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Chase Is A Win, Win Situation For JGR’s Kenseth

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 22 2013

Matt Kenseth stayed Chase perfect at New Hampshire on Sunday. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

By Mike Harris | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

LOUDON, N.H. – When Matt Kenseth won the championship in NASCAR’s top series in 2003 he was criticized for running away with the title with consistent finishes that included only one victory.

That less-than-exciting championship run helped NASCAR decide it was time to change the way the Sprint Cup was won, leading to the first Chase for the championship playoff in 2004.

After Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, NASCAR may begin thinking about changing the points structure again.

Kenseth, making it look almost too easy, picked up his series-leading and career-best seventh victory of the season and joined 2011 champion Tony Stewart and 2008 third-place finisher Greg Biffle as the only drivers to win the first two races of the 10-race Chase.

Kenseth’s 31st career victory came in his 500th Cup start. Only seven-time champion Richard Petty previously won his 500th start.

He is the first drivers to win as many as seven races in a season since five-time champion Jimmie Johnson turned the trick in 2008 and 2009. More telling, Sunday’s victory was the fourth time this season that Kenseth has won for the first time on a track where he has struggled in the past.

“For me, to win at Loudon is more than a dream, more than a stretch, this has been my worst place,’’ Kenseth said, tears welling in his eyes moments after climbing from his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. “I just feel like the luckiest guy in the world.’’

For the second straight week, Kenseth’s JGR teammate Kyle Busch finished second, dropping 14 points behind in the standings.

Busch appeared to be catching Kenseth near the end, finishing about a half-second behind. But it really wasn’t that close.

“If I could have caught him, it might have been exciting,’’ Busch said. “But they just had a special car. Sometimes, you just unload like that.’’

Kenseth left a longtime ride at Roush Fenway Racing after last season to join JGR, a move that seems to be paying off bigtime. Asked about his newest teammate, Busch said, “It reminds me of a similar situation in 2008. Matt is just executing the end of the deal, which is what we’re supposed to do. I won eight of the first 26 (races that year) and then fell flat on my face. Matt is doing a good job, obviously.

“He’s one of the best. That’s why we went to talk to him, to hire him and that’s why he’s here (at JGR). He’s put it all together.’’

Biffle came on strong near the end of the race, finishing third, followed by Johnson, who remained third in the standings, trailing Kenseth by 18 points.

Johnson, who finished fifth in last week’s Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway, likes his position in the standings.

“To open (the Chase) with a five, four is great,’’ he said. “One, one like Matt has is a lot better. But we’re in a good spot. We haven’t give up too many points and we’re going to one of my best race tracks next week in Dover.’’

Jamie McMurray overcame a collision early in the race to finish fifth, with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brian Vickers, Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards and Martin Truex Jr. rounding out the top 10.

Truex, who found out earlier in the week that primary sponsor NAPA will not return in 2014, leaving him and his Michael Waltrip Racing crew in danger of losing their jobs, was dominant in the first half of the race, leading 98 of the first 150 laps. But, the disappointed Truex fell out of contention.

“The second half the car just started getting tight and the last set of tires was just terrible,’’ Truex explained. “We’re working really hard to show everybody what we’re capable of doing. We just have to keep working hard.’’

Jeff Gordon was also a contender in the first half of the race, leading 36 laps. But the four-time Cup champion killed his chances when he slid through his pit during a stop on lap 202. By the time he back up his car and got tires and fuel, he fell out of contention, finishing 15th.

Kenseth, who started ninth on Sunday, remained in the top 10 in the early going and led for the first time on lap 109 of the 300-lap event on New Hampshire’s 1.058-mile oval. He wound up leading a race-high 106 laps, including the last 53.

Kenseth was solidly in control when David Gilliland’s blown tire brought out the sixth of seven caution flags in the race on lap 246. The leaders made their final pit stops under the ensuing yellow flag and Kenseth lost the lead momentarily as he drove down pit road.

But, the No. 20 was back on top when the green flag waved for the restart on lap 251. He stayed out front the rest of the way.

Although he is winning at tracks where he has failed to win in the past, Kenseth said winning another championship is going to depend on solid, consistent runs.

“You better be good everywhere if you think you’re going to be a contender,’’ Kenseth said. “I think this was meaningful because this is somewhat similar to Phoenix and Martinsville (two Chase races yet to come).’’

Considering he has already won six more times than in his title year of 2003, Kenseth was asked if winning the title this year would mean more to him than the first one.

“I don’t think there’s a bad way to win a championship,’’ he said. “Every year is different. I was proud of the way we ran in 2003. We run strong every week.

“There’s no magic formula. You just have to have more points than the man in second. It’s special any way you win it. … This has been the best season of my career and we just want to keep it rolling.’’

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Race – SYLVANIA 300

New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Loudon, New Hampshire

Sunday, September 22, 2013

1. (9) Matt Kenseth, Toyota, 300, $262066.

2. (12) Kyle Busch, Toyota, 300, $210143.

3. (10) Greg Biffle, Ford, 300, $146585.

4. (11) Jimmie Johnson, Chevrolet, 300, $160796.

