|Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images|
In a race that saw many of the usual suspects go into hiding in the closing laps, Matt Kenseth battled to the front of the field from the 18th starting position and pulled away after a late restart to win Sunday's New Hampshire 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Winning for the second time this season and for the third time at the Magic Mile, Kenseth crossed the finish line 1.982 seconds ahead of Tony Stewart, who solidified his position in the top 30 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings – and therefore in the Chase – with the runner-up finish.
"You're always pleased to be in Victory Lane," said the 44-year-old Kenseth, who won for the second straight time at the 1.058-mile flat track and for the 38th time in his career. "The farther down the road you get, the better they feel for sure. Thanks to everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing – I've said it a million times, but I'm blessed with this opportunity to be over here with the guys I get to work with…
"(Crew chief) Jason (Ratcliff) and the team made great, great adjustments today. I didn't do a very good job qualifying (18th), (but) after round one (of pit stops) today, it was pretty much money. We just had to get there. It was a fun day."
Kenseth, who recovered from an early glitch on pit road after his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota was blocked in its stall, took the lead from Kyle Busch on Lap 271 of 301 and held it the rest of the way, despite three subsequent cautions and restarts.
"Every restart you're just hoping not to mess up and spin the tires too bad," Kenseth said. "Thankfully, we had good ones, and we had great power, and we had good traction, and we were able to get going pretty good in a straight line.
"And then, after a couple laps, we were able to roll the middle and get away."
Joey Logano took third place by .019 seconds in a drag race against Kevin Harvick. Greg Biffle ran fifth followed by Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.
|Martin Truex, Jr. led 123 laps, but ended up 16th with a broken shifter|
|Jonathan Moore/Getty Images|
That cast of characters didn't include Martin Truex Jr., who led 123 laps before breaking his shifter and losing the clutch, keeping his No. 78 Toyota stuck in fourth gear.
It didn't include pole winner Jimmie Johnson, who repeatedly lost ground on restarts and came home 12th. It didn't include Kurt Busch, who ran in the top five most of the afternoon but ultimately was knocked out by contact from the No. 88 Chevrolet of Alex Bowman, who finished 26th in a substitute role for ailing Dale Earnhardt Jr.
It didn't include 2014 New Hampshire winner Brad Keselowski, who, like Kurt Busch, had a contending car for most of the day but cut a tire in a late four-car wreck that caused his two-race winning streak end in a 15th-place finish. It didn't include Carl Edwards, whose No. 19 Toyota was damaged in the four-car Lap 285 chain-reaction wreck that caused the seventh and final caution.
And even though Kyle Busch held eighth place in the late going, his finish was disappointing. Busch led a race-high 133 laps and restarted third with 11 laps left, but lost ground in a fight for fifth with Biffle and dropped two more spots thereafter.
Stewart, however, was delighted with the effort of his team. He and first-year crew chief Mike Bugarewicz exchanged texts dealing with setup notes on Saturday night, after Stewart flew to Ohio to oversee the Kings Royal sprint car race at Eldora Speedway, which he owns.
When he returned to Loudon for Sunday's race, his No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet was markedly better than it had been in Saturday's two practice sessions.
"Yeah, we had a much better Haas Automation Chevy today than what we had yesterday," said Stewart, who is now 67 points ahead of 31st-place Brian Scott. "Buga (Bugarewicz) did a really good job. I went off and went to Eldora for the Kings Royal last night.
"He kept sending me a couple of texts. He was working as late here as I was working late at Eldora. It really paid off. He's doing such a great job for a rookie crew chief that only has half a season. He's got veteran calls and veteran moves."
Getting his opportunity to drive the No. 88 Chevy when Earnhardt was sidelined with concussion-like symptoms, Bowman had a top-10 run going until contact with Edwards' Toyota on pit road started tire issues that culminated in Bowman sliding into Kurt Busch's car in Turn 3 on Lap 271.
The right front tire went completely flat on the frontstretch, sending Bowman into the outside wall. Though the accident knocked the speed out of the car, Bowman was able to stay on the lead lap.
The spate of late cautions also gave Logano a chance to move forward.
"I'll take a third place after all that," Logano said. "We were awful at the beginning of the race. We tried some new things, and apparently they didn't work, so we aborted the mission in the middle of the race and got some speed back in the 22 – but not enough to beat the 20."
MATT KENSETH, No. 20 Dollar General Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
Finishing Position: 1st
How does it feel to be back in victory lane?
"You're always pleased to be in victory lane. The farther down the road you get, the better they feel for sure. Thanks to everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing – I've said it a million times, but I'm blessed with this opportunity to be over here with the guys I get to work with and my great sponsors – Dollar General and of course can't do it without Toyota, TRD (Toyota Racing Development), Interstate Batteries, WileyX, Gatorade. Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and the team over there made great, great adjustments today. I didn't do a very good job qualifying and after round one today it was pretty much money, we just had to get there. It was a fun day."
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]How were you able to recover from getting blocked in on pit road?
