It was a bittersweet day for Joe Gibbs Racing, but in the end, Matt Kenseth went to victory lane for a career-high seventh victory of the season.
Kenseth dominated the second half of the Sylvania 300 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway, locking up the win in his 500th career NASCAR start. In doing so, Kenseth became just the second driver to win in their 500th career start, the lone other driver was Richard Petty. It was such a historical mark for Kenseth that he became emotional during his post-race interviews, showing how thankful he was for Joe Gibbs Racing to take a chance on him.
The victory didn’t come easy by any means. He had a hard-charging Kyle Busch coming from behind during the final 15 laps. Busch was able to ease through lapped traffic, but Kenseth seemed to struggle while doing so, enabling Busch to catch up. However, Busch didn’t have enough time. It was the first time that teammates finished first and second for the first two races in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup.
There weren’t too many major incidents during the race, but there were plenty of cautions.
Juan Pablo Montoya tapped his teammate, Jamie McMurray, early in the race. As McMurray was sent spinning toward the fence, Kevin Swindell, making his first career Sprint Cup Series start, slammed into McMurray, causing significant damage to both cars. However, McMurray’s team worked diligently to get his car repaired, evidently finishing fifth without a bumper. Bobby Labonte also hit the wall hard in his first race back from a rib injury.
Kasey Kahne was involved in a late race accident. Kahne’s interview was probably the most awkward moment in his NASCAR career, so fans can thank Dr. Jerry Punch for that. His car spun off of turn four. While trying to save it from hitting the fence, he locked up the brakes, hitting the inside wall and caused extensive damage to his No. 5 Chevrolet.
Martin Truex Jr. was able to silence a ton of people on Sunday afternoon as he led 98 laps and looked like he was on his way to victory. However, Truex’s car started to handle horrifically and he finished 10th. Jeff Gordon also looked like he might have a shot at victory. But on a very questionable call, NASCAR officials told his crew that he had to back up during a pit stop. Yet, Gordon looked like on the line on the pit box (per NASCAR rule book which says the drivers only have to back up if they’re over the line), which caused him to lose major track position, putting him back in the 22nd position on a restart. Gordon couldn’t rebound and ended up finishing 15th.
It was a decent day for the majority of the drivers in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. Kevin Harvick was the only driver that seemed to struggle throughout the day. Harvick barely ran inside of the top-20 and finished 20th at a track that he’s found success at in the past. Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman also struggled on a day where expectations were high for them. Bowyer was a pre-race favorite as he led final practice, and Newman was the pole sitter, but only led two laps.
Joey Logano’s championship hopes have basically gone up in smoke. Logano finished 14th at New Hampshire. Although it was a decent finish, he’s now 12th in points and a long shot at winning the title.
Kenseth now leads Busch by 14 points over Busch, which is an exceptional margin after the first two events. Jimmie Johnson, who had a good day finishing fourth, is 18 points back of Kenseth. Carl Edwards is 36 points back after earning a top-10 on Sunday afternoon. Greg Biffle, Harvick and Kurt Busch are separated by three points as they sit fifth, sixth and seventh in points after New Hampshire. Though the rest of the field still has a mathematical chance at winning the title, it’s doubtful that anyone past seventh will actually win it all because of Kenseth’s early domination.
Joseph Wolkin can be followed on Twitter at @JosephNASCAR.