Kenseth man to beat in NASCAR playoffs

Joe Gibbs Racing cemented itself as the team to beat for NASCAR’s championships with a dominating run on Saturday night that ended in Matt Kenseth’s fourth win of the season.

The win put Kenseth in a tie with JGR teammate Kyle Busch and six-time champion Jimmie Johnson for the top seeds in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. The 10-race playoff series begins on Sunday, September 20, at Chicagoland.

Kenseth has won three of the past six races, and JGR has won eight of the past 11.

“Certainly right now as a company we’re on a roll,” Kenseth said.

The 16-driver Chase field was set in the regular-season finale, where only four spots were really up for grabs.

Jamie McMurray clinched his berth as soon as he took the green flag, but Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer all had to protect their positions.

Gordon had to finish 17th or better to guarantee his slot, and he finished a solid seventh.

Bowyer was in a little bit more of a precarious position as he came to Richmond ranked 16th in the field and unable to afford any mistakes on Saturday night. He never doubted he was up for the challenge at one of his favorite tracks and he finished 10th to give Toyota five cars in the Chase field.

It wasn’t supposed to be difficult for Newman or Menard, but the Richard Childress Racing drivers struggled the entire race. They both ended three laps down from the leaders, with Newman 20th and Menard 26th.

But it all resets now as the Chase gives the entire field an equal shot to race for the championship. Divided into three rounds before the November 22 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, a win automatically advances the driver into the next round. Four drivers will be knocked out after every third race.

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