JOLIET, Ill. – Matt Kenseth restored order to a chaotic period for NASCAR with a steely victory over teammate Kyle Busch in the opener of the 10-race Chase for the Sprint Cup Series Championship.
Kenseth entered Sunday’s GEICO 400 at Chicagoland Speedway as the top seed in the 13-driver Chase field.
But Kenseth flew under the radar while the previous weekend’s attempts by at least three teams to manipulate the results at Richmond in Virginia got more attention than the opening race of the Chase.
Kenseth had to wait out two rain delays that totaled 6 hours, 30 minutes and passed Busch on a restart with 27 laps remaining.
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Busch was second, 0.749 seconds behind, for a 1-2 finish for Joe Gibbs Racing and Toyota.
Kevin Harvick was third as Chase drivers grabbed the top six spots.
Kurt Busch finished fourth, Jimmie Johnson was fifth and Jeff Gordon was sixth.
Kasey Kahne of Enumclaw finished 12th and Greg Biffle of Vancouver, Wash., was 16th. Both are in the Chase. Kahne is 10th in points and Biffle is 11th.
Because of engine woes, pole-sitter Joey Logano finished 37th and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 35th.
“It’s going to be really hard to win a championship this far behind,” Earnhardt said.
When then-leader Johnson pit under green on Lap 77, the NASCAR official assigned to Johnson’s pit initially signaled a lug nut had been left off a wheel. One lug nut did have an issue but the pit-crew member, Calvin Teague, quickly was able to correct it, even before the official could signal everything was good.
The delay cost Johnson some time in the pits and when he resumed his spot on the track, he had dropped from first to fifth.
“The official thought there were only four on there. We all make mistakes,” said Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus. “That happens from time to time.”
• NASCAR tweaked its restart rules and will now allow the second-place driver to beat the leader to the start-finish line.
The leader controls the start in the restart zone. But once the green flag waves, the second-place car can beat the leader to the line.
• Robert Hight won the Funny Car division at the NHRA Carolina Nationals in Concord, N.C.
Other category winners were Morgan Lucas (Top Fuel), Jeg Coughlin (Pro Stock) and Andrew Hines (Pro Stock Motorcycle).