Matt Kenseth coasted to his second checkered flag of the 2016 season in Sunday's New Hampshire 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The win is Kenseth's second in a row in Loudon, New Hampshire, going back to last year's Sylvania 300. According to SB Nation's Jordan Bianchi, he's the first driver to go back-to-back at New Hampshire since Kurt Busch in 2004.
NASCAR on NBCSN shared the final laps of the race:
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
Congrats to Matt Kenseth & @ToyotaRacing for winning the #NH301! https://t.co/Wk8hfdUz5g2016-7-17 20:45:15
Kenseth finished a little under two seconds ahead of Tony Stewart:
|New Hampshire 301 Results—Top 10|
|Pos.||Driver||Time Behind (sec.)||Laps Led|
|10||Ricky Stenhouse Jr.||7.144||0|
The result vaulted Kenseth into fourth place in the Chase standings:
|2016 Chase Standings|
|9||Martin Truex Jr.||540||1|
|16||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||461||0|
After the race, Kenseth failed his technical measurements post-race inspection, according to Bob Pockrass of ESPN.com.
As the cliche goes, it's not how you start but how you finish. Kenseth wasn't the most dominant driver on the day, leading 38 of the race's 301 laps. Once he grabbed the top spot from Martin Truex Jr. on the 257th lap, though, he was nearly faultless.
While Truex and Denny Hamlin enjoyed a brief stretch in first place, Kenseth took the lead back on Lap 271 and didn't surrender it the rest of the way. Plenty of drivers attempted to wrest first away from the No. 20 car, and all were unsuccessful. Even with three cautions in the final 38 laps, Kenseth held strong.
With some great driving and a little luck, the 44-year-old was victorious.
Conversely, few drivers Sunday had worse luck than Truex. He led 123 laps and looked poised to be among the final contenders. USA Today's Jeff Gluck tweeted Truex was more than owed some good fortune on the track:
Jeff Gluck @jeff_gluck
Truex has a lot of IOUs with the racing gods. Does he get one back today, or will a (insert odd circumstance here) happen to him?2016-7-17 20:01:15
Shortly after Gluck's tweet, Truex reported he was having issues with his clutch and transmission, per Pockrass. Unable to get out of fourth gear, the No. 78 car dropped from sixth on the Lap 268 restart to 15th place.
Motor Racing Network visualized Truex's internal reaction as he watched his chance to pick up a second win slip away:
Motor Racing Network @MRNRadio
WOW! @MartinTruex_Jr’s shifter is broken. NOW reports no clutch. Says he burned it out getting out of pits. #AskMRN https://t.co/QwJ2qsjwk92016-7-17 20:13:20
Kyle Busch had a similar day. His 133 laps led were the most among any driver, but he wound up in eighth place. His chances of getting to Victory Lane evaporated late in the race when he attempted to pass Greg Biffle for fourth place and got loose on the outside.
The momentary loss of control was enough for Busch to fall far enough back in the pack that climbing into the top spot was an impossibility.
One of the biggest storylines in Sunday's race focused on a driver who wasn't even behind the wheel. On Thursday, Hendrick Motorsports announced Dale Earnhardt Jr. was suffering from concussion-like symptoms and would be unavailable to drive.
The timing of Earnhardt's injury is particularly poor since the Chase begins in two months at the Chicagoland Speedway. He can't afford to be out much longer, or he'll see his position inside the top 16 dwindle even further.
Alex Bowman filled in for Earnhardt on Sunday and performed well above expectation before a tire issue on Lap 273. NASCAR on NBCSN provided a replay of Bowman's crash after he blew a tire:
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
The 88 goes into the wall. #NH301 https://t.co/TjqmtAxcKf2016-7-17 20:21:58
Bowman finished in 26th place. NBCSN's Parker Kligerman thought Bowman, 23, set a great example for drivers hoping to advance in the sport:
Parker Kligerman @pkligerman
Great to see @AlexBRacing doing so well in the 88. For all young drivers, this is the opportunity you dream of. Take note of how he is doing2016-7-17 19:32:02
Although seeing Gordon back in NASCAR would be a nice sight for racing fans, it wouldn't be the optimal outcome for Earnhardt. He's 16th in the standings, 14 points ahead of Trevor Bayne. Should he miss a second race, there's a good chance he'll be on the outside looking in on the Chase this time next week.
"It was pretty much money all day," said Kenseth of his win, per the Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "We just had to get there."
Earnhardt praised the work of Bowman and his crew on Sunday:
Dale Earnhardt Jr. @DaleJr
The result will not show what a great job @AlexBRacing and the @nationwide88 gang did this weekend. Proud of them guys.2016-7-17 20:20:50
Despite his car's mechanical issues, Truex chose to focus more on the positive aspects from his performance. NASCAR on NBCSN shared his post-race comments:
NASCAR on NBC @NASCARonNBC
.@MartinTruex_Jr shares his thoughts on the #NH301 https://t.co/r4DxOTub7V2016-7-17 20:53:57
Harvick, on the other hand, voiced his displeasure following his fourth-place finish, per Yahoo Sports' Nick Bromberg:
I'm disgusted to tell you the truth. It's the same thing every week. We just make mistake after mistake and until we clean that up we don't have a chance to win races putting ourselves in a hole every time we make a mistake. It sucks because the cars are plenty fast, but we are just not executing. We just have to perform better. We under execute as a team on a weekly basis and got to do a better job. The Jimmy John's Chevrolet cars are always fast, but we always do something wrong.
Harvick already has one win on the year, so at the very least he's all but assured of making the final Chase.