LOUDON, N.H. – There were two overriding themes following the first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Chase for the Championship event on Sept. 20 at Chicagoland Speedway: Jubilation for Joe Gibbs Racing and disaster for Kevin Harvick.
When the checkered flag flew Sunday on the second Chase event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway it proved very familiar theater.
Kevin Harvick looked ready to put the disaster of a crash at Chicagoland behind him Sunday, but the reigning Sprint Cup Series champion ran out of fuel while leading with less than three laps remaining in Sunday’s Sylvania 300, handing victory to Matt Kenseth.
It was the second Chase win for the Joe Gibbs Racing stable. Kenseth’s teammate Denny Hamlin won at Chicagoland. The victory locked Kenseth in to the second round of the NASCAR playoffs, along with Hamlin.
“I thought about a little bit today,” said Kenseth, who celebrated his fifth win of the season. “We were running second to [Harvick] and third behind [Hamlin] and I was like ‘Well, it’s the first round [of the Chase] if you get all top-10’s you’re going to advance.’ Then I was like ‘Man, forget that, you’ve got to work and try to catch him and beat him, these things are just too hard to win.”
Hamlin was second Sunday and Middletown native Joey Logano third.
The 16-driver Chase field will be cut two 12 drivers following next week’s event Dover International Speedway.
And Harvick’s second hard luck day in the Chase leaves him likely needing a victory at Dover to advance to the second round of the four round playoff style format.
In 29 career Sprint Cup starts at Dover, Harvick has never won and has only four top-five finishes. He was second at Dover in the division’s first visit of the season to the track in May. Harvick, who 15th of 16 in the Chase field, had no comment after Sunday’s event.
Harvick led 216 of 300 laps at NHMS, but on lap 298 his car sputtered and slowed and Kenseth went cruising by to the lead. Harvick dashed to the pits and ended up 21st in the field, a lap down from Kenseth.
Hamlin reveled in putting Harvick one step closer to elimination from the Chase field. Harvick led the standings for most of the season before the start of the Chase. While Harvick tried to save fuel on the late run, Kenseth and Hamlin pressured him from behind.
“We put some pressure on [Harvick] to make him try to run as hard as possible because we knew he was close [on having enough fuel to finish],” Hamlin said. “Overall, it was a good day for the company. … We’ve just really been on a roll here lately. Just getting good finishes and everything is kind of clicking.”
Kenseth, Hamlin and Edwards now sit 1-2-3 in the standings respectively.
While Joe Gibbs Racing celebrated, putting three cars in the top-five at NHMS – Carl Edwards was fifth – there was big negative on the day for the team. Kyle Busch, considered a favorite in the playoffs, crashed on lap 159 after a flat tire and was 37th. Busch fell nine spots in the standings to 13th.
“It’s thrill for us to have two cars [advancing to the next round,” team owner Joe Gibbs said. “W just need to focus next week on [Edwards] and [Busch].”
Logano, who was one of the final four drivers competing for the title on Championship Day last season, gained two spots in the standings to move to fourth on Sunday.
“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.”