"That was my bad, I slid a little deep into the stall and I knew Clint (Bowyer) was coming in there late. Luckily, we had a good car to make up for it."
With three wins at NHMS, are you becoming the ‘king' of this race track?
"I don't know about that, it's a testament to these guys standing behind me. This has never been one of my good tracks, but Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) has a great setup here and I have great teammates. Certainly when I first got here, Kyle (Busch) and Denny (Hamlin) taught me a lot about this place that I applied every lap today. Just fortunate guy to be driving this thing, when they drive this good it definitely makes my job a lot easier."
What was the biggest challenge today?
"Probably the toughest part to be patient was when I was around second behind Martin (Truex Jr.), I could see that he was burning rear tires and I really wanted to go past him, but I needed to be a little bit patient. It was hard to be back there for 20 laps or so until he slipped enough to where I could get by him. Other than that, just tried to take what it would give us and go from there."
How challenging were the multiple restarts at the end of the race?
"Every restart you're just hoping not to mess up and spin the tires too bad. Thankfully, we had good ones and we had great power and we had good traction and we were able to get going pretty good in a straight line and then after a couple laps we were able to roll the middle and get away. These guys did a great job, I had an easy job today – these guys got it done for me."
JASON RATCLIFF, crew chief, No. 20 Dollar General Toyota Camry, Joe Gibbs Racing
How were you able to capitalize today and get to victory lane?
We knew we had a long way to come, we didn't qualify where we hoped we would and at the start of the race he (Matt Kenseth) just couldn't make any ground up and I don't know if it was just the race track being cleaned off from the rain. Once we got the first set of tires on it, we felt like from practice yesterday that four tires would be an advantage and we knew that most of the day we would try to keep four on it. Even though a lot of guys took two, on the first stop we felt like we needed four even with where we were at. And the car just came to life after that. We didn't have to make a lot of adjustments the rest of the day, just kept moving forward and cautions came our way, picture perfect day. I love this place.
How important is this win at a track that the series will visit again for the second round of the Chase?
This has been two out of the last three years, this has been the track we come to and we advance to the next round because we win here. This has been a good place for us and we have to keep working on it, everyone else is going to keep working on it. It's not like we'll come here and run the same setup, but it's a track that between the team and Matt, we're pretty fond of and we seem to have a handle on it regardless of what car they bring or regardless of the track conditions. We have a few months to think about it, but we'll be better next time.
TONY STEWART, NO. 14 HAAS AUTOMATION CHEVROLET SS – FINISHED 2ND
WHATEVER CHANGES YOUR CREW CHIEF MADE OVERNIGHT IT SEEMED LIKE THEY WORKED:
Yeah we had a much better Haas Automation Chevy today than what we had yesterday. Buga (Mike Bugarewicz, crew chief) did a really good job. I went off and went to Eldora for the King's Royal last night. He kept sending me a couple of texts. He was working as late here as I was working late at Eldora. It really paid off. He is doing such a great job for a rookie crew chief that only has half a season he has got veteran calls and veteran moves. Really proud of him, proud of this whole team, Mobil 1, Bass Pro, Code 3 Associates, Rush Truck Centers. I think our partners are as excited about all this as I am which is making it fun. They are as much a part of the team as anybody, Rusty (Rush), Eric and Dan and everybody at Mobil 1 and Johnny Morris at Bass Pro we are loving it. Chevrolet most of all. They have been a great partner my entire career with GM, Pontiac and Chevrolet. I'm proud to be running my last year in a Chevy.
HOW MUCH CONFIDENCE DOES THIS GIVE YOU?
I like it. The hardest part about it honestly is just the restarts. You've got two lanes of cars going into Turn 1 that are all fighting for one lane. As much as Kentucky last week we had tires that weren't very easy to race on this is probably the best tire I think Goodyear has ever brought to Loudon. I mean you could run all over the race track during the day. They are working hard at it and they are getting better, so just keep plugging away with those guys. But, I'm happy I mean this is the kind of day we wanted here and we are getting close.
ON HIS DAY:
It was fun. The hardest part of the restarts was just which line you were in. If you were on the bottom you were at a huge disadvantage. You needed to be on that top line and needed to be able to hold them down when they got there. We restarted sixth on the outside that last time and that really was the key to getting us up where we were at the end.
WITH THE EXCEPTION OF DAYTONA YOUR AVERAGE FINISH OVER THE LAST FIVE RACES WOULD BE FOURTH. WHAT DOES THAT SAY ABOUT YOU AND THE TEAM?
I like that stat. I feel like we are getting better each week now. Buga (Mike Bugarewicz, crew chief) is doing a great job on the box. You can see the confidence not only in him, but all the guys on the team. Our Chevy's are fast right now. I feel like we are gaining on it. What we said, I don't know when we said it, we were talking about you crawl before you walk, walk before you run, run before you jog and job before you sprint. We are definitely running right now. I feel like we are getting pretty close to this sprint at the end.
|10||17||Ricky Stenhouse Jr||Ford||22||301||0||Running|
|16||78||Martin Truex Jr||Toyota||3||301||123||Running|
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