Saturday, February 24, 2018
Sports

Matt Kenseth dominates late in Sprint Cup win at New Hampshire

LOUDON, N.H. — On Sunday, Matt Kenseth was always near the front of the pack. He stalked the leaders and waited for contenders to wilt.

Kyle Busch and Martin Truex faded down the stretch. So did Denny Hamlin.

It almost seemed like a repeat scenario for Kenseth.

Just like last fall on the same track when Kevin Harvick's lead evaporated when he ran out of fuel, Kenseth pounced. He pulled away down the stretch to win the New Hampshire 301 Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Truex and Busch each led more than 120 laps before faltering over the final 75, paving the way for Kenseth to win for the second time this season.

Kenseth also won the New Hampshire race in September. He has 38 career victories in NASCAR's top series.

"Last fall, we squeaked one out, a little more fuel than Kevin and a little different strategy, but not quite as good a car," Kenseth said. "Today, I felt like we had the best car."

NASCAR said Kenseth's No. 20 Toyota failed the postrace laser inspection station and will be brought to the research and development center in Concord, N.C., for more evaluation. The penalty for that kind of failure has traditionally been a 15-point penalty. But this was the first time a winner was busted since the lasers were instituted in 2013.

Tony Stewart finished second and strengthened his spot inside the top 30 in points. Stewart has a victory this season and needs to be in the top 30 for a Chase for the Championship berth. He inched from 30th to 28th in points.

Joey Logano was third, followed by Harvick and Greg Biffle. Tampa's Aric Almirola was 19th.

Alex Bowman had a solid day ruined when he hit the wall late and finished 26th driving for Dale Earnhardt Jr. Earnhardt was sidelined because he suffered from symptoms of a concussion.

Truex tumbled to 16th when his Toyota suffered a broken shifter, and Busch dropped to eighth when he could never break free on late-race restarts.

"We're doing everything right, but we're taking some on the chin here," Truex said.

That let Kenseth, Busch's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, cruise to the top and snatch the lead with JGR teammate Denny Hamlin. Kenseth drove away on the final restart with 11 laps to go on the 1.058-mile oval and soon the race's traditional prize — a live rock lobster — was plopped on the hood of his Toyota.

But this race could be the one remembered for truly solidifying Stewart in Chase contention. He snapped an 84-race losing streak last month at Sonoma and was fifth last week at Kentucky Speedway. "Smoke" is heating up this summer and could be racing for a fourth championship in his final NASCAR season.

"Everyone wants this last year to be good," Stewart said. "Sonoma, I think, really helped relax everybody."

Kenseth became the first driver since Kurt Busch in 2004 to win consecutive starts at New Hampshire. He didn't win in his first 27 Cup starts at the track but has won three of the past six.

Bowman enjoyed perhaps the final race of his 72-race Sprint Cup career, running inside the top 10, but his run in the No. 88 Chevrolet ended with a thud when a tire went down.

"I've never got to actually race with guys like Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, all those guys," he said. "I had a lot of fun passing really good cars."

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