Joe Gibbs Racing entered tonight’s Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway having won seven of the last 10 races in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. That run of dominance would continue in tonight’s regular season finale with all four JGR entries running 1, 2, 3, 4 at one point in the race and Matt Kenseth picking up his fourth win of the season. When Kenseth took the checkered flag he was followed by teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin in second and sixth respectively, while Carl Edwards just missed joining them in the top ten with an 11th-place finish.
The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship will open next Sunday in Chicago with all four JGR teams competing for a chance to run for the title in the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway in 10 weeks. Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth will enter the Chase with 12 bonus points courtesy of their four regular season wins (three points are awarded for each regular season win). Carl Edwards will start the playoffs with six points while Denny Hamlin has three. Sixteen total teams will open the Chase next weekend, with four teams eliminated after each three-race segment until a final four battle it out in Miami for the Championship. The first elimination will take place following the race in Dover on October 4 (New Hampshire follows Chicago).
Matt Kenseth started the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota from the outside pole but it only took 14 laps for him to take his first lead of the night. That lead was only interrupted during a round of pit stops when two cars decided to remain out on the track instead of joining the rest of the leaders on pit road. It didn’t take long for Kenseth to establish his position back on point after the restart however and he continued to dominant through the first half of the race. In fact, Kenseth would lead his teammates for a good stretch just prior to the midpoint of the race when all four JGR cars ran 1, 2, 3, 4. He would briefly give way to his teammate Busch on a restart at lap 218, but once again regained the lead just a few laps into the green flag run. A caution with 26 laps remaining would bring the leaders down pit road for a final time and Kenseth would maintain his spot on the point for the restart with 18 to go. He would go on to win in dominating fashion having led 352 of 400 laps for his fourth victory of the season.
Kyle Busch qualified the No. 18 M&Ms Crispy/American Heritage Chocolates Toyota in fourth and quickly gained a spot at the drop of the green flag to run third through the early going. Busch would continue to run third behind his teammates Kenseth and Hamlin through the halfway point of the race. He would use a great restart on the bottom of the track on lap 218 to grab his first lead of the night. Busch would give way to his teammate Kenseth nine laps later however, but continued to run inside the top five. He would restart fourth with 18 laps remaining after bring his M&M’s Crispy down pit road one final time. He would jump to the outside as the leaders hit the line and managed to go around the 43 and 22 cars to run in second behind Kenseth. Busch would go on to finish second.
Denny Hamlin started the No. 11 FedEx Express Toyota from the 25th position but quickly ascended into the top 20 and was running 18th by lap 15 and 15th by lap 25. He would continue his climb all the way through the field and took his first lead of the night following a restart on lap 126. He would give way to his teammate Kenseth on the next long green flag run but continued to hold second through the halfway mark. Hamlin would continue to battle inside the top five much of the night and lined up sixth for a restart with 18 laps remaining. He would manage to hold that position to the checkered flag.
Carl Edwards started the No. 19 ARRIS Toyota in the seventh position and was able to hold a spot in the top ten through the early going. He would run in the top five for much of the first half of the race but found the handling on his car change with tire wear on the longer green flag runs. He was running ninth at the halfway point of the race. Edwards would restart 12th on lap 218 after the team made big adjustments to his No. 19 Camry. The ARRIS Camry would continue to battle for a spot in the top ten and Edwards would come down pit road for a final time after a caution with 26 laps remaining. He would restart 11th and held that spot to the finish.
Matt Kenseth captured the win, followed by Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Aric Almirola, and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. rounded out the top five. There were six cautions for a total of 47 laps and 13 lead changes among four different drivers.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will open the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship next weekend in Chicago. NBC will provide live broadcast coverage of the race starting at 2 PM ET (race begins at 3 PM ET) on Sunday, September 20.