Matt Kenseth is marching into the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup playoffs in impressive style, winning three of the last six races and keeping the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota teams up front once again after taking the checkered flag Saturday night at the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond International Raceway.
Kenseth had the most impressive ride of the night, cruising for 352 laps as the leader in his JRG Dollar General Toyota. He survived a late race caution and when the green waved with only 18 laps remaining, Kenseth pulled away from fellow JGR teammate, Kyle Busch by .951 of a second to advance the 2003 Sprint Cup champion into the No. 3 position in the Chase with his fourth win of the year, second at Richmond, and 35th of this career.
“Man, these guys gave me a great car,” said a smiling Kenseth. “Thanks to [crew chief] Jason [Ratcliff] 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. I was disappointed to see that last caution. I knew it was going to be tough but we were able to get the jump to get out front. Great way to go into the Chase.”
Joey Logano finished third, followed by Aric Almirola in fourth, whose bid to get in the Chase fell 17 points shy with most popular driver, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. taking fifth in the finishing lineup.
Now the Chase field is set with drivers; Jamie McMurray, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, and Paul Menard are feeling a major relief getting in on points and will hold down 12th through 16th in the standings.
From the front, Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, and Matt Kenseth all have 2012 points getting an additional three points for each win from the starting base of 2000 per driver. Then, in fourth is Joey Logano with 2009 points. Fifth through eighth sees defending champion, Kevin Harvick, Dale Earnhardt, Jr, Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards with 2006 points. Ninth through 11th are Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex, Jr, and Denny Hamlin as the last drivers who entered with a single win starting with 2003 markers.
There are some interesting points going into the 2015 Chase for the Championship. Roush Fenway Racing wasn’t able to get a race car into the Chase for the first time in the organization’s long NASCAR history. Jeff Gordon qualified for his 11th Chase out of the last 12 years. Newman made it in again without a win for the second straight year.
Kevin Harvick had an outstanding start to the 2015 season, winning two early races at Las Vegas and Phoenix and since has been competitive, but is ready to reveal his Stewart-Haas Playoff package. As the defending Sprint Cup champion, all eyes are on him to perform again up to that level and are favored by many insiders despite the recent resurgence of Joe Gibbs Racing teams.
“I don’t know that we’re the team to beat,” said Harvick, grinning sheepishly. “But I know that we can beat anybody as we go through a week-to-week basis on any style racetrack. It’s just a matter of having the circumstances and things go your way.
“This deal is, it’s about having fast cars and not making mistakes. But there are going to be some things happen as we saw last year, circumstances you have to overcome, situations, people are going to gamble. It’s not about stats or what’s pretty or not pretty, it’s about three weeks and making it to making it to the next round, trying to get yourself in position for Homestead. It’s going to be fun and I know that we’ve had our backs against the wall and know how to deal with those situations. It’s a whole different ballgame now.”
The Federated Auto Parts 400 raced to an average speed of 100.353 mph. There were 13 lead changes among four drivers with six caution flags for 47 laps.
The next NASCAR Sprint Cup race kicks off the Chase’s Challenger Round at the Chicagoland Speedway for the running of the MyAFibRisk.com 400 on Sunday, September 20, at 2:30 p.m. EDT on NBCSN.