The second race of the Challenger round of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase to the Championship saw Matt Kenseth punch his ticket by winning the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but only after witnessing a fading Kevin Harvick go by the wayside with three laps to go.
As the defending series champion, Harvick finds himself in a deeper hole now 23 points out of the top 12 in 15th position. He appeared to be heading for the win in New Hampshire, ruling the mile oval for 216 of the 300 laps, but in trying to stretch his fuel mileage after taking advantage of track position when others pitted on lap 239, all seemed to come his way until lap 297 when he fell back, finishing 21st.
Harvick declined comment after the race, came to pit road for the last time on Lap 212 and couldn’t squeeze the last 88 laps out of his gas tank. That leaves Dover next week at a track he has never won on in 29 previous Sprint Cup starts to reverse his dilemma.
Kenseth, who is quite familiar with fuel strategy, took the win for the fifth time in 2015, and his 36th of his career, but had his doubts when crew chief, Jason Ratcliff called him to the pits knowing how critical track position was on the tight oval.
“Jason kept saying he [Harvick] was low on fuel, but you never know unless they really run out,” Kenseth said. “I was trying to run hard, but I was trying to save a little bit. I got racing Denny [Hamlin] pretty hard, and I wanted to save the tires a little bit, but I also know I needed to get by him to pressure the 4 [Harvick].
“That was as hard as I could run. I was planning on running up there and trying to pass him. I just couldn’t get there. Kind of resigned to finish second with about four or five [laps] to go there. I couldn’t get much closer, and he ran out with a couple to go. We had a great car today – Kevin definitely had the field covered and Jason [Ratcliff] did a great job on pit strategy, 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.”
The victory was the 13th of the season for Joe Gibbs Racing, which has won 10 of the last 13 Sprint Cup events.
Hamlin was second, Joey Logano ran third, followed by Greg Biffle, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman rounding out the top 10. In addition, Gordon set the NASCAR Ironman record with most consecutive starts on Sunday at 789, surpassing Ricky Rudd’s mark.
Another top contender, Kyle Busch, blew a right front tire pounding the Turn 3 wall on lap 159, crediting him with a 37th-place finish as being Harvick’s main competition in the early stages.
With Kyle Busch’s incident, it now places him in a precarious tie with Paul Menard in 13th in the Sprint Cup points standings and one point away from Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (12th) and two away from Jamie McMurray (11th). Harvick is 23 down, and Clint Bowyer trails at 39 points behind.
The average speed for the Sylvania 300 was 106.480 mph, slowed by nine caution flags for 41 laps. There were 16 lead changes among seven drivers.
The next NASCAR Sprint Cup series event is Sunday, October 4 at Dover International Speedway for the running of the AAA 400 starting at 2 p.m. EDT on NBCSN.