Kasey Kahne wrecked and finished 37th at New Hampshire and finds himself last in the Chase, 71 points behind the leader Matt Kenseth (photo courtesy: Todd Warshaw, GETTY IMAGES SPORT)
Matt Kenseth won his first race at New Hampshire on Sunday, holding off his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch for the second consecutive week. In the process, Kenseth earned a 14-point lead in the points standings over Kyle Busch.
Kenseth followed his win in the Chase For The Sprint Cup championship opener at Chicagoland with his series-high seventh victory of the season. The Chase For The NASCAR Sprint Cup will culminate at Homestead-Miami Speedway Nov. 17.
''For me to win at Loudon, it's more than a stretch, more than a dream,'' Kenseth said. ''This is probably one of my worst places. This just shows you how good this team is.''
The race at New Hampshire marked Kenseth’s 31st career Sprint Cup victory and came in his 500th series start. The only other driver in NASCAR history to win in his 500th career start was “The King” Richard Petty in 1970.
This is the third time a driver has won the first two races in the Chase For The Sprint Cup. Tony Stewart did it in 2011 and Greg Biffle did it in 2008. Stewart went on to win the title at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Chase drivers filled six of the top 10 spots. Biffle was third and Jimmie Johnson fourth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was sixth and Carl Edwards ninth.
Earnhardt, Jr. sits 11th in the Chase standings.
“Glad we were able to get a decent finish out of it,” said Earnhardt Jr. “Just want to win one, I’m trying hard.”
JGR, with Busch, in the past has dominated the regular season, but dropped off considerably once the Chase began. Now they've carried over their success into the Chase and are a credible 1-2 threat to win its first Sprint Cup title.
''There's somebody faster so it doesn't matter how fast I am,'' Busch said. ''
Kenseth has obliterated his season best for wins. His previous high was five in 2002 and Kenseth won only once in 2003 when he won the Cup championship.
Kenseth’s dominance has served notice to the rest of the Chase field. Only two drivers - teammate Kyle Busch and Johnson - are within 35 points of the lead after two races. Last year, 11 drivers were within 35 points of the lead at this time.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Dover where Kenseth has recorded 10 top-five finishes in his last 15 starts. The series then goes to Kansas Speedway where Kenseth has won the last two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races.
''It's been a great start for JGR,'' Kenseth said. ''I just feel like the luckiest guy in the world to be standing here.''
Chase drivers took spots 13-17: Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer. Kevin Harvick was 20th and Kasey Kahne slammed the inside wall with 48 laps left and was 37th.
Next up for the Sprint Cup drivers is the third race of the Chase at Dover on Sunday, September 29 (1:00 p.m. EDT, ESPN, MRN, Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 90)—Race 28 of 36 en route to Ford Championship Weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Nov. 15-17).