join his teammates in the top ten at the halfway point. Various pit strategies would shuffle the leaders a bit throughout the afternoon and Hamlin found the handling a bit challenging on the longer runs as he fell back outside the top 10 with just under 100 laps to go. A caution with 56 to go would bring Hamlin back down pit road and the FedEx team would put together a great stop to allow him to restart ninth with 50 laps remaining. He would get shuffled back on the next two restarts to fall outside the top 15, but Hamlin managed to drive his way back toward the top ten to finish 12th.
Kenseth won the race, followed by Kyle Busch, Greg Biffle, Jimmie Johnson, and Jamie McMurray rounded out the top five. There were seven cautions for a total of 37 laps and 19 lead changes among 11 different drivers.