All three Joe Gibbs Racing entries raced their way into the second round of The Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Championship during today’s AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway.
Matt Kenseth led the way with a fifth-place finish, while Kyle Busch took the checkered flag in 10th and Denny Hamlin crossed the line in 12th.
Kenseth started his No. 20 Home Depot Husky Toyota in the 14th position and was able to race his way toward the top ten over the course of the opening green flag run. He was running ninth at the 100-lap mark and great work by his pit crew under caution would help him enter the top five where he ran at lap 150. He would restart third on lap 176 and was fourth at lap 200. Kenseth would pit under the green flag on lap 251 and cycled through in fifth when a caution came out on lap 254. He would remain out on the track and fell three spots on the restart as the inside lane struggled all day to get started. Despite tight handling conditions on his Home Depot Camry Kenseth would hold the seventh position with 100 laps to go. He would come down pit road under the green flag on lap 328 and cycled through to run sixth. He would gain another spot to earn a top five finish and lock in his spot to advance into the top 12.
Busch started the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota in second and settled in to run inside the top five over the course of the opening green flag run. A lap 125 caution would bring Busch down pit road for the second time on the day and he would lose several positions when he was blocked by the 2 car and missed his pit box. He would have to back into the box and the extra time on pit road would leave Busch to restart 17th. He would use a tremendous three wide move on the ensuing restart to vault all the way into the top ten again. He was running ninth on lap 150. Busch would restart in the top five on lap 176 and was sixth at lap 200. He was running fourth following a round of green flag pit stops when a caution came out on lap 254. He would remain on the track and jumped into second on the ensuing restart. Busch ran third with 100 laps to go. Busch would come down pit road under the green flag on lap 329 and cycled through in the seventh position. He would go on to finish 10th and secure his place in the next round of The Chase.
Hamlin started his No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota from the third position and was patient through the opening green flag run as he settled in to run sixth. His pit crew would pick him up several positions during the opening round of stops and Hamlin restarted fourth. He would gain a spot to run third when the next caution came out on lap 76. Hamlin would race just outside the top five for the remainder of the first half of the race. He would run seventh at lap 200. Hamlin would fall back to 10th before a round of green flag pit stops started at lap 248. When the field finished cycling through he was in seventh before a caution came out on lap 254. He would hold that spot through the next restart and was running eighth with 100 laps remaining. Hamlin came down pit road on lap 328 during a round of green flag stops and cycled through in the 11th position before moving back into 10th on lap 340. He lost a spot again to run 11th with 35 to go. Hamlin would hold off the leader Jeff Gordon over the final green flag run to remain on the lead lap and earn a 12th-place finish and earn his spot in the next round of the Chase.
Jeff Gordon won the race followed by Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, and Kenseth rounded out the top five. There were five cautions for a total of 23 laps and 10 lead changes among seven different drivers.
With today’s results Busch, Kenseth and Hamlin advance to the Contender round under the new Chase format. The points reset and the final 12 enter Kansas Speedway tied for the first of three races before the field is narrowed again to the Eliminator 8 round following the race at Talladega Superspeedway. Ultimately a final Championship 4 will race for the Championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway.