Kenseth Starts The Chase With A Bang

Matt Kenseth (20) battles Kyle Busch early during Sunday's GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. (HHP/Alan Marler Photo)
Matt Kenseth (20) battles Kyle Busch early during Sunday's GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. (HHP/Alan Marler Photo)
Matt Kenseth (20) battles Kyle Busch early during Sunday’s GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway. (HHP/Alan Marler Photo)

JOLIET, Ill. – Amid all the controversy following last Saturday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Virginia’s Richmond Int’l Raceway, it was all but forgotten that Matt Kenseth had assumed the championship lead for the start of the Chase.

After Sunday’s late-night affair at Chicagoland Speedway, everyone in the Chase knows exactly who the championship leader is.

Kenseth led the most laps and drove away from Kyle Busch in the closing laps to win Sunday’s GEICO 400 for his sixth Sprint Cup victory of the season, a career-best in a season for the Wisconsin native.

It was a long day for Kenseth and the rest of the Sprint Cup garage. The race got started Sunday afternoon after a lengthy rain delay pushed back the start of the 400-mile event. NASCAR officials were able to get the race started, but the rains returned at lap 108 and forced NASCAR to display the red flag.

NASCAR officials and the teams waited out the rain, resulting in a five hour and 10 minute red flag period. The red flag was finally lifted shortly before 9 p.m. local time and the race returned to green flag conditions on lap 117.

Once the green flag the action on track was intense, as several drivers took turns running at the front through pit strategy and several wild restarts. Busch was the race leader when Justin Allgaier, making his first Sprint Cup start, spun for the second time to bring out a caution flag on lap 240.

That allowed Kenseth, who was running second, to close the gap on his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate. Several drivers pitted during the caution, but the top nine drivers stayed out for what would turn out to be the final restart.

The field returned to green flag racing with 23 laps left. Kenseth, using a big push from Kevin Harvick on the inside, was able to take the lead away from Busch at the exit of turn two. Once out front, Kenseth was able to pull away from the field to a .749-second triumph.

“I thought with the conditions at night we were going to be off a little bit,” said Kenseth, who now holds an eight-point advantage over Busch in the championship standings. “Jason (Radcliff, crew chief) did it again and this whole team behind me, these guys are awesome.

“I’ve got to thank Kyle and Denny (Hamlin) as well, we had a really good test here last week and it really showed up today. Also (thanks to) Kevin for giving me that great push on that last restart.”

Busch said the push Kenseth received from Harvick on the final restart made all the difference.

“The 29 pushing him, that’s 1,600 horsepower versus 800. I just hate it man. We had a great car tonight,” Busch said. “We were really off yesterday but Dave Rogers (crew chief) and these guys really pulled through for me and gave me a great piece.

“Kurt (Busch) just didn’t get a good enough restart to get with me to push me forward to keep us side-by-side getting into one. They beat us, but it is a great night for Joe Gibbs Racing to start the Chase like this,” Busch said.

Harvick ended up third, followed by fellow Chasers Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson. Jeff Gordon overcame several issues, including a flat tire, to finish sixth. Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman filled the top 10.

Other Chase contenders finished 11th (Carl Edwards), 12th (Kasey Kahne), 16th (Greg Biffle), 35th (Dale Earnhardt Jr.) and 37th (Joey Logano). Both Earnhardt and Logano failed to finish the race after engine failures.