Kenseth wins ‘Chase’ opener
JOLIET, Ill.—Matt Kenseth pulled away from teammate Kyle Busch to win the opening race in the Chase for Sprint Cup championship yesterday.
The steely win by the top seed in the “Chase” helped restore a sense of normalcy at the end of a week that saw NASCAR fighting the biggest credibility crisis in its history.
The ensuing scandal has raised questions about NASCAR’s integrity that winning team owner Joe Gibbs said he’s seen before in sports.
“I’ve seen things like that happen on the NFL side,” noted Gibbs, a three-time Super Bowl winning coach with the Washington Redskins.
“We tried to do the best we could in handling it, and hopefully we’ve got this behind us with the race,” he noted.
“We all love our sport and nobody wants anything that would hurt or harm it or disappoint people.”
Kenseth slid into Chicago under the radar as all the attention centered squarely on NASCAR’s investigation into the schemes of at least three teams to alter the outcome of the previous week.
It led to severe sanctions against Michael Waltrip Racing, and Martin Truex Jr. was replaced by Ryan Newman in the “Chase” field.
NASCAR continued to review incidents long after cars began to practice for yesterday’s race. First, chairman Brian France took the unprecedented step of expanding the field to 13 drivers to add Jeff Gordon.
France then held an ethics meeting for teams on the eve of the opening race to outline new “rules of the road,” demanding drivers give 100 percent going forward and banning any attempts to artificially affect the outcome of races.
Kenseth said he was eager to help NASCAR move on.
“I think the important thing is it’s behind us,” he remarked. “I think it’s pretty clear what everybody expects and the things we should do or not do, though a lot of that is pretty obvious, anyway.
“Hopefully we can move on because I think it’s been a tough week—not only for some of the teams involved, but I think it’s also been a tough week for NASCAR.”
A strong opener to the 10-race “Chase” would have gone a long way, but rain made it a difficult day.
The start was delayed by mist for almost 90 minutes. Once the race did go off, it made it almost to the halfway point before the sky opened up again.
In all, there were two stoppages totalling six hours, 30 minutes and Kenseth didn’t cross the finish line until early this morning.
But it was worth the wait when he passed Busch on a restart with 27 laps to go—in part because of a push from Kevin Harvick—then led Busch across the finish line for a 1-2 finish for Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota.
He’ll take an eight-point lead over Busch into this weekend’s race at New Hampshire.
That’s bad news for the rest of the field. JGR drivers have won six of the seven races so far this season on 1.5-mile tracks, and four of the nine remaining races in the “Chase” are tracks covering the same distance.
Harvick finished third, Kurt Busch was fourth, and teammates Jimmie Johnson and Gordon were fourth and fifth as Chevrolet took spots three through six and “Chase” drivers swept the top six spots.
Defending series champion Brad Keselowski, who failed to qualify for the “Chase” this year, was seventh. Keselowski was the defending race winner.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. was eighth.
Clint Bowyer, the driver who first triggered all the trouble last week at Richmond when he spun with seven laps to go in an effort to help teammate Truex make the Chase, finished ninth.
Newman was 10th, followed by Carl Edwards in 11th and Kasey Kahne 12th.
“Chase” driver Greg Biffle was 16th.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. (35th) and Joey Logano (37th) had the worst nights of the “Chase” drivers as both failed to finish because of engine issues.