Turns out Matt Kenseth’s anxiety attack was unwarranted. New Hampshire Motor Speedway isn’t a house of horrors after all.
Kenseth struggled here in the spring race. He figured to do the same again Sunday with far more at stake, since he led the Chase standings after winning a week earlier at Chicagoland.
But the thing that makes this 1-mile oval with minimal banking tough – little chance to pass – can be a big advantage if you’re out front. That’s where Kenseth was for all but one of the Sylvania 300’s final 93 laps, taking the checkered flag over Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch.
Greg Biffle finished third, Jimmie Johnson was fourth and non-Chase driver Jamie McMurray came in fifth.
Kenseth’s back-to-back victories – he has won a personal-best seven Sprint Cup races this season – means he leads Busch in the Chase standings by 14 points, headed for Dover, Del.
“You never go to the track and hope to just get through the weekend, but certainly if I had to pick all the races, this is probably one that I had more anxiety over than most,” Kenseth said of New Hampshire.
“We had a pretty good car in the spring, and I messed it up a little bit. I was hoping we’d have a good car today, and I didn’t want to hold (the team) back.”
Kenseth didn’t have a good car, he had a great one. Crew chief Jason Ratcliff said it was obvious as soon as the No. 20 Toyota rolled off the hauler that this was the right equipment to win here.
And Ratcliff found Kenseth’s flat-track anxiety unwarranted.
“I don’t think Matt gives himself credit around this place,” Ratcliff said. “One thing you have to do really well, I think, to win a race here is you have to be exceptional at restarts.
“Track position is huge, especially when most guys are going to have either old left sides or old right-side tires (because of two-tire pitting), and it makes it difficult to get going.
“His restarts were exceptional today, and I think that was one of the keys that got us a victory.”
Kenseth led the race’s final 53 laps and the most total laps (106). He took the lead for good just before the last caution of the day, when Kasey Kahne slid into the inner wall, causing severe damage to his Hendrick Chevrolet.
Kahne had been as fast as any driver in practice and led 29 laps early, pulling away from polesitter Ryan Newman.
Jeff Gordon also appeared in contention, up front with about 100 laps to go, but he overshot his pit stall slightly and the mistake pushed Gordon all the way back to 22nd. He never recovered, finishing 15th.
That basically left it between teammates Kenseth and Busch for the win, just as it was last week at Chicagoland. Busch said Kenseth “lucked out” on a restart that previous race. This was a more clear-cut result.
“It would have been interesting if I got there (to race Kenseth at the end). I’m glad I didn’t get there,” Busch said of what would have been a fierce matchup between Gibbs drivers.
“Matt was definitely faster than we were car-to-car when we had clean air (out in front of the pack). The No. 20 had a special car here – super fast. Hopefully we have one of those magical cars next week.”
This was Kenseth’s 500th Sprint Cup start, which his race team commemorated with a special paint job.
While Kenseth, 41, appreciated the gesture, this was not a milestone he particularly celebrated.
“Those things are like birthdays,” Kenseth joked. “After a while, you don’t want to be reminded.”