Team Penske is leading the pack in the NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup, with Brad Keselowki on 2097 points and Joey Logano on 2096. Logano took the checkered flag in the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, with his #22 Ford leading 73 laps, including the final 30 laps, of the race. Teammate Keselowski came in at seventh place on Sunday, nonetheless retaining the top spot in the standings. Kyle Larson took second place in the Sylvania 300, with Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray and Jimmie Johnson in third, fourth and fifth place respectively. The upcoming AAA400 at Dover International Speedway on September 28 will decide which four of the sixteen Chase drivers will be eliminated.
As his fourth victory of the season (and seventh in his career), Logano enters into the second elimination round in the new NASCAR format. Observers note that taking four tires on Lap 247 may have given Logano an edge, but after restarting 16th on Lap 251, he sped past Harvick and Keselowski on the Lap 274 restart to take the lead. In a post-race interview Logano noted that New Hampshire is his home race track and “the coolest place to win for me”.
Sunday’s race at New Hampshire featured 15 caution flags, and quite a number of drivers battled with mechanical failures and other issues. Having led 32 laps, Denny Hamlin’s #11 Toyota experienced a fueling problem which knocked him back four laps, and his efforts were further hampered when he was caught up in a multicar wreck on the 181st lap.
When the race ended, five Chase contenders were outside the top 20 – Kasey Kahne (23rd), Denny Hamlin (37th), Matt Kenseth (21st), Kurt Busch (36th) and Jeff Gordon (26th) – but remain in the running. Aric Almirola bounced back from his setback with engine failure at Chicagoland Speedway last week to finish in sixth place, keeping his Chase contender status.
Starting the race from pole position in the Team Penske #2 Ford at Richmond International Raceway on Sunday, Brad Keselowski held onto the lead for all but 17 of the 400 laps of the Sprint Cup Series Federated Auto Parts 400 and crossed the finish line in first place, to claim his fourth win of the season and put him in the number one spot in the Sprint Cup Standings. As the last race for drivers to qualify for the Chase on the new win-and-in rules, fans were no doubt expecting a lot more action, but there appeared to be no serious challenger for Keselowski and the race ended with Jeff Gordon in second place, followed by Clint Bowyer, Jamie McMurray and Kevin Harvick in third, fourth and fifth places respectively.
As the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup Champion, Keselowski needed a strong finish at Richmond in order to make the Chase field. As it turned out he finished in 17th place and missed out on the opportunity to defend his title. This time around he is in a good position to reclaim the title. In a post-race interview Keselowski noted that when he pulled into Victory Lane, he had to pinch himself to make sure he wasn’t dreaming, going on to say that “These are nights you don’t forget as a driver and you live for.” Describing the 2013 season as a “bit of a kick in the butt”, Keselowski concedes that it did motivate the Penske Team to “find another level”.
The race was fairly incident free apart from the fact that, with 71 laps of the race remaining, an apparently inebriated fan climbed to the top of the catch fence between the track and the grandstand resulting in a caution while he was removed. Most of the field used the caution as an opportunity for a pit stop, with Keselowski remaining ahead of the pack back into the race.
The Chase for the Sprint Cup standings are:
1. Brad Keselowski #2 – Ford
2. Jeff Gordon #24 – Chevrolet
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr. – #88 Chevrolet
4. Jimmie Johnson – #48 Chevrolet
5. Joey Logano – #22 Ford
6. Kevin Harvick – #4 Chevrolet
7. Carl Edwards – #99 Ford
8. Kyle Busch – #18 Toyota
9. Denny Hamlin – #11 Toyota
10. Kurt Busch – #41 Chevrolet
11. Kasey Kahne – #5 Chevrolet
12. Aric Almirola – #43 Ford
13. AJ Allmendinger – #47 Chevrolet
14. Matt Kenseth – #20 Toyota
15. Greg Biffle – #16 Ford
16. Ryan Newman – #31 Chevrolet