RICHMOND, Va. — Joe Gibbs Racing cemented itself as the team to beat for NASCAR's championship with a dominating run Saturday night that ended in Matt Kenseth's fourth win of the season.
The win put Kenseth in a tie with JGR teammate Kyle Busch and six-time series champion Jimmie Johnson for the top seeds in the Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship. The 10-race playoff series begins Sept. 20 at Chicagoland.
Kenseth has won three of the past six races, and JGR has won eight of 11. Saturday was another high point for the team as Kenseth led 352 of 400 laps in the Federated Auto Parts 400.
"Certainly right now as a company we're on a roll," 2003 series champ Kenseth said.
The 16-driver Chase field was set in the regular-season finale, where only four spots were really up for grabs. All 11 drivers who had won coming in had punched their tickets and Jamie McMurray clinched his berth on points as soon as he took the green flag.
Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer all had to protect their positions, and all got in.
Tampa's Aric Almirola, who made the Chase for the first time last season for Richard Petty Motorsports, fell one spot short Saturday. He had a season-best fourth-place run and was within striking distance on a late restart, but was unable to catch Kenseth.
Had Almirola won, he'd have earned an automatic berth into the Chase and bumped another driver.
McMurray is only the second driver to make the Chase for team owner Chip Ganassi, following Juan Montoya in 2009.
"It's gratifying to bring a group of people together and accomplish something like this, and to be a part of a team of guys that accomplished this," Ganassi said. "Now that's the first goal, the goal changes now. The goal post changes to winning races and advancing in the Chase."
McMurray missed the cutoff for the Chase by one spot in 2004 and lost the final spot after a crash at Richmond in 2005. He also lost out on the final Chase spot at Richmond in 2014.
Ganassi won the IndyCar championship this season when driver Scott Dixon made a late charge and won on a tiebreaker after winning the finale in Sonoma.
Ganassi said the team could win titles in both series.
"It's what we prepare to do," Ganassi said.
Gordon had to finish 17th or better to guarantee his slot, and he finished a solid seventh.
Bowyer was in a more precarious position as he came to Richmond ranked 16th and unable to afford any mistakes. At one of his favorite tracks, he finished 10th to give Toyota five cars in the Chase field.
But it all resets now as the Chase gives the entire field an equal shot to race for the championship. Divided into three rounds before the Nov. 22 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, a win automatically advances the driver into the next round. Four drivers will be knocked out after every third race.
"It's a whole new ballgame now," said reigning series champion Kevin Harvick, who finished a quiet 14th at Richmond.