Sep 22, 2013, 5:57 PM EDT
Matt Kenseth‘s magical season continued today at New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s “Magic Mile,” as the Joe Gibbs Racing pilot earned his second consecutive victory in his 500th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start – joining seven-time Cup champion Richard Petty as the only drivers to win on that particular occasion.
JGR teammate Kyle Busch steadily whittled away at Kenseth’s edge over the final 40 laps at NHMS, but ultimately finished half a second behind for his second consecutive runner-up finish. As a result, Kenseth has extended his lead in the Chase for the Sprint Cup over Busch by 14 points after two post-season events.
Out of his seven wins this year, Kenseth’s triumph in today’s Sylvania 300 may have been the most surprising of the lot as he has never had a solid record at New Hampshire. Prior to today, he had never won on the flat mile oval and his best finish there had been a runner-up from all the way back in 2004.
Perhaps for those reasons, Kenseth appeared happily shocked at being in Victory Lane even with his eyes wrapped in sunglasses.
“I don’t really know what to say except, ‘Praise the Lord’ – this has just been an unbelievable opportunity,” Kenseth said afterwards to ESPN. “For me to win at Loudon, first of all, is more than a dream because this has probably been one of my worst places. That just shows you how good this team is.
“Honestly, we just need to take it one day at a time. It’s been a great start for JGR – Kyle ran second in both [Chase] races, had real strong cars. All three teams are working really closely together…Man, I just feel like the luckiest guy in the world to be standing here honestly. I’m gonna enjoy it and I look forward to getting to Dover.”
Busch briefly battled with Dale Earnhardt Jr. for second position shortly after the restart with 43 laps remaining, then closed the gap to Kenseth as they hit lapped traffic in the final circuits. But once more, he had to settle for P2 in the end – a great result for him championship-wise, but not the result he desperately wanted.
“The 20 had a lot more than us this week, and we’re not sure why,” Busch said. “Sometimes, you get those magical cars, but hopefully, there’s a couple for us left this year.
“…We needed traffic. He didn’t do traffic very well, but it was hard for me to get through traffic as well. He was faster than we were if there was no traffic; he could drive back away from me but I ran him down and got to him. It was going to be interesting if we’d got there, but I didn’t get there.”
Greg Biffle came on strong late to secure a third-place finish, enabling him to leap six spots in the championship to fifth place. Jimmie Johnson also had a solid afternoon with a fourth-place effort, and Jamie McMurray rounded out the Top 5 ahead of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brian Vickers, Jeff Burton, Carl Edwards, and Martin Truex Jr.
Truex, who faces an uncertain future with the pending departure of his main sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts, was strong in the early going but faded back late after leading 98 of 300 laps.
“We had a good car in the first half of the race, and then we started getting tight,” Truex said. “It was cooling off, clouding up and we just never could get it turning again. The last set of tires were just terrible for us and we couldn’t do anything with it.”
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