By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
BROOKLYN, Mich.—From Matt Kenseth’s point of view, the competition package NASCAR used at Michigan International Speedway could well have had a big, bright bow on it.
The Coors Light Polesitter for Sunday’s Pure Michigan 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, Kenseth quickly exhibited his mastery of the high-drag aerodynamic package, leading 146 of 200 laps in winning for the third time this season, the third time at Michigan and the 34th time in his career.
The 2003 premier series champion had to survive a restart with 13 laps left, after Jimmie Johnson spun off Turn 4 to cause the eighth and final caution of the race. With a push from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin, Kenseth cleared Kevin Harvick after the Lap 187 restart and went on to win by 1.722 seconds.
“Denny did a spectacular job pushing me,” Kenseth said of the last run. “From the restart zone to about Turn 2 was like a superspeedway race–whoever got locked up—and those Chevys could really hook up.
“Denny did a heck of a job giving me a good push there to get by. Honestly, the toughest one was with the 3 (Dillon, with the two drivers swapping the lead after a restart on Lap 131). We went back and forth a few times and made some contact there, and it was hard to get away from him. My car took about five laps to get going, but once it got going, it was pretty stellar.”
Harvick ran out of fuel under green on Lap 114 but recovered to finish second. Martin Truex Jr. ran third, followed by Austin Dillon (who started from the rear of the field after an engine change) and Hamlin.
Kenseth’s victory was the fifth for Joe Gibbs Racing in the last six Sprint Cup races but Kenseth stopped short of declaring the JGR cars the favorites for the series championship this year. There are three regular-season races left before the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs start at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 20.
“It’s early to talk favorites—there’s so much racing to do, and there are 16 teams (in the Chase) that are capable of winning races on a weekly basis as well as a championship,” Kenseth said. “It’s one week at a time like always.
“It’s been a great week, and we’ve had a great couple months. We definitely have some momentum built. The guys gave us a rocket today and gave us rockets the last couple months. We’re just going to work hard to try to keep it rolling.”
Harvick, the reigning series champion, has finished second in five of his last six starts at Michigan, and he notched his seventh runner-up result since winning his second race of the season at Phoenix in March.
“We had an up and down day, that’s for sure,” Harvick said. “The first half of the race or so (we) really struggled with the handling of the car. The guys did a great job of getting that, and then ran out of gas and came back and didn’t lose a lap and were able to have a good enough handling car to drive back up through there.
“Just really proud of my team and everything that they did. I didn’t have anything for the 20 (Kenseth) today, but for everything that we overcame, it was still a good day.”
Despite starting from the rear of the field, Kyle Busch finished 11th, solidified his position in the top 30 in points and moved closer to a spot in the Chase. Now 29th in the standings, Busch leads 30th-place Justin Allgaier by 18 points and 31st-place Cole Whitt by 23.
A four-time winner since returning from an 11-race injury absence, Busch must be in the top 30 after 26 races to lock up a spot in the Chase.
Clint Bowyer’s Chase hopes took the hardest hit on Sunday. After running consistently in the top five, Bowyer’s No. 15 Toyota bounced off the outside backstretch wall on Lap 126—the result of contact with Ryan Newman’s Chevrolet—and careened into the inside wall.
Bowyer finished 41st and dropped one position in the standings to 15th, 23 points ahead of Aric Almirola in 16th and 26 ahead of Kasey Kahne in 17th. Bowyer currently is in the final Chase-eligible position. If the next three races produce one or more unique winners, however, his Chase spot could be in serious jeopardy.