5. (23) Jamie McMurray, Chevrolet, 300, $142005.

6. (17) Dale Earnhardt Jr., Chevrolet, 300, $115835.

7. (29) Brian Vickers(i), Toyota, 300, $105235.

8. (25) Jeff Burton, Chevrolet, 300, $102535.

9. (26) Carl Edwards, Ford, 300, $127360.

10. (5) Martin Truex Jr., Toyota, 300, $135060.

11. (20) Brad Keselowski, Ford, 300, $140826.

12. (14) Denny Hamlin, Toyota, 300, $105785.

13. (4) Kurt Busch, Chevrolet, 300, $115830.

14. (6) Joey Logano, Ford, 300, $115668.

15. (3) Jeff Gordon, Chevrolet, 300, $131696.

16. (1) Ryan Newman, Chevrolet, 300, $128693.

17. (16) Clint Bowyer, Toyota, 300, $124793.

18. (22) Marcos Ambrose, Ford, 300, $112874.

19. (15) Juan Pablo Montoya, Chevrolet, 300, $112574.

20. (8) Kevin Harvick, Chevrolet, 300, $130046.

21. (13) Aric Almirola, Ford, 300, $121746.

22. (7) Paul Menard, Chevrolet, 300, $114451.

23. (18) Mark Martin, Chevrolet, 300, $127660.

24. (31) Ricky Stenhouse Jr. #, Ford, 300, $130471.

25. (34) Casey Mears, Ford, 300, $110443.

26. (35) David Reutimann, Toyota, 300, $99593.

27. (21) Danica Patrick #, Chevrolet, 300, $83110.

28. (30) Travis Kvapil, Toyota, 300, $104968.

29. (19) David Ragan, Ford, 299, $102193.

30. (27) Michael McDowell, Chevrolet, 297, $100832.

31. (38) Dave Blaney, Chevrolet, 297, $79085.

32. (43) Josh Wise(i), Ford, 297, $78810.

33. (37) JJ Yeley, Chevrolet, 296, $78585.

34. (32) Landon Cassill(i), Chevrolet, 296, $78385.

35. (36) Joe Nemechek(i), Toyota, 296, $78185.

36. (42) Timmy Hill #, Ford, 293, $77955.

37. (2) Kasey Kahne, Chevrolet, 278, $103241.

38. (33) Kevin Swindell(i), Toyota, 244, $72675.

39. (24) David Gilliland, Ford, Accident, 239, $68675.

40. (28) Bobby Labonte, Toyota, Accident, 161, $72675.

41. (39) Tony Raines(i), Chevrolet, Brakes, 128, $60675.

42. (41) Johnny Sauter(i), Ford, Brakes, 103, $56675.

43. (40) Scott Riggs, Ford, Brakes, 92, $53175.

Average Speed of Race Winner: 107.573 mph.

Time of Race: 2 Hrs, 57 Mins, 02 Secs. Margin of Victory: 0.533 Seconds.

Caution Flags: 7 for 37 laps.

Lead Changes: 19 among 11 drivers.

Lap Leaders: R. Newman 1-2; K. Kahne 3-31; M. Truex Jr. 32; J. Yeley 33; K. Kahne 34-35; M. Truex Jr. 36-108; M. Kenseth 109; J. Gordon 110; B. Keselowski 111-112; J. Logano 113; D. Earnhardt Jr. 114-129; M. Truex Jr. 130-152; M. Kenseth 153-165; M. Truex Jr. 166; J. Gordon 167-201; D. Earnhardt Jr. 202; C. Bowyer 203-207; M. Kenseth 208-246; J. Johnson 247; M. Kenseth 248-300.

Leaders Summary (Driver, Times Lead, Laps Led): M. Kenseth 4 times for 106 laps; M. Truex Jr. 4 times for 98 laps; J. Gordon 2 times for 36 laps; K. Kahne 2 times for 31 laps; D. Earnhardt Jr. 2 times for 17 laps; C. Bowyer 1 time for 5 laps; B. Keselowski 1 time for 2 laps; R. Newman 1 time for 2 laps; J. Johnson 1 time for 1 lap; J. Yeley 1 time for 1 lap; J. Logano 1 time for 1 lap.

Top 13 in Points: M. Kenseth – 2,111; Kyle Busch – 2,097; J. Johnson – 2,093; C. Edwards – 2,075; G. Biffle – 2,073; K. Harvick – 2,072; Kurt Busch – 2,071; J. Gordon – 2,069; R. Newman – 2,064; C. Bowyer – 2,063; D. Earnhardt Jr. – 2,049; J. Logano – 2,042; K. Kahne – 2,040.

Mike Harris | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, September 22 2013
One Comment

One Comment »

  • NASCAR No Credibility says:

    Jimmy Johnson is back to being a top five car again after he laid down to help the three other Hendrick cars and one Stewart/Hass Hendrick satellite car before the chase started.

    Also another NASCAR race I did not watch so it was wasted sponsorship dollars spent again as another fan has turned their back on NASCAE/WWE on Wheels.