Kenseth Wins After Harvick’s Misfortune

Kevin Harvick and the No. 4 team’s backs were against the wall.  Last time they were in this position, they responded with a dominating win at Phoenix.

This time, they dominated again, but didn’t get the all important win.  That belonged to Matt Kenseth, who grabbed his fifth win of the season (leads all drivers this season), capitalizing on the defending champion’s misfortune and bringing his No. 20 car to victory lane, the fourth straight weekend a Joe Gibbs Racing car ended up P1.

After leading 213 of 300 laps in Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Harvick ran out of fuel with three laps remaining, forcing him to pit for a splash of fuel, and finish 21st, seeing a top five slip away and his possible chances of a repeat championship season dwindle by the wayside.  He didn’t take any interviews after the race, and neither did his Crew Chief Rodney Childers, but on Twitter, Harvick seemed disappointed, yet confident.

Childers also explained what happened from his point of view:

Harvick wasn’t the only Chase driver that experienced some misfortune this weekend.  Kyle Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kurt Busch also had their dreams of a championship take a hit, Kyle Busch especially.  Early in the race, lap 159, Busch blew a tire and hit the wall.  The damage forced the No. 18 team to go behind the wall, and ended up finishing 37th.  He now sits 13th in the standings, a mere one point behind the 12th place cutoff.  Earnhardt Jr. and Kurt Busch both ran out of fuel when Harvick did, forcing them to 25th and 19th place finishes respectively.

But back to the race winner for a second, Kenseth, who was overshadowed by the drama that occurred in the last 10 or so laps.  He clinched his spot in the next round of the Chase, and at 43 years old, he looks primed for his second career Sprint Cup championship.

“We had a great car today — Kevin definitely had the field covered and Jason [Ratcliff] did a great job on pit strategy there, and those new tires paid off better than we thought to get up through the field.  And I was able to keep the pressure on enough and he came up a little short,” Kenseth said in his post-race interview.

The No. 20 team joins their teammate, the No. 11 team of Denny Hamlin, with automatic bids into the next round of the Chase.

As for the other drivers in the Chase, here’s how they fared this weekend.  Hamlin, Joey Logano and Carl Edwards finished second, third and fifth respectively.  Jimmie Johnson (overcame a flat tire towards the midpoint of the race), Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex Jr. finished sixth, seventh and eighth respectively.  Ryan Newman finished 10th, Brad Keselowski 12th (was penalized for a late-race restart which we will talk about later), Jamie McMurray 14th and Paul Menard 15th.

Clint Bowyer also finished 26th, as the disappointing end to MWR seems to be coming to a close.

Greg Biffle gambled to stay out and stretch his fuel mileage, and ended up fourth, grabbing his third top-five of the season and bringing a bright spot to the RFR brigade in the NSCS.

Speaking of fuel mileage, Harvick’s last pit stop, along with Earnhardt Jr. and Busch who also ran out, came on lap 212.  As aforementioned in Childers’ tweet, something must have been wrong with their fuel cell, or the Chevrolet’s, because Biffle, who pitted six laps before Harvick, was able to make it to the end of the race.

Regardless, another pivotal moment in the race came on lap 242, when Biffle was leading the race and was the control car on the restart.  Keselowski seemed to get inches ahead of the No. 16 car, but never completed the pass.  Long story short, the No. 2 was penalized for a restart violation and had to serve a pass through penalty.

Keselowski was not happy about it, saying that “it’s an entertainment sport, not a fair sport,” when interviewed after the race.  I’m sure as the week goes on, NASCAR will give some clarity as to why Keselowski was penalized when he didn’t even pass the leader on the restart.  Nonetheless, he is in good position to advance to the next round.

If Dover ended today, Kyle Busch (-1), Paul Menard (-10), Kevin Harvick (-22) and Clint Bowyer (-39) would be eliminated.  And Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jamie McMurray are right on the cusp.  Anything can happen, and it will, as we’ve seen.

Dover International Speedway will host the final race of the challenger round next weekend.  Don’t count out anybody, especially Harvick.  He showed he can dominate when his back is against the wall, but let’s see if he can finish the deal.