Kenseth wins NASCAR's Chase opener

JOLIET, Ill. — Matt Kenseth restored order to a chaotic week for NASCAR with a steely victory over teammate Kyle Busch in the opening race for Sprint Cup's Chase for the Championship.

Kenseth went into Sunday's Geico 400 race at Chicagoland Speedway as the top seed in the field. But he flew completely under the radar while last week's attempts by at least three teams to manipulate the results at Richmond took center stage of the opening race of the Chase.

He had to wait out two rain delays that totaled 6 hours, 30 minutes and passed Busch on a restart with 27 laps remaining.

Busch finished second for a 1-2 finish for Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota. Kevin Harvick was third as Chase drivers grabbed the top six spots.

Joey Logano went from the front to the back of the pack in the opening race of the Chase.

The pole-sitter was forced to drop out of when his engine quit with 91 laps remaining. About 50 laps later, Dale Earnhardt Jr., another Chase qualifier, wound up following him onto pit road with a race-ending problem of his own.

Logano finished 37th, a tough start to NASCAR's 10-race, season-ending playoff series.

"I am pretty angry," Logano said. "That was such a fast race car we had."

Logano qualified for the Chase for the first time this year and was embroiled in the scandal-plagued race at Richmond last weekend. After a wide-ranging investigation, NASCAR officials punished Michael Waltrip Racing for its role in manipulating the race.

Logano wound up benefiting from the maneuvers by other drivers trying to aid a teammate. His Penske Racing team was placed on probation Friday for its role in bargaining for track position at Richmond to get Logano in the Chase.

But Logano's problems Sunday night were all on the track. He had gone to pit road once before his exit, complaining of cylinder problems with his Ford.

"Unfortunately the motor blew up. You have these every once in a while," said Logano, teammate of defending series champion Brad Keselowski. "It's a bummer to have it in the Chase when you are running for a championship.

"I feel like Chicago was one of those tracks we could win at. Everyone was doing the right thing. … It just wasn't our day I guess."

The question going forward is whether Logano can make up the deficit. Five-time champion Jimmie Johnson finished 39th in the 2006 playoff opener and came back to win the title. But he only dropped to ninth in what was a 10-driver qualifying field at the time; Logano will head to the next Chase race 12th in the 13-driver field.

"Everyone did a good job. That is what we have to hold our heads up about," he said. "It is a tough break for this team. We are strong."

Restart rules tweaked

NASCAR announced during the prerace drivers meeting that it was altering the restart rules to allow the second-place driver to beat the leader to the start-finish line.

Under the new rules, the leader controls the start in the restart zone, which is defined by red lines on the walls. The length of the restart zone is pit road speed times two. If the pit road speed is 45 mph, the restart zone is 90 feet in length. Cars must stay in their lanes until they reach the start-finish line, but the second-place car is now allowed to get there first.

"It will take out one area of subjectivity on our part," vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said. "It's too competitive out there … it needs to be in the hands of the drivers on who decides these races."

Sprint Cup points

After 27 of 36 races. These 13 drivers have made the 10-race Chase for the Championship:

Driver Pts. Back

1. Matt Kenseth 2,063—

2. Kyle Busch 2,055 8

3. Jimmie Johnson 2,052 11

4. Kevin Harvick 2,048 15

5. Kurt Busch 2,040 23

6. Carl Edwards 2,040 23

7. Jeff Gordon 2,039 24

8. Ryan Newman 2,035 28

9. Clint Bowyer 2,035 28

10. Greg Biffle 2,032 31

11. Kasey Kahne 2,032 31

12. Joey Logano 2,011 52

13. Dale Earnhardt Jr. 2,010 53

Note: Points unofficial; NASCAR posts official results today

Kenseth wins NASCAR's Chase opener 09/15/13 [Last modified: Monday, September 16, 2013 12:44am]

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