By AMANDA VINCENT
Matt Kenseth claimed his fifth win of the 2015 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series season and guaranteed advancement to the second round of the 10-round Chase for the Sprint Cup Sunday in the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. It was the fourth-straight win for Joe Gibbs Racing and the ninth for JGR in the last 11 races.
“The thing about rolls and momentum, it can stop at any given moment, so you have to enjoy it while it’s here. I’ve been enjoying driving the car and working for Coach (Joe Gibbs, team owner) and Jason (Ratcliff, crew chief) and this whole group. It’s been awesome, and I think we still have some more coming. It feels good.”
Denny Hamlin finished second to give Joe Gibbs Racing a one-two finish. Their teammate Carl Edwards overcame a penalty for his crew taking equipment out of the team pit stall to also finish in the top-five in fifth.
“We had a pretty good race, really,” Hamlin said. “I thought we had a top-five car pretty much most of the day. At best, I thought we were a second-place car, at worst, a fifth. We had everything kind of work out well there for us at the end.”
The remaining JGR driver, Kyle Busch, though, had a tire problem that resulted in hard contact with a retaining wall around lap 160. As a result, Busch wound up with a 37th-place finish.
Joey Logano finished third and Greg Biffle was fourth.
“We’ll take it,” Logano said. “It was a blue-collar day. It maybe wasn’t the fastest car and maybe not even a top-five car at times, but we did a good job working on it. Todd (Gordon, crew chief) made some great calls and had some great pit stops and executed the race as good as we can with the car we had.”
Kevin Harvick dominated the race, leading 216 laps of the 300 that made up the race. He was up front just before the white flag but ran out of fuel after staying out during the ninth and final caution of the race on lap 239.
Harvick took the race lead for the first time on lap 20 and led until losing several positions on pit road during a caution just before lap 200. While Harvick restearted seventh, Kenseth restarted with the lead.
For most of the laps Harvick led in the first two-thirds of the reace, Brad Keselowski ran second. Keselowski restarted behind Harvick in eighth on the restart around the 200-lap mark.
Keselowski and Harvick got up to third and fourth quickly after the restart. Harvick took the lead just before a lap 211 caution but gave up the lead to pit. Keselowski also pitted. Kenseth and Hamlin were among those who stayed out. Kenseth restarted in the top spot but lost the lead to Hamlin on lap 219.
Harvick and Keselowski, along with Biffle and others, stayed out during the final caution. Keselowski lined up second but was black-flagged for jumping the restart, even though he didn’t pass Biffle. He was able to remain on the lead lap and worked his way back up to 12th by the finish.
“I got the chance to do something again for the first time — the first person to ever be penalized for jumping a restart when I didn’t pass anyone, so that’s a new one,” Keselowski said. “But we moved on and we made the most of a good day with the Miller Lite Ford and got a solid finish that, hopefully, will make our Dover a little bit easier, so that was good.”
Harvick took the lead from Biffle with just under 50 laps to go. Soon after, Kenseth and Hamlin, on fresher tires, also got by Biffle for second and third. After the two JGR teammates battled each other for second, Kenseth took command of the position and closed in on Harvick.
Finishing sixth through 10th were Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman.
With a 21st-place finish added to his 42nd from a week ago at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., Harvick remains 15th in the standings, 23 points behind Dale Earnhardt Jr., who sits 12th, the final transfer spot for Chase elimination following next weekend’s race at Dover (Del.) International Speedway. Earnhardt also finished outside the top-20 in Loudon after running out of fuel in the closing laps.
Clint Bowyer, with a 25 points penalty from Chicagoland, is in the Chase basement in 16th, 39 points outside the top-12.
Kenseth and Hamlin, who are already guaranteed to advance, are tops in the points standings, with Kenseth the leader and Hamlin six points back. Edwards is still third in points, while Busch, formerly tied with Edwards in third, dropped to 13th in the standings.
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