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Race Report: Talladega, Final Contender 12 Race

It was the race that had been discussed since the new NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase format was announced. Today’s Geico 500 at Talladega Superspeedway, a track known for its hold your breath style of racing and large accidents, represented the cut-off race of the second round with only the top eight teams advancing into the Eliminator Round.

Joe Gibbs Racing entered the day with all three teams still competing for a spot in the final eight. Kyle Busch was second in points entering the day but contact from behind on lap 103 sent him hard into the wall and although his M&Ms team worked valiantly to put him back out on the track he finished 40th and narrowly missed the cutoff. Teammates Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin managed to avoid any major accidents and finished second and 18th respectively to advance into the Eliminator round of eight.

Kenseth qualified the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota in the 13th position but an engine change resulted in having to drop to the back of the field for the start of the race. Kenseth was content running toward the back of the field through the early portion of the race but eventually moved toward the front of the field and managed to lead lap 63 to pick up an important bonus point. The Home Depot Camry would move toward the back of the field once again following a lap 103 caution for an accident that claimed his teammate Kyle Busch among several others. A restart with nine laps to go allowed Kenseth to move forward and he was quickly racing in the top ten while driving in the middle lane of a three wide situation before a caution for debris came out with five to go. He would line up 11th for a green-white-checkered finish. A wreck behind him would bring out another caution and he was eighth for the restart on a second attempt at the green-white-checkered finish. He would drive his way up to finish second and claim his spot into the next round.

Hamlin started his No. 11 FedEx One Rate Deliverminator Toyota from the 38th position was largely content to race at the back of the field through the early going. Hamlin would find an opening to make his way to the front of the field about 30 laps into the race and he claimed the lead on lap 39. He managed to avoid the day’s first two accidents including one major wreck on lap 103 that claimed his teammate Kyle Busch. When the race restarted a few laps later Hamlin made the decision to once again move to the back of the field in an attempt to clear any wrecks in front of him. A restart with nine to go saw Hamlin racing just inside the top 30 before a caution came out with five to go. He would line up 25th for a green-white-checkered finish. A wreck set up a second GWC finish and this time he lined up in 20th. He would go on to finish 18th and secure his position into the Eliminator round of eight.

Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms Halloween Toyota from the 41st position and was content running toward the back of the field in hopes of avoiding the big accident. It appeared that strategy would pay off when Busch managed to avoid any major damage in the day’s first accident on lap 61. The No. 18 Camry would get minor damage to the nose of his car but the M&Ms crew would make the necessary repairs on pit road and Busch remained on the lead lap. Unfortunately Busch wasn’t as fortunate on lap 103 when several cars spun in front of the M&Ms Toyota. He was well back of the initial wreck and slowed to avoid the spinning cars in front of him, but the 3 car hit Busch hard from behind and sent him spinning into the inside wall. The wreck caused major damage to the No. 18 but he managed to drive straight to the garage where the M&Ms team went to work in hopes of getting him back out on the track to make up enough points to secure his spot in the next round of the Chase. A tremendous team effort put Busch and the M&Ms Halloween Camry back on the track with 36 laps remaining. The valiant effort nearly paid off, but unfortunately Busch narrowly missed the cutoff and was eliminated from the Chase. The margin was so narrow that Busch was actually just one point out of the eighth position for the restart on a second attempt at a green-white-checkered finish, but the win by the 2 car took away his opportunity to advance.

Brad Keselowski won the race followed by Kenseth, Clint Bowyer, Landon Cassill, and Ryan Newman rounded out the top five. There were six cautions for a total of 25 laps and 38 lead changes among 19 different drivers.

The points once again reset with Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth advancing into the Eliminator round of eight in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. Ultimately four teams will advance into the Championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The Eliminator Round of 8 under the new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship format will start next Sunday at Martinsville Speedway. Live coverage from Martinsville will begin on ESPN Sunday, October 26 at 1 PM ET (race begins at 2 PM ET). The race will also be carried on Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90.

