No. 1 seed Matt Kenseth opens Chase with Chicagoland win

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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.

Theriault clinches ARCA title before finale at Kansas

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KANSAS CITY, Kan. (AP) There is no long, convoluted story about how Austin Theriault came to Ken Schrader Racing, forging a team that so dominated the ARCA Series that it captured the title simply by showing up for the finale.

“We both wanted something to do,” the folksy Schrader said with a smile and shrug before Friday night’s race at Kansas Speedway. “He didn’t have a car to drive and I didn’t have a driver.”

So, they solved each other’s problem.

Theriault hopped into the seat and proceeded to win seven times over the first 19 races, building such a lead on his nearest challenger that he sewed up the title at Kentucky. And that made for a rather enjoyable weekend at Kansas, where all the pressure was off their team.

Along the way, Theriault became the first driver to win at a superspeedway, short track, dirt track and road event in the same season, and he swept the superspeedway and short-track challenges.

If there was something to win, he won it.

“I hoped we’d have a shot at it and it’s proved out this year that we’ve really exceeded anybody’s expectations,” Theriault said. “We had some things to work on early. We kind of dusted off a bit, went back to work. We had some time between Daytona and the mile-and-a-halfs that came up later in the season, and we realized where we were strong and where we had to work.

“But in the end it came back to pure dedication, I think,” he explained. “The amount of time it took behind the scenes to make this happen.”

The 23-year-old driver from Fort Kent, Maine, knows something about dedication. He appeared to be on racing’s fast track, scoring a Truck Series ride a few years ago for Brad Keselowski, when a terrifying crash at Las Vegas left him with a broken back and sitting on the sidelines.

The best ride he could find last year was in the K&N Pro Series.

It was at a trade show in Indianapolis last December that Theriault ran into Schrader, who was busy putting together a team for this season. They had dinner a couple nights later and, Schrader said, it was his wife Ann who came away impressed by the yes-sir, no-sir driver.

“My wife doesn’t go to all the races,” Schrader said. “After we talked she said, `I like that guy. How good is he?’ She doesn’t know. I knew he was racing well in Keselowski’s truck, had an unfortunate wreck, had to sit out a bit. I told her, `That’s somebody who could make us very happy next year.”‘

Theriault delivered on that promise.

They weren’t the only ones happy Friday, either. Zane Smith earned his second pole of the season, beating teammate Sheldon Creed to earn the top spot for the Kansas ARCA 150, while 20-year-old Natalie Decker announced a full-time ride with Venturini Motorsports next season.

“This is obviously a big step in my career,” said Decker, who made six starts as a rookie this season. “I’m confident and ready for this next move. After tonight my focus shifts to next season. We’ll be ready to go at Daytona.”