Matt Kenseth Leads 352 of 400 Laps in Richmond Win

Matt Kenseth
Matt Kenseth was untouchable
Jonathan Moore/Getty Images

Matt Kenseth picked up his fourth win of the season in a dominating performance in Saturday night's Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway, leading 352 of the 400 laps distance.

Kenseth proved to be unstoppable over the final 103 circuits, taking the checkered flag by nearly a full second over his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch. Joey Logano, Aric Almirola and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. made up the rest of the top five.

With his fourth win, Kenseth earned the third seed in the 16-driver Chase field, following Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch.

It was Kenseth's 35th-career Sprint Cup victory and his third in the last six races, and his first win at Richmond since 2002.

"These guys gave me a great car," said Kenseth. "Thanks to Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and all these guys standing behind me, they had the pit stops we needed, held serve every time and kept us out in front. We were really superb in the long run. I had to work for it pretty hard in the short run. Great way to go into the Chase."

Kenseth and his JGR teammates Kyle Busch and Denny Hamlin accounted for 375 laps lead, making statement that Kenseth and his teammates will be the cars to beat the 10-race playoff that begins next weekend at Chicagoland Speedway.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]"I feel like as a company right now, we're stronger than we were in '13 – all four cars are really strong" said Kenseth. "We had a lot of different things happen, where all four of us now have been able to win races and we're all in the Chase. I feel like all four teams are really competitive. I think we were one through four at one point tonight. I feel like as a company, we're stronger this year.

"You want to win every week. I'll tell you, if you could do this every week, you would. So it's not like you can do anything extra or anything necessarily better. I will say it feels really good. It's good for all of our confidence, probably especially mine."

Kenseth and Logano started on the front row for race and spent the first 125 laps trading the lead before Hamlin – torn ACL and all – came through the pack to join the party.

Kenseth never dropped any lower than fifth for the entire event, and fought his way back to the front and made the outside move on Busch on lap 228 to retake the top spot.

JGR drivers run 1-2-3 as Kenseth goes high and Busch low and Hamlin in the middle
JGR drivers run 1-2-3 as Kenseth goes high and Busch low and Hamlin in the middle

Kenseth would lead all but one of the remaining laps, including two more rounds of yellow-flag pit stops, holding off Busch on the final restart with 18 laps to go.

While the race for the lead was already out of reach, the race for the final spots in the Chase field were heating up in the final laps.

Coming into this weekend's race, eight drivers were vying for one of five remaining slots in the 16-driver field, including past Chase Contenders Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, Aric Almirola, Kasey Kahne and Greg Biffle.

Almirola was among those on the outside looking in, and needed nothing less than a win to earn his second career Chase appearance,

Almirola steadily worked his way through traffic, climbing into the top 10 with 100 laps to go and then into the top five by lap 380.

Coming to the pits for the final round of stops on lap 377, Almirola managed to pick up one spot and restarted third, hoping to catch a break on the restart and challenge Kenseth of the lead.

Instead, Almirola fell back at the start, losing third to Logano and falling nearly three seconds back, winding up with a fourth-place finish and joining Biffle, Kahne, and A.J. Allmendinger as drivers who missed the Chase after making the field last year.

"It is tough. This is what we race for. We race to win races. We race to run for a championship. This race team, we got to do it last year and we had an engine failure at Chicago and feel like we had a lot more to show in the Chase last year. We wanted another shot at it really bad. We have a really, really good race team and am disappointed we didn't get Smithfield and Ford into the Chase again."

Bowyer managed to clinch the 16th and final seed in the field, a welcome turn of good luck in what has been an emotionally exhausting season.

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]"That's it. The pressure's off, man," said Bowyer. "A big monumental thing for an organization to go through what we're going through and to push through and get into the Chase, this is the best of the best, the elite of all of motorsports. MWR is once again part of it.

"It's actually is easier coming into it the way we are right now because the pressure's off. We go in there. We're pushing ahead and go for broke every single weekend. All of a sudden if you can get yourself down to the last two or three rounds, it starts getting nerve-wracking again."

Jamie McMurray ended the night with a 13th-place finish, but earned his first career Chase berth by clinching a spot after taking the green flag in Saturday night's race.

"I'm super relieved," said McMurray. "I've been the guy on the outside trying to fight my way in, and I've also been in this a couple times and been knocked out at Richmond."

Hamlin finished sixth in the race, followed by Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson and Bowyer.

Logano and defending series champion Kevin Harvick filled out the top five seeds in the Chase, followed by Earnhardt, Kyle Busch, Edwards, Keselowski and Martin Truex, Jr.

Hamlin, McMurray, Gordon, Newman, Menard and Bowyer rounded out the rest of the Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders.

