GOOD SIGN FOR KENSETH
Five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson overcame two pit crew miscues to finish fifth at Chicagoland Speedway (photo courtesy: Sean Gardner, GETTY IMAGES SPORT)
Matt Kenseth won his first race at Chicagoland Speedway on Sunday, holding off Kyle Busch following a late restart in the GEICO 400. Kenseth held off Kyle Busch by 0.749 seconds to earn an eight-point lead in the championship points standings over his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate.
“I had a good car, great pit stops and great strategy. Then we had that restart at the end and got that push from Kevin that put us out front where we really needed to be,” said Kenseth.
Joe Gibbs racing teammate Kyle Busch missed out on the triple-header sweep after winning Friday night’s Camping World Truck Series race and Saturday’s Nationwide Series race. Hendrick Motorsports teammates Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon finished fifth and sixth, respectively, as Chase drivers claimed the top six spots in the finishing order and 10 of the first 12.
The past two winners at Chicagoland Speedway have gone on to win the Chase For The Sprint Cup. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17.
“It’s a record win for me, and I’m the same driver. It’s all about you guys; you make me look good every week,” Kenseth told his crew after he posted a career-best sixth victory of the season. “Thanks guys. That was fun.”
For Kenseth, who has won at four of the intermediate tracks earlier this season and faces four additional mile-and-a-halves in the next nine races – including Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17 – the No. 20 team has to be considered a top contender for his second Sprint Cup.
His teammate Kyle Busch is a believer.
“Matt is really, really good at mile-and-a-half racing,” Busch said. “He is fast. He’s won a lot of them this year.”
In 2011, Tony Stewart won the first race of the Chase and vaulted to the title. The same can be said of Brad Keselowski last year. But does Kenseth believe that winning Chicagoland is a precursor to the title?
“No,” Kenseth said with a laugh. “It matters. Every single point, every position is equal from here until the last lap at Homestead. You want to get as many points as you can get each and every week, and we did a great job of that this weekend.
Johnson had two pit crew miscues, the first under green-flag stops when his right rear tire changer missed a right rear lugnut, forcing Johnson to have a 17.7-second stop. The crew experienced a 24-second stop on Lap 149 after the jack broke in the middle of pit service. Although Johnson restarted 22nd, by Lap 207 he was back to fifth, where he finished.
Kurt Busch continued to impress as he came home in fourth position and now moves to sixth in the standings with nine races to go in the Chase for the championship. Johnson is third in points in his quest for a sixth NASCAR Sprint Cup Series title, while Gordon moved up to seventh after being added to the Chase field on Friday at Chicagoland Speedway after NASCAR ruled to include the No. 24 team as the 13th contender in this season’s Chase field.
“The next to the last run, we got ourselves right back in the thick of things,” said Johnson. “And unfortunately, just didn’t have the speed at the end there, for that final segment to go race for the end. But, from a jack failing to a call on pit road for a lugnut that was not supposedly on, and a variety of issues, it was a great comeback.”
Greg Biffle never recovered from running over an air hose in his pits on Lap 149. After serving a “tail end of the field penalty,” Biffle restarted 31st. He climbed back to 16th and dropped to 11th in the points standings.
“That was a rough night,” Biffle said. “We had major issues in the pits. I don’t know what happened.”
Next up for the Sprint Cup drivers is the second race of the Chase at New Hampshire on Sunday, September 22 (1:00 p.m. EDT, ESPN, Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 90)—Race 27 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 15-17). The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17.