Matt Kenseth punched his ticket to the Chase with a victory in today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway.
Kenseth’s victory means all four Joe Gibbs Racing teams have essentially earned their spot in this year’s Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series just 12 weeks into the season. In fact, JGR has won six of the last seven NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race and has captured an incredible seven of the first 12 point races of the season as well as eight of 13 events overall (Denny Hamlin also won the season opening Sprint Unlimited all-star race in Daytona). The win was the 135th NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory for Joe Gibbs Racing, tying the organization with Roush Fenway Racing for third-most wins in NSCS history.
Kenseth’s teammate Denny Hamlin finished seventh today, while separate accidents took out Carl Edwards and Kyle Busch leaving each to finish 28th and 30th respectively.
Kenseth started the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota in the 10th position and was able to work his way toward the top five during the course of the opening green flag run. Great work by the Dollar General crew would allow Kenseth to restart fourth following a competition caution on lap 44 and he would settle in to run third. He would lead a lap on lap 131 and was able to remain in the top ten despite battling a tight handling race car midway through the race. A caution on lap 344 would set off a chain of events that Kenseth and the Dollar General team was able to use to their advantage. Track position was a major factor this afternoon and crew chief Jason Ratcliff would make the call for a two-tire change that allowed Kenseth to restart in second to the inside of leader Jimmie Johnson. That proved to be a key strategy play, because when the 48 car was unable to get up to speed on the restart, a major wreck would collect nearly 20 cars including Johnson. That put Kenseth out as the leader on the ensuing restart and he would manage to avoid being collected in another accident that involved his teammate Edwards. He would restart as the leader again with 34 laps remaining and despite being on two tires managed to hold off two hard charging competitors over a thrilling final green flag run. It is Kenseth’s 37th career victory.
Hamlin started the No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota from the sixth position and would race near the top ten for much of the opening 100 laps. The 11 team would get hit with a pit road penalty on lap 118 that ultimately led to Hamlin falling a lap down to the leaders. Pit strategy would help Hamlin make his way back to the lead lap and actually back to the front of the field on lap 219. He would lead 15 laps before giving way to those on fresher tires, but the strategy paid off. Although he would get caught up in the day’s major accident on a lap 356 restart, the damage to his FedEx Camry would not end his day. He was able to go on to complete an impressive comeback and finish seventh.
Edwards started the No. 19 STANLEY Toyota from the fourth position and was strong throughout the afternoon. Edwards was near the front of the field most of the day leading four times for 27 laps. He appeared well positioned for a win late in the race after clearing the afternoon major’s wreck during a lap 356 restart. The accident collected nearly 20 cars in the field and brought out a red flag caution for cleanup. Edwards would restart third as the first car with four tires on lap 361 but this time the 42 would make contact with the left rear of the STANLEY Camry sending the 19 car hard into the inside wall. Fortunately Edwards was okay despite the hard hit, but his afternoon was over and with it the chance to add one million dollars, on top of the already donated $100,000, for Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals as part of the annual Racing for a Miracle Program with STANLEY, DEWALT and ACE Hardware.
Busch started the No. 18 Pedigree Toyota in the third position but tight handling conditions dropped him back outside the top five through the early going. Track position was a key factor this afternoon in Dover and a two-tire pit stop allowed the Pedigree Camry to restart second on lap 219. He would remain in the top five for about 25 laps but the tight handling conditions remained and Busch reported that something might be wrong with the rear end of his car. He lined up 12th for a restart on lap 354 and was collected in a multi-car wreck which occurred after race leader Jimmie Johnson failed to get started when the green flag dropped. The accordion style wreck piled up the field and the No. 18 would receive major damage forcing Busch to the garage for the remainder of the afternoon. He would go on to finish 30th.
Matt Kenseth captured the win, followed by Kyle Larson in second, Chase Elliott third, Kasey Kahne fourth, and Kurt Busch rounded out the top five. There were 12 cautions for a total of 65 laps and 19 lead changes among 10 different drivers.
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads returns home to Charlotte next Saturday night for the annual Sprint All-Star Race from Charlotte Motor Speedway. Live coverage on Fox Sports 1 will start Saturday night, May 21 at 7 PM with qualifying (race starts at approximately 9 PM ET). The race will also be carried on Sirius NASCAR radio channel 90.