MATT KENSETH, No. 20 Dollar General Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

Finishing Position: 1st

How strong was the race car tonight?

"These guys gave me a great car – thanks to Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and all these guys standing behind me. They had the pit stops we needed, they kept us out front so we were really superb in the long run and we had to work for it pretty hard in the short run. I was disappointed to see that last caution, but I knew it was going to be tough. We were able to get the jump and get out front. Thanks a lot to Dollar General, Sprint, Dewalt, Toyota, TRD – we have great partners and we couldn't do it without them. Good way to go into the Chase."

How does the feeling compare this year to your championship season in 2003?

"That was so long ago, it's hard to remember. There's been so many rules changes and so many things are different, but certainly right now as a company we're on a roll. They've given me some fast cars here the last couple of months. Had a good one at Bristol and broke and I was the goat last weekend and drove it into the fence early in the race and ruined our day with probably the best car so it feels good to come here and do everything right and get the win."

Were there any close calls tonight on such a dominating run?

"Man, we've had such good cars here the last couple months. We had an excellent car at Bristol and didn't make it to the end and then last week we had just a dominant car and I drove like it was my first race and drove it in the fence on like 30. So, feel good for these guys. They've been giving us bullets. Everybody at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) thanks to that group. All four of our cars have been really stout. This is a nice way to roll into the Chase."

How much does momentum count going into the Chase?

"Well, the guys that have the momentum will say it means everything and the guys that don't say it doesn't matter. So, I've usually been on the other end and not had good runs at Richmond. So, this track has been tough for us. Everybody at JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) has worked really hard on our short track stuff to get this better. I think Coach (Gibbs) yelled at us after the spring race so everybody paid attention to that and we all got to work and had our cars really turning nice tonight."

How big is it to win tonight and tie with Kyle Busch and Jimmie Johnson going into the Chase?

"Well, you never know what's going to happen in any of these rounds. Every race is important. Every point is obviously important but just happy to get the win. These are all big events, they're a lot of fun and this is really fun to try to manage the tires here with this softer tire that they brought. I had a blast driving this tonight. It's so fun driving around a place where you have a car that does what you want it to do."

KYLE BUSCH, No. 18 M&M's Crispy Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing

Finishing Position: 2nd

How does it feel to make it into the Chase after such a rollercoaster season?

[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]"It certainly was a rollercoaster season, probably more for my team and guys and everybody that started the season in Daytona, switching seats out, having other drivers in my car. Can't say enough about the team and the effort Adam Stevens (crew chief), everyone that continued to focus and work hard, wait for the star quarterback to come back. Once I did come back, they were all ready, ready to perform. Felt like we did a really good job of that. Maybe the first month was a little rough. After that, once we got through Sonoma, it was on. We had a really good stretch and still continue to run strong each week. Real proud of everybody on this Toyota Camry. Makes our job easier week in and week out to have fast race cars. Now it's to focus and put your head down to the dirt and make sure that you get all you can get when you go through these next 10."

Are you surprised to make it into the Chase?

"It was an unbelievable beginning and a pretty believable middle part of the season and how we ran. That's just how we're supposed to be and how this 18 M&M's Camry is supposed to be every week. Again tonight Joe Gibbs Racing had a really good showing. Just proud of Adam Stevens (crew chief) and all my guys. They never gave up. They fought hard, they worked really good together and a first year team so I'm really proud of all of that. It's come together real well and it's just a matter now of being able to put our heads down and get the job done. We definitely have equipment capable of doing it. It might be a race between all four (Joe) Gibbs (Racing) cars come Homestead but I'm sure Joe (Gibbs) will love that."

How great is it to have Adam Stevens as your Sprint Cup Series crew chief?

"Again, he's (Adam Stevens) has done a phenomenal job. I can't thank him enough. I can't thank his family and everybody and all of my guys and all of their families and everything and all we go through being on the road as often as we are. Certainly a true testament to everyone's determination and focus on what this group has been able to do missing their star quarterback for the first 11 races and having to just continue to punch holes for the offense to make some good scores and also we played a lot of defense. We just had to bide our time and wait for me to get healthy and get back so it was really, really fun."

Where did you come up short against your teammate Matt Kenseth tonight?

"I'm not sure exactly. Setups are so close that man there really wasn't much difference between them. Matt Kenseth was that much better than I am. I'm just kidding. I had fun running with Matt or trying to run with Matt. I could only do it for about 10 or 20 laps and then he'd just start driving away. His car was really, really good on the long runs so good job to those guys being in victory lane again for Joe Gibbs Racing. We had a fun night tonight. We fought hard, we battled a little bit there with some guys and had to work on our car but M&M's Crispy is back and I'm back and we're back in the Chase so ready to rock and roll."

How would you access your team at this point in the season compared to a year ago?