Race Report: Charlotte

Kyle Busch led Joe Gibbs Racing with a fifth-place finish in tonight’s Bank of America 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Meanwhile his teammates Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth finished ninth and 19th respectively in the second of three races in the Contender Round of 12 in NASCAR’s Chase for the Sprint Cup Series Championship.

Busch started the No. 18 Doublemint Toyota on the pole and led the opening 13 laps of the race. A competition caution on lap 25 would bring him down pit road and he restarted second. Busch would reclaim the lead after the restart for another 10 laps or so, but gave way to the 24 once again as he raced patiently through the early going of the 500-mile race. The handling on his Doublemint Camry would change several times over the course of the night, but Busch managed to maintain a spot in the top ten. He would restart in the top spot following a great pit stop by his Doublemint crew with just under 100 laps remaining. He would give up the top spot on the longer runs, but Busch was back out front for a lap 250 restart. He was running seventh late in the race following a round of green flag pit stops. Another late caution would set up a green-white-checker finish and Busch managed to drive his way up to earn a fifth-place finish.

Hamlin started his No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota from the third position and settled in to run fourth through the opening 25 laps prior to a competition caution. Early strategies on pit road with several teams taking two tires left Hamlin to restart back a few spots and he would run just outside the top ten on the next green flag run. Hamlin would remain patient while crew chief Darian Grubb and the FedEx crew made adjustments to help him with a car that was tight through the center of turns, but loose exiting the turns. Those adjustments appeared to be paying off over the course of the race as Hamlin drove into the top 10. A great two-tire stop would put Hamlin out second for a restart on lap 272 and he quickly took advantage by moving to the point and leading the next 22 laps. The 4 car would take over the lead with 41 laps to go, but Hamlin would cycle through a final round of green flag stops in the third position. A late caution would set up a green-white-checker finish and the FedEx Camry would get contact from behind that shuffled him back to finish ninth.

Kenseth qualified the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in the 22nd position but was forced to start in the back of the field when NASCAR ruled there was an unapproved adjustment on pit road. The setback didn’t deter the 20 team however as Kenseth raced his way into 28th on the opening green flag run prior to a competition caution on lap 25. He would work his way into the top 25 on the ensuing run. Kenseth would continue to slowly make his way toward the top 20, but mostly tight handling conditions would hamper additional progress. The Dollar General Camry would fall a lap off the pace on lap 206, but the team fought back and Kenseth raced his way into the lucky dog position to get back on the lead lap. He would come down pit road for a two-tire stop that gave him track position and he lined up fourth for a lap 272 restart. Kenseth would drive up high on the track in an attempt to improve his position but the 2 car moved in front of him causing the No. 20 Camry to hit the wall. He was able to keep the car on the lead lap, but damage to the right front of the car caused him to drift back in the field. Kenseth would go on to finish 19th.

Kevin Harvick won the race followed by Jeff Gordon, Jamie McMurray, Joey Logano, and Kyle Busch rounded out the top five. There were eight cautions for a total of 39 laps and 32 lead changes among 14 different drivers.

Kyle Busch is second in the current point standings in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. Busch is only six points out of the top spot, while Hamlin is seventh and Kenseth is in ninth. The field will be trimmed to the Eliminator Round of 8 following next weekend’s battle at Talladega Superspeedway. Logano and Harvick automatically advance courtesy of their respective wins last week in Kansas and tonight in Charlotte respectively. Busch is 27 points in front of the cut off and Hamlin is 17 points to good, while Kenseth is just one point out of the eighth and final spot. Ultimately a final Championship 4 will race for the Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship will be at Talladega Superspeedway for the final race of the Contender round under the new Chase format. Live coverage from Talladega will begin on ESPN Sunday, October 19 at 1 PM ET (race begins at 2 PM ET). The race will also be carried on Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90.

