In a repeat of a week prior, Matt Kenseth powered his way to victory in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway Sunday. Kenseth, who won the first race of the Chase the previous week at Chicagoland took the lead on lap 152 of 300 and took control to score his seventh win of the season.
For the second week, Kenseth’s teammate Kyle Busch finished second, marking the first time in the history on NASCAR’s Chase that a team has finished first and second. Several other Chase contenders
Greg Biffle finished third, Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray fourth and fifth.
Polesitter Ryan Newman shot to the lead on the start but held it for only three laps before Kasey Kahne slid underneath to take the point; Jeff Gordon followed by Newman shortly after. Newman continued to drop backwards while Kahne began to stretch his lead out up front.
Josh Wise spun on lap 31 just as NASCAR was getting ready to throw a competition caution thanks to overnight rain showers. Everyone hit pit road lead by Kahne. Kahne won the race off pit road while Gordon who had come in second, lost several spots as he tried to avoid contact with David Ragan who was entering his stall as Gordon was leaving; Gordon restarted sixth. Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the biggest loser has he was forced back in for loose lug nuts; he restarted in 30th.
On the restart on lap 35, Truex in second shot past Kahne to take the lead with Newman in the third. Two laps later the second caution of the day came out when Jamie McMurray got spun by his teammate Juan Pablo Montoya exiting turn 4; Kevin Swindell saw his Sprint Cup debut end when he hit McMurray’s stopped Chevy. McMurray was able to continue; Swindell was forced to the garage and he returned many laps down.
Truex went back to the lead on the restart and moved ahead while the field race two and three wide behind him. Kahne emerged from the crowd to take over second. Within five laps the top ten settled into single file. Bobby Labonte lost a left rear tire on lap 53 careening into the front stretch wall and bringing out the third caution. After missing three weeks with broken ribs from a bike accident, Labonte’s day was over.
The restart came on lap 60 and Truex shot back to the lead while Newman and Kahne contested second with Kahne settling in and Kenseth following into third and putting Newman in fourth.
Kenseth finally reeled Kahne in and took over second on lap 106 as green flag stops loomed. Truex led the round of stops entering pit road on lap 109. Earnhardt held the lead, thanks to off-sequence pit stops, but with the leaders having fresher tires Earnhardt knew he would have to pit soon. On lap 130, Earnhardt relented and hit pit road. The move handed the lead back to Truex and put Earnhardt a lap down.
Truex held the lead, but Kenseth kept slowly reeling him in during the long green flag run. By lap 152, Kenseth had got to Truex and a lap later was able to power by for the lead.
On lap 163 a caution for debris came out ending a green flag run of 106 laps. Gordon along with five others took only right side tires. Truex and Kenseth were the first to take four and fell in sixth and seventh. Brian Vickers, McMurray, Earnhardt and Joey Logano followed Gordon’s lead and took only two, falling into the top five behind him.
The restart came on lap 169 with Gordon quickly separating himself from the pack up front. Truex was able to move forward and was in third a few laps later. Kenseth remained mired outside the top five watching as Johnson moved by.
Truex began to reel in Earnhardt as Johnson began to reel in Truex. Caution for debris came out with 100 laps to go. The leaders pitted with the top ten taking two tires. The stop was a disaster for leader Gordon as he slid through his pit box and was forced to restart at the end of the longest line in 22nd.
“I knew it was close. When I got in there, the front started to slide,” Gordon said. “And I knew I was carrying a little bit more speed. I knew it was going to be close but I was hoping it would stop just at the line. I saw the official react and I knew we were in trouble.”
Clint Bowyer who had stayed out led to the green but it wasn’t long before Kenseth on two fresher tires was able to slide by to retake the lead. Earnhardt and Truex made contact but both continued. Johnson made his way to second and began to look for the front.
Newman had backpedaled to 26th as Kevin Harvick said the engine in his Chevy was beginning to fade. Gordon was stuck back in traffic outside the top 15.
David Gilliland’s blown engine on lap 246 brought out the sixth caution just after Bowyer had pitted. It set up perhaps the most important stops of the day as all the leaders came in.
Kenseth kept his lead with Truex falling into second and Johnson third. The restart came with 50 laps to go. Kenseth moved to the lead as Kyle Busch made his first appearance in the top five taking over second from Truex. Kahne’s day ended in disaster two laps later as his Chevy spun coming off turn four and slammed the inside wall on the front stretch an brought out the seventh caution. Kenseth again took the lead on the restart while Earnhardt and Busch fought for second. Greg Biffle meanwhile shot by on the inside past Earnhardt, Busch and Johnson to steal second. Busch soon went back by leaving Biffle in third, Johnson in fourth.
“I was doing all I could do to try and gain spots,” Biffle said “And I was three wide on the bottom and got that to work a couple times, and then the last bit of that, the outside really worked well for me.”
The top five settled in as the laps wound down. Only Biffle and Johnson contested spots nearly four seconds behind the leader. In the final ten laps, Busch slowly reeled in Kenseth and was within a car length on the final lap. Kenseth however was able to hold him off however to score the win.
“Certainly we were never as fast this weekend as the 20 (Kenseth) was,” Busch said. “They just had a special car. Sometimes you unload with them, and they're just phenomenal. The 20 had that here this weekend. We tried everything to try to keep up with him and to get pace with him, but it was tough to do.”
Kenseth’s win came in his 500th career start matching a feat accomplished only by the legendary Richard Petty.
“If I had to pick all the races,” Kenseth said “This is probably one that I had probably more anxiety over than most just because I really feel like I'm the weak link here.”
“I felt really confident with my car today,” he added. “To have a fast car and to be able to do all the right things with adjustments and strategy and pit stops and all that stuff and be out front and win is two different things, so it's just -- I'm thankful to be part of this group, and it's just honestly doesn't really seem real that we won yet today.”
Earnhardt held on for 6th after battling McMurray in the final laps with Vickers, Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards and Truex rounding out the top ten.
“Yeah, I run out of rear tires trying to hold him off,” Earnhardt said of his duel with McMurray. “Couldn’t get the power down just off the corner and he was a pretty fast car to begin with. I knew it was going to be difficult to hold him off. Just real happy to be able to rebound from earlier on pit road and get a good finish. Glad we were able to get a decent finish out of it. Just want to win one, I’m trying hard.”
Other Chase contenders: Kurt Busch, Joey Logano, Gordon, Newman and Bowyer finished 13-17. Kahne was able to return to the track but was scored 37th.
Kenseth remains atop the standings, with Kyle Busch moving up a spot to second. Gordon moved up six spots, Kahne fell six.
“If Kenseth keeps doing what he’s doing,” Gordon said. “It’s not going to matter what anybody else does.”
The series heads to Dover International Speedway for next Sunday’s AAA 400.