For the second time this season and third time in his career, Matt Kenseth ended up in victory lane at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, also known as “The Magic Mile,” winning the New Hampshire 301 and getting one big lobster as a reward.
The No. 20 car only led 38 laps in the 301-lap affair from Loudon, N.H. on Sunday afternoon. He was even boxed into his pit stall at one point early in the race and lost a handful of spots. However, on lap 271, he took the lead from his teammate Kyle Busch, who dominated and led 133 laps, and survived three late race restarts to earn his 38th career victory. Oh, and I might have predicted that he would win this weekend.
“You’re always pleased to be in victory lane,” Kenseth told NBCSN. “The farther down the road you get, the better they feel for sure […] 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 (he started 18th). After round one [of pit stops] today, it was pretty much money. We just had to get there. It was a fun day.”
However, after the race, it was announced by NASCAR that the No. 20 car failed post-race inspection at the LIS (laser inspection station). The car will travel to the NASCAR R&D center in North Carolina for further evaluation. The win stands, and any penalties for the team will most likely be announced next week. Joe Gibbs Racing has now won 50 percent of the races this season (Busch with three, Edwards and Kenseth with two apiece and Hamlin with one).
Tony Stewart came home second, cementing his place in the top 30 in the points standings, where he needs to be to qualify for the Chase. He sits 28th in the standings now.
“[Crew chief Mike 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,” Stewart told NBCSN. “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.”
Joey Logano came home in third place, Kevin Harvick in fourth and Greg Biffle in fifth. However, Harvick, who led over 100 laps in each of the last three races at NHMS, never got a chance to contend for the win due to multiple slow pit stops, which left him disgruntled after the race. When asked if he could do anything to fix the slow stops, he told NBCSN that the changes are “really going to have to come from the top. There’s no way we can win a championship like this unless we straighten some of this stuff out.”
Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Hamlin and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rounded out the top ten when the checkered flag flew. Ryan Blaney rebounded from a pit road speeding penalty to finish 11th, polesitter Jimmie Johnson finished 12th after falling back late on restarts, Austin Dillon 13th, Danica Patrick 14th and Brad Keselowski 15th after cutting a tire late.
Martin Truex Jr. was the other dominant car on Sunday in New England, leading 123 laps yet coming home 16th after his shifter broke off as well as his clutch. The No. 78 was stuck in fourth gear, stacking up some restarts and forcing him to fall back through the field in a hurry. However, Truex Jr. found positives despite more bad luck.
“The pit crew was outstanding today, best they’ve been all year by far,” Truex Jr. told NBCSN. “We’re doing everything right, we’re just taking some on the chin here, but this isn’t when it counts so we’ll just keep our head up, keep working hard. Our race cars are fast, and everybody is doing a great job.”
Some other notable finishers include Kyle Larson in 17th, Carl Edwards in 20th, Kurt Busch in 22nd and Kasey Kahne in 25th after all were involved in accidents late in the race. Alex Bowman, who took over the No. 88 for this weekend as Dale Earnhardt Jr. was sidelined with concussion-like symptoms, finished 26th after cutting a tire late in the race. His teammate and rookie Chase Elliott had the same issue on the same lap and finished in 36th.
Harvick maintained the points lead over Keselowski by 14 points. Next weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to the famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Brickyard 400 on Sunday afternoon, which was won by Kyle Busch last season.