Nov 17, 2013, 4:50 PM EDT
Pole sitter Matt Kenseth is doing all he can do to erase a 28-point deficit to Sprint Cup championship leader Jimmie Johnson, but the five-time Cup champ is in the midst of a Top-5 effort in today’s season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
As of the halfway point (Lap 134 of 267), Kenseth had paced all but nine laps of the Ford Ecoboost 400 and was holding a narrow lead over Joe Gibbs Racing teammates Denny Hamlin. Johnson, though, was running in fifth.
After leading the first 12 laps, Kenseth gave up the point to bring most of the leaders to pit road under caution. He won the race off pit road ahead of Kevin Harvick, but Denny Hamlin chose not to pit and brought the field to the restart at Lap 15.
The front-runners quickly disposed of Hamlin and after a brief tussle with Kevin Harvick, Kenseth got back in front at Lap 16. Meanwhile, Johnson was also progressing from his starting position of seventh and was in the runner-up spot when the yellow came out for a Travis Kvapil spin at Lap 24.
The leaders once again took advantage of the caution to pit for fresh rubber, and Harvick used a two-tire stop to get out ahead of the pack. Johnson dropped a few spots after taking four tires, but did come out ahead of Kenseth (who also took four tires), who also grabbed four.
David Ragan took the field back to green at Lap 27, but was dispatched by Kurt Busch almost immediately for the lead, with Kenseth, Kyle Busch and Johnson getting past Harvick on the restart. On Lap 32, Kenseth once again moved to P1, leaving the Busch brothers and Johnson to race for second.
Johnson would win the fight and once again, the top two Chase contenders were 1-2 on the pylon. Kenseth’s lead stabilized around one to 1.5 seconds, but while that was happening, Jeff Gordon – the defending champion of this Homestead race – had already made his way into the Top 5 by Lap 50 after starting 26th.
Green flag stops had begun around Lap 66 before the yellow came out at Lap 68 for debris. On the subsequent pit stops, Kenseth and Johnson were able to maintain their first and second positions, and shortly after the race resumed at Lap 73, the two proceeded to scrap on the track for the top spot.
But after a bit of nose-to-tail action, Kenseth won out and Johnson settled into second once again until Lap 88, when Kyle Busch got by him to put Joe Gibbs Racing in the top two spots. Shortly after that, caution No. 4 was triggered by a Turn 2 spin involving Dave Blaney – one of several drivers that may be saying goodbye to Sprint Cup racing this afternoon.
Another yellow meant another set of stops, which ended with Kyle Larson getting out ahead of Kenseth and Kyle Busch – but only because he missed his pit stall (he had to return a second time for service). As a result, Kenseth and Kyle Busch were atop the leaderboard at the Lap 95 restart.
At Lap 98, Denny Hamlin continued his recovery from a tough start to the race by dusting Kyle Busch for second. Johnson then came up to try and make the low line work in a fight for third against “Rowdy,” and on Lap 104, he finally got the position.
But while Kenseth and Johnson raced at the front, Harvick continued to slide further into the pack and out of the Top 20 thanks to handling issues on his car. A snippet of Harvick’s radio communications (via Bob Pockrass of The Sporting News):
Eventually, Harvick had to pit from 25th place under green at Lap 117 for an air pressure adjustment and tires according to ESPN. He lost a lap in the process.
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