Matt Kenseth earns second consecutive win, pads Chase lead

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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.”

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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