Kenseth’s win overshadowed by misfortunes of Harvick, others – ESPN

  • LOUDON, N.H. — Oh, by the way, Matt Kenseth won the Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

    He now has an impressive five victories in 2015 and a ticket to the second round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

    But the storylines of the Sylvania 300 focused on the losers, the ones who didn’t take advantage of opportunities — the ones whose bad day was only slightly better than that of Loudon the Lobster, which gets sacrificed for a glorious team meal after appearing in Victory Lane with the winner.

    Kevin Harvick left the most upset as the leader of 216 of the 300 laps in the race only to run out of fuel with three laps remaining around the 1.058-mile oval. Instead of rebounding from a 42nd-place finish in the opening race of the Chase by earning that automatic bid to the next round, Harvick now finds himself in a boatload of trouble.

    Harvick is in danger of having a season of great stats — he’ll be the guy who had a great regular season when he posted 18 top-5s in 26 races with 10 runner-up finishes to go with two wins — and have nothing to show for it.

    Harvick finished 21st Sunday and sits 23 points out of 12th. While mathematically he could get into the top 12 on points to advance to the next round after next week’s race at Dover International Speedway, Stewart-Haas Racing vice president of competition Greg Zipadelli knows the deal in this Chase system of three-race rounds where winners automatically advance and those lowest in points are eliminated.

    “He faces going to Dover and winning,” Zipadelli said. “It’s pretty simple.”

    Harvick left without comment. His crew chief, Rodney Childers, explained on Twitter that either the team didn’t get all the fuel in the car or the fuel cell bladder was coming apart because the electronic data, which the team downloaded after the race, showed Harvick should not have run out of fuel.

    “It’s just hard to swallow,” Zipadelli said. “He had a car that he could run whatever he needed to run. And we don’t win it. … They did a great job all weekend. We executed right to the last deal, and at the end of the day, all that matters is where you finished.

    “It’s not how you got there, how good you ran all day. It’s all about where you finish.”

    Harvick finished just two spots worse than his teammate Kurt Busch, who also ran out of gas, and four spots ahead of Hendrick Motorsports driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., whose tank went dry as well in the final laps.

    Having it worse among the Chase competitors was Kyle Busch, who wrecked with a flat tire on Lap 159 and lost 36 laps while the team made repairs. He finished 37th and sits in 13th, one point behind Earnhardt for that pivotal 12th spot. Paul Menard, who has struggled in the Chase to find speed, is tied with Busch, and they are 23 points ahead of Harvick and 38 points ahead of Clint Bowyer (whose appeal on a 25-point penalty for track bar violations is Wednesday).

    “We’re not at a win-at-all-costs situation right now,” Busch crew chief Adam Stevens said. “We’ve just got to go and have a good, strong day at Dover and avoid some mistakes. If we finish ahead of a couple of guys, we’ll be OK. … I know we can go there [to Dover] and have a good day.”

    Other drivers in the Chase rebounded from potential disaster. Jimmie Johnson had a flat tire and had to pit under caution with about 100 laps remaining. He fell a lap down but got the free pass on a caution with 86 laps remaining and rallied to finish sixth.

    A penalty for jumping the restart with 58 laps remaining sent Brad Keselowski all the way back to 25th, and he had to rally to finish 12th. Jeff Gordon, making a record 789th consecutive Sprint Cup start, just rebounded from struggling much of the day to finish seventh.

    “We had a bunch of things that didn’t go our way, and then luckily there at the very end, we had it go our way where we came in and got four tires, had a decent restart and we were able to drive all the way up there,” Gordon said.

    And then there was Kenseth, who had led for 24 laps earlier in the race but didn’t have the dominant car. He had a solid car, one that had enough fuel to be in position to win the race.

    “Obviously I ran as hard as I could to get as close as I could to him because I wanted to beat him, and the faster he has to go obviously he burns more gas,” Kenseth said. “But I didn’t really know his situation other than [my crew chief] told me he might be a little bit short so we needed to get up there and try to run as hard as we could.”

    Even Kenseth’s car owner couldn’t totally enjoy the day, as the elation of the victory with Kenseth also included the frustration of what happened with Kyle Busch.

    “The sport is just kind of crazy,” Gibbs said. “It’s the person we’re having the most trouble, it seems like that’s where you pull the hardest. Matt? He’s in.”

    Gibbs has two drivers already locked into the next round of the Chase as JGR driver Denny Hamlin won the opener at Chicagoland. Hamlin backed that up by finishing second Sunday, followed by Joey Logano, Greg Biffle and Carl Edwards.

    Biffle enjoyed one of his best days of the season as the top finisher among the non-Chase drivers. Several non-Chase drivers had tough days, including a hard crash that sheared off part of Danica Patrick‘s car after she got hit by David Ragan. Neither driver was injured.

    But while Patrick and Ragan might just be a little sore, the deep pain belonged to those Chase drivers who saw their championship hopes begin to disappear.

    Harvick headlined that list. His team has to feel blindsided about the results of the past couple of weeks.

    “Some days it feels like everything is against you, but that’s what this sport is about,” Zipadelli said.

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