The second race of the first round of the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship certainly proved eventful for all three Joe Gibbs Racing entries in today’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Despite being involved in an accident nearly two-thirds of the way into the race, Kyle Busch would lead JGR with an eighth-place finish. Unfortunately Matt Kenseth was caught up in accident with only 30 laps to go and didn’t have time to execute a similar late-race charge back to a top ten. He would finish 21st. Denny Hamlin was extremely fast through the early portion of the race, but a mechanical failure in the fuel apparatus put him several laps down and an accident followed that sent him to the garage for repairs leaving him to finish the day back in 37th.
Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota in fifth and patiently raced inside the top ten during the opening green flag run before a competition caution on lap 35 brought the leaders down pit road for the first time. A quick two-tire stop would allow Busch to gain a couple of spots on pit road and he restarted fourth on lap 41. He would race as high as third before sliding back a few spots on the long green flag run. A four-tire stop under the next caution would put Busch back outside the top ten on the next restart but he quickly drove back up and was running eighth on lap 125. He continued to run eighth as the race went past the halfway mark. Busch would restart seventh on lap 177. The M&Ms Camry would be fighting for a spot in the top five on a lap 187 restart when his teammate Kenseth got loose in front of him and Busch got into the back of his No. 20 Camry causing him to spin and damage to the hood of his car. Busch would also have contact from behind by the 5 car of Kasey Kahne and he would come down pit road for extensive repairs. The M&Ms crew would keep him on the lead lap and Busch would restart 20th. Busch would struggle with the handling the remainder of the race and fought hard over the final 100-plus laps to remain on the lead lap. He would restart 20th with five to go and managed to jump eight positions to run 12th when yet another caution came out to set up a green white checkered finish. He would get yet another strong restart to get back into the top ten and earn an eighth-place finish.
Kenseth started his No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in 16th and patiently raced just outside the top 15 over the course of the first 35 laps prior to a competition caution. A quick two-tire stop would allow Kenseth to restart in 10th on lap 41. He would hold that spot until he passed the 48 to move into ninth at lap 100. The Dollar General Camry would gain another spot on pit road under the next caution and then moved into seventh on lap 124. Kenseth would become stronger over the course of the next green flag run and was into the top five by lap 160. He would restart sixth on lap 177 and jumped back into the top five. Kenseth would fight for a spot in the top five following a lap 187 restart and the Dollar General Camry would get loose under the 1 car and slide up the track. Unfortunately he would slide up in front of his teammate Busch who made contact with Kenseth. The No. 20 Toyota would not receive significant damage but the 18 car of Busch would have to go to pit road for extensive repairs to the hood of his car. Kenseth would restart seventh and this time the 2 car would get loose under him and slide up into the wall bringing out yet another caution. Amazingly the Dollar General Camry would seem to come through it all and Kenseth restarted sixth on lap 198. A two-tire stop on lap 213 would allow Kenseth to line up fifth on the ensuing restart and he would gain two spots into third. The Dollar General Camry would suffer from loose handling conditions on the short turn and drop back to seventh, but a caution for debris on lap 246 would allow him to restart fourth with 50 to go. He would line up third for another restart with 40 to go but the inside lane proved problematic all afternoon and he lost a few positions to run sixth. He would restart sixth with just over 30 laps remaining and was spun by the 27 car causing him to spin into the outside fence. He would come down pit road for repairs and fresh tires but would lose a lap in the process and restarted back in 26th. He would gain the necessary spot for the lucky dog position and the caution would finally come with nine laps to go when the 24 car lost a tire and was sent into the outside wall. Yet another caution would follow to set up a green white checkered finish and Kenseth would line up 24th for a final two lap run to the end. He would end up 21st at the finish.
Hamlin started his No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota from the fourth position and quickly settled into second-place for the opening green flag run. A competition caution on lap 35 would bring the leaders down pit road for the first time and a quick two-tire change by the FedEx pit crew allowed Hamlin to restart first on lap 41. He would go on to lead the next 32 laps. He would pit from the second position on lap 95 and was trapped a lap down when a caution came out a few laps later. An apparent problem with the fuel probe was not allowing the FedEx team to fill the No. 11 Camry and Hamlin would come back down pit road under the caution as the team made the decision to trouble shoot the issue rather than staying on the track for the wave around. They would make repairs to the fuel probe which was keeping the fuel from flowing, but the extended caution would cost Hamlin another couple of laps to the field. He would restart 41st and four laps down. Hamlin would remain four laps down but began to gain several positions on the track to improve his position in the Chase standings. Unfortunately Hamlin would get caught up in an accident on lap 181 that sent the FedEx Camry to the garage. He would come back to the track and managed to pick up another couple of spots before finishing 37th.
Joey Logano won the race followed by Kevin Harvick, Kyle Larson, Jamie McMurray and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five. There were a record 15 cautions for a total of 63 laps and 10 lead changes among six different drivers.
With today’s results, Busch, Kenseth and Hamlin currently sit fifth, eighth and 13th respectively in the point standings. Four drivers face elimination following the third race of the Chase which will be held at Dover International Speedway next weekend. The top 12 advance to the Contender round before the field is narrowed to the Eliminator 8 round and ultimately a final Championship 4 at the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Only 12 points currently separate eighth place from 16th with Hamlin just six points out of 12th. Kenseth is eight points in front of 13th currently.