Race Report: Kansas

Kyle Busch led Joe Gibbs Racing with a third-place finish in today’s first race of the second round of The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship. Meanwhile teammates Denny Hamlin and Matt Kenseth finished seventh and 13th respectively in this afternoon’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Busch started the No. 18 M&Ms Toyota in seventh position and maintained a position just inside the top ten through the early going of this afternoon’s race. He would pit following a lap-71 caution and his M&Ms crew would gain him two spots to restart eighth on lap 75. Busch was hit with a speeding penalty while exiting pit road on lap 123 and the pass through penalty would leave him back in 22nd for a restart on lap 127. He would patiently gain ground on the leaders and was running 18th on lap 131. Busch continued to gain ground and was running 11th with just over 100 laps remaining. He would line up eighth for a restart with 73 laps remaining following a four-tire stop and managed to gain two spots to run sixth. He would take over the fifth position with 46 laps to go. A great two-tire stop following a lap 228 caution would give Busch the second position on the restart with 33 to go. Busch would drop two spots before another caution quickly followed. This time Busch would take advantage of restarting on the outside with 28 to go and jumped into the second position. He took the checkered flag in third to earn his first ever top-five finish in Kansas.

Hamlin started his No. 11 FedEx Office Toyota from 25th position and was patient early in the race while battling a loose handling car. He was running 22nd on lap 53 following the first round of green flag pit stops but the adjustments appeared to help the car turn better and Hamlin was able to drive his way into the top 20 and ran 15th on lap 71. He would restart 13th on lap 75. He would enter the top 10 and lined up eighth for a restart on lap 127. Hamlin would report smoke coming from the dash shortly after the restart but turning off the fans appeared to alleviate the problem and he managed to keep the FedEx Camry just outside the top 10. He would return to the top ten and was running seventh shortly after a restart with 100 laps to go. He would line up 12th following a four-tire stop with 73 laps remaining. Hamlin would drop two spots on the restart when the outside line couldn’t get going and he settled in to race in 14th. He would slowly work his way toward the top ten again and was running 11th with 50 to go and re-entered the top 10 on lap 224. A caution on lap 228 would bring the leaders down pit road and a great two-tire stop would place him third for the restart with 33 to go. Hamlin would get stuck on the bottom line however and dropped back to seventh before another caution. He would hold his position through the next restart and ran seventh to the finish.

Kenseth started his No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in the 27th position but was able to patiently race his way inside the top 20. He was racing 20th on lap 25 and following a round of green flag pit stops Kenseth cycled through in 13th on lap 53. He would line up 12th for restart on lap 75. The field would get bunched up in front of Kenseth on the restart and the No. 20 Camry would make contact with a car in front of him causing a small crack just above the headlight on the right side of the car. Kenseth would ride it out and held the 13th position at the 100-lap mark. However as the green flag run continued the crack became larger causing handling issues to his Dollar General Camry and Kenseth would drop back to run 18th. A caution would allow him to come down pit road on lap 123. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff would call for an extended pit stop to give the Dollar General crew ample time to make the necessary repairs. Kenseth would restart 19th on lap 127. The No. 20 Camry was back up to 13th following a restart with just over 100 laps to go. Following a four-tire pit stop he would line up in 11th for a restart with 73 laps remaining and managed to work his way up to run eighth as the race went past lap 200. With just over 50 laps to go Kenseth would radio in that he felt he might have a tire going down and he came down pit road from the 10th position with 47 laps remaining. The Dollar General team was hoping the race would remain green so he could cycle back in after the other leaders made their final stop, but unfortunately a caution would come out on lap 228. That forced Kenseth to take the wave around to get back on the lead lap and he would restart 22nd on lap 234. He would gain two spots before another caution followed and Ratcliff made the call to bring the Dollar General back down pit road for four fresh tires. He would restart 20th with 28 to go and was up to 15th just eight laps later. Kenseth would gain two more spots over the final laps to finish 13th.

