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NASCAR: Kenseth secures place in the ‘Chase’ with fifth win

Kenseth became the second member of Joe Gibbs Racing to qualify for the second round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup in as many weeks. Teammate Denny Hamlin, who finished second in the Sylvania 300 on Sunday, had won the opening race of the Challenger Round at Chicagoland Speedway on Sept. 21.
Kenseth was as surprised as anyone regarding his fortunes in the Sylvania 300. When his crew chief started telling him that race leader Kevin Harvick may not have enough fuel to go the distance, Kenseth started to think ahead.
“(If) You ever get in a position to win one (a race), you want to do everything in your power to be able to win it, no matter what the consequences are for the points,” Kenseth said. “I’ve got to be honest, I haven’t really thought about the points or Chase or anything. Just going to really enjoy this win.”
Kenseth went from thinking ahead to planning ahead with a half dozen laps remaining. Even then, however, Kenseth knew getting to the front and winning the race was not going to be easy and he didn’t think he could get by Harvick on this day.
“Getting to him and getting by him was going to be two different things, but I didn’t think I was going to quite get there,” Kenseth said.
But the day ended miserably for Harvick. The reigning Sprint Cup champion was in control of the race, having led it for 216 of the 300-lap total distance, when disaster struck with two laps to go. Harvick was out of gas.
“I was a little surprised when I saw him pull down with a couple to go,” said Kenseth.
It was a good race for Hamlin. After winning the opening round of the Chase on Sept. 20, he was happy to run at the front of the field, though he had no aspirations of winning the race.
“At best, I thought we were a second-place car. At worst, fifth,” Hamlin said, adding that he felt good on the final run knowing he was good on fuel and tires. “It really allowed us to be aggressive and get through the pack pretty quick and put some pressure on the 4 (Harvick) to try to make him run hard as possible, because we knew he was close.”
Hamlin added that the atmosphere in the Joe Gibbs Racing garage is very upbeat, especially considering having two drivers already in the Contender Round of the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup. He actually said he was a bit surprised by how the race turned out.
“Yeah, our cars finished 1-2, but I’m not sure that we had 1-2 cars most of the day,” said Hamlin. “Really, I don’t fee like we were dominant today by any means.”
Joey Logano finished third in the race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The task is now huge for Harvick, who has a huge task before him if he is to continue in the title chase. After a dismal performance at Chicagoland and a gamble that didn’t pay off at New Hampshire, Harvick must certainly win the final race of the Challenger Round if he is to continue his title defense. Under the championship format, the winners of each of three races in the round advance along with the next nine drivers in the standings. Four of the 16 contenders who originally started the Chase for the Sprint Cup are eliminated from further contention. After Sunday’s race, Harvick is in 15th place on the Chase standings, needing to make up 23 points to make it into the Top 12.
The AAA 400 closes off the Challenger Round of the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup at Dover International Speedway on Oct. 4, 2015. After that race, the Chase field will be cut down to 12 and the points reset prior to the beginning of the Contender Round in the 2015 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

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