Matt Kenseth wins at New Hampshire
Matt Kenseth (photo courtesy of Getty Images)
By AMANDA VINCENT
Matt Kenseth took the checkered flag in the New Hampshire 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon on Sunday to claim his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win of 2016. After starting the race from the 18th position, he took his first lead of the 301-lap race with 43 laps remaining and led all but five laps over the course of the remaining distance.
“You’re always pleased to be in victory lane,” Kenseth said. “The farther down the road you get, the better they feel, for sure. Thanks to everybody at Joe Gibbs Racing. I’ve said it a million times, but I’m blessed with this opportunity to be over here with the guys I get to work with and my great sponsors.”
The other five laps were led by Denny Hamlin when he inherited the top spot by staying out during a lap-264 debris caution. Kenseth retook the lead after a physical battle with Hamlin that followed the restart. Hamlin lost several more positions and pitted for a tire rub when the yellow flag waved for a Kurt Busch tire issue on lap 281.
Tony Stewart finished second after getting by Joey Logano in the final five laps. Logano then fell into the clutches of Kevin Harvick, but was able to hold him off to take third. Harvick finished fourth, and Greg Biffle rounded out the top-five.
“It’s funny; seemed like Tony and I — we fell backwards together,” Logano said. “We started driving through the field together. We were around each other all day and never thought the two of us would be racing for second at the end of the race like that. Overall, proud of the effort the team put in — never quit attitude. It really paid off today.”
Before Kenseth took the lead, Kyle Busch and Martin Truex Jr. combined to lead nearly all the laps, to that point. Prior to Kenseth getting up front, the only lap leaders other than Busch and Truex were Jimmie Johnson and Brad Keselowski, and they led one lap apiece. Johnson led the first lap after staring on the pole, and Keselowski led lap 184 during a cycle of green-flag pit stops.
The combined two laps led by Johnson and Kenseth were the only two laps not led by a Toyota
Busch led a race-high 133 laps, while Truex was credited with 123 laps led, but both drivers struggled late. Truex wound up outside the top-10 at the checkered flag, finishing 16th after suffering from shifter and clutch issues.
Busch got up to second on the restart that followed a lap 273 yellow flag and was second on the next restart a few laps later. He fell back to third by the time the yellow flag waved for the final time on lap 285, though, and then lost several more positions during the final green-flag run to the finish. But, unlike Truex, Busch managed to remain inside the top-10, finishing eighth.
Jamie McMurray finished sixth, Ryan Newman was seventh, Hamlin ninth, and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. rounded out the top-10.
Alex Bowman, subbing for the sidelined Dale Earnhardt Jr., got the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet into the top-10 of the running order by a restart after lap 220 and ran inside or near the top-20 until he blew a tire and wound up hitting the wall on lap 273. He was credited with a 26th-place finish.
Simultaneously to Bowman’s wreck, Hendrick Motorsports teammate Chase Elliott also wrecked.
The caution for Bowman and Elliott’s wrecks were one of five cautions that littered the final third of the race. The yellow flag waved only twice in the first 200 laps, with one of those cautions being a competition caution on lap 36, planned by NASCAR pre-race because of rain that washed the track earlier in the day. After twp-thirds of mostly green-flag racing, five cautions marred the final 100 laps. The yellow flag waved four times within the final 50 laps.
“Every restart, you’re just hoping not to mess up and spin the tires too bad,” Kenseth said. “Thankfully we had good ones, and we had great power, and we had good traction, and we were able to get going pretty good in a straight line and then after a couple laps, we were able to roll the middle and get away.”