"Way better. I think the whole team, the whole organization. I think we've been proving that the last two, two and a half months just being able to execute and get some wins. All of us have been. It's been really, really good to see and it's so much fun to come to the race track knowing that you are that good. We've just got to do the right things and not screw it up ourselves here at the race track. Everyone back at the shop should be real proud of everything that we've done and where we've come from. We were struggling last year and a little bit the year before that. We knew building cars, pieces, everything that once it all kind of came together and once we could all hit on everything that we'd have all of the pieces and it certainly came about May, June – something like that this year. It's been real fun and we look forward to these last 10 weeks. It's going to be a grueling out especially with all of my teammates."

Will this Chase live up to what happened in last year's Chase?

"I think this year's Chase is going to be a bit better than what last year's Chase was. I think anytime anybody sees how it goes, how it progresses and what kinds of things you need to focus on. Was it race wins? Is it consistency? I think it's going to be for an entertaining Chase. There's going to be different ways of going about it. For us, everyone on this 18 M&M's Crispy team, the guys have done a phenomenal job getting me here and also just being prepared for when I got back."

How do you take this momentum going into Chicago?

"I think when you have good races and good cars and stuff like that it makes your job a heck of a lot easier going to the race track to be able to be competitive and to continue to strive and to push and to get those wins and have good finishes. Last year I'd say that our cars and stuff – our equipment we were just struggling. We were just off and we were just kind of missing something and with the realignment of the crew chiefs and bringing on Carl (Edwards) this year and having that opportunity to have four cars I think just elevated our program and gave us everything that we needed in order to have a strong showing and we've proven that the last two, three months."

What is your mindset going into the Chase?

"I think the mindset is just the same as what we've been doing. Keep going, keep hitting it hard and don't screw up. That's the biggest thing is just try not to make any mistakes. That's the biggest thing about this Chase but with the given opportunity that you have now with win and you're in or win and you transfer through you can make a mistake and come back but you better be good when you do come back.

Results

Pos. # Driver Make Start Laps Led Status
1 20 Matt Kenseth Toyota 2 400 352 Running
2 18 Kyle Busch Toyota 4 400 9 Running
3 22 Joey Logano Ford 1 400 25 Running
4 43 Aric Almirola Ford 24 400 0 Running
5 88 Dale Earnhardt Jr Chevrolet 29 400 0 Running
6 11 Denny Hamlin Toyota 25 400 14 Running
7 24 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 23 400 0 Running
8 2 Brad Keselowski Ford 3 400 0 Running
9 48 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 9 400 0 Running
10 15 Clint Bowyer Toyota 26 400 0 Running
11 19 Carl Edwards Toyota 7 400 0 Running
12 42 Kyle Larson Chevrolet 11 400 0 Running
13 1 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 31 399 0 Running
14 4 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 6 399 0 Running
15 41 Kurt Busch Chevrolet 8 399 0 Running
16 17 Ricky Stenhouse Jr Ford 19 399 0 Running
17 55 David Ragan Toyota 5 398 0 Running
18 5 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet 20 398 0 Running
19 10 Danica Patrick Chevrolet 14 397 0 Running
20 31 Ryan Newman Chevrolet 13 397 0 Running
21 13 Casey Mears Chevrolet 15 397 0 Running
22 33 Brian Scott Chevrolet 17 397 0 Running
23 6 Trevor Bayne Ford 28 397 0 Running
24 47 AJ Allmendinger Chevrolet 21 397 0 Running
25 51 Justin Allgaier Chevrolet 18 397 0 Running
26 27 Paul Menard Chevrolet 22 397 0 Running
27 3 Austin Dillon Chevrolet 12 397 0 Running
28 9 Sam Hornish Jr Ford 32 397 0 Running
29 14 Tony Stewart Chevrolet 10 396 0 Running
30 40 Landon Cassill Chevrolet 35 396 0 Running
31 16 Greg Biffle Ford 38 396 0 Running
32 78 Martin Truex Jr Chevrolet 16 394 0 Running
33 38 David Gilliland Ford 30 393 0 Running
34 26 J.J. Yeley Toyota 43 392 0 Running
35 34 Brett Moffitt Ford 37 391 0 Running
36 83 Matt DiBenedetto Toyota 33 390 0 Running
37 7 Alex Bowman Chevrolet 36 390 0 Running
38 35 Cole Whitt Ford 34 389 0 Running
39 23 Jeb Burton Toyota 41 387 0 Running
40 32 Jeffrey Earnhardt Ford 42 387 0 Running
41 98 Reed Sorenson Ford 40 335 0 Running
42 95 Michael McDowell Ford 39 287 0 Accident
43 46 Michael Annett Chevrolet 27 145 0 Accident

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