Joey Logano won the race followed by Kyle Larson, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex, Jr. and Carl Edwards rounded out the top five. There were eight cautions for a total of 34 laps and 25 lead changes among nine different drivers.

The point standings reset prior to today’s race. After round one it is Busch holding down the second position in the standings, while Hamlin is currently fifth and Kenseth seventh. There are two more races before the field is narrowed again to the Eliminator 8 round following the race at Talladega Superspeedway. Logano automatically advances courtesy of today’s win. Ultimately a final Championship 4 will race for the Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

It will be a homecoming of sorts next weekend, when the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship returns to Charlotte and Charlotte Motor Speedway for the second race of the Contender round under the new Chase format. Live coverage from Charlotte will begin on ABC Saturday, October 11 at 7 PM ET (race begins at 7:30 PM ET). The race will also be carried on Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90.

Race Report: New Hampshire

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.

Race Report: Bristol

Matt Kenseth led Joe Gibbs Racing in tonight’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Irwin Tools Night Race from Bristol Motor Speedway with a third-place finish, while separate accidents would leave Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin to finish 36th and 40th respectively.

Matt Kenseth started his No. 20 Dollar General Toyota from the 16th position and worked his way into the top 10 over the course of the opening green flag run prior to a competition caution on lap 60. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff would make the call for a two-tire change on the opening round of pit stops and Kenseth came out in second and became the leader for the ensuing restart after teammate Kyle Busch was ruled too fast entering pit road. The Dollar General Toyota would lead for 40 laps before lapped traffic forced him to give way. He would make a four-tire stop on the next round of stops and restarted eighth. The No. 20 Camry was running seventh at the 300 lap mark. Great work on pit road by the Dollar General crew would allow Kenseth to line up fourth for a restart with 135 laps remaining. He would jump into second a few laps later before the next caution flew. He would restart from the bottom of the track in the second position on lap 382. Kenseth would close in on the leader with 90 laps remaining but lapped traffic would again cut his momentum short allowing the 22 car to get around him as he went to third. The Dollar General team would elect track position following the next caution and Kenseth would restart first with 63 laps to go. He would hold the lead following the drop of the green flag to restart the race, but fresh tires on the 22 and 2 cars proved too strong as he relinquished the lead with 44 to go. He would battle to the checkered flag and go on to finish third.

Kyle Busch started his No. 18 Doublemint Toyota from the fourth position and was strong through the early going as he maneuvered to the front of the field. Busch would take the lead on lap 55 and held it through the opening round of pit stops following a competition caution on lap 60. Although the Doublemint Camry left pit road in the first position NASCAR ruled he was too fast entering pit road. That would force Busch to restart at the back of the field. He would get caught up in the night’s first accident on lap 126 which resulted in heavy damage to the left rear of his car. The No. 18 Camry was able to remain on the track but he would restart the race following repairs two laps down. An extended caution following a lap 160 accident allowed the Doublemint crew to make additional repairs but Busch was now in 35th and three laps off the pace. He would manage to battle before having to take it to the garage to just over 50 to go. He would finish 36th.

Hamlin took the green flag for the start of tonight’s race in the 13th position and patiently worked his way into the top 10 over the course of the opening green flag run prior to a lap 60 competition caution. Hamlin had the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota in the sixth position at lap 100. An accident would bring out a caution followed by a second round of pit stops and a quick two-tire change by the FedEx crew put Hamlin out as the leader for the lap 137 restart. He would hold the lead until lap 160 when the 4 car attempted to slide up the track behind Hamlin and instead caught the left rear of the FedEx Camry causing him to spin down into the inside wall. The contact caused him to ricochet back up the track and into the path of the 88. The final result was heavy damage and a disappointing early end to a promising night. He would go on to finish 40th.

Joey Logano of Penske Racing won the race, followed by Brad Keselowski, Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, and Kurt Busch rounded out the top five. There were nine cautions for a total of 64 laps and 16 lead changes among nine different drivers.