Matt Kenseth took the lead from Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch off a restart with 22 laps to go and went on to claim his sixth checkered flag of the season in the Chase-opening GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway – a race that had its start delayed by more than an hour and also featured a red flag period of more than five hours because of rain.
After the extended red flag, only the diehards remained on a chilly Sunday night to see Kenseth once again prove his prowess on the intermediate ovals. With tonight’s triumph, the former Cup champion now has four wins this season on 1.5-mile tracks, which are a major component of the ten-race Chase.
Coming to the restart, Kenseth was second but was able to keep up with Busch on the inside. When the pack got to Turn 1, Kenseth was helped from behind by Kevin Harvick, and was able to get past his JGR compatriot. That would prove to be the big moment of the race, as Busch was unable to reel Kenseth back in.
“I thought with the conditions tonight, we were going to be off a little bit but [crew chief] Jason [Ratcliff] did it again, as well as this whole team behind me,” Kenseth said to ESPN in Victory Lane.
“We gotta thank Kyle and [teammate] Denny [Hamlin] as well – we had a really good test here last week and it really showed up today. Also, Kevin gave me a great push on that last restart…We were a little too tight there at the end, and I wasn’t sure we’d be able to get Kyle. But I’m glad we got it out front.”
Kyle Busch also chalked up Kenseth’s winning pass to Harvick as well.
“That’s 1,600 horsepower versus 800,” he said. “…Kurt [Busch] didn’t get a good enough restart to push me forward and keep us side-by-side going into Turn 1. But they beat us, and it’s a great night for Joe Gibbs Racing to start the Chase like this.”
Harvick would go on to finish third, with Kurt Busch rallying for a fourth-place finish after falling down a lap earlier this afternoon because of a pit road speeding violation. Jimmie Johnson had his own issues on pit road today, but was able to come home fifth.
“The next-to-last run, we got ourselves back in the thick of things and unfortunately, we just didn’t have the speed there for the final segment to go race for the win,” Johnson said. “But from a jack failing to the call on pit road with the lug nut not supposedly on – a variety of issues – it was a great comeback.”
Jeff Gordon fell a lap down thanks to a flat rear tire following a restart with 95 laps to go, but was able to catch a yellow late and then charge to a sixth-place result. Brad Keselowski and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the two lone non-Chase drivers in the Top 10, followed in seventh and eighth respectively. Clint Bowyer squeezed out a ninth-place finish, and Ryan Newman wound up 10th.