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Kenseth passes out-of-gas Harvick for Loudon win

Matt Kenseth passed an out-of-fuel Kevin Harvick with three laps to go to win Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

With his fifth win of the season, Kenseth joins Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin with an automatic berth in the second round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Kenseth was definitely the master of the fuel mileage: he last stopped for fuel on Lap 239, going the final 61 laps to the checkered flag on that same tank.

Hamlin finished second, followed by Joey Logano, Greg Biffle and pole-sitter Carl Edwards.

Sixth through 10th were Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, Martin Truex Jr., Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman.

Harvick had dominated the race, leading 216 laps of the 300-lap event. But crew chief Rodney Childers told his driver over the team radio that he was going to be six laps short of reaching the finish line unless he started to save fuel.

Harvick did save some fuel, but only half of what he needed. As a result, he finished 21st and remains 15th in the standings, 63 points behind Kenseth, who remains No. 1 in the points.

Harvick and Childers both decided to keep the No. 4 on the track rather than come in for fuel late in the race. It was the second consecutive questionable -- and ultimately race-deciding -- call in as many races.

In last week’s Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway, Harvick suffered a cut tire in a skirmish with Jimmie Johnson. Instead of pitting for a new tire and to repair a dented left front fender that was causing a tire rub, Harvick stayed out, crashing three laps later and ending up with a 42nd place finish.

Also for the second consecutive week, Harvick refused to talk to the media after Sunday’s race. He did issue this tweet, though:



With one race left in the first round, the four drivers who run the biggest risk of being eliminated heading into next Sunday’s race at Dover are Kyle Busch and Paul Menard (tied for 13th place, both 39 points back), Harvick (-63) and Clint Bowyer (-77).

The next closest drivers that are skirting the elimination line are: Dale Earnhardt (in 12th place, 38 points out behind Kenseth) and Jamie McMurray (11th place, 37 points back) and Jeff Gordon (10th place, 24 points back).

How Kenseth won: Basically, Kenseth did what he does best, namely, being methodical and patient. He was content to stay in Harvick’s tire tracks and when Harvick’s car ran out of fuel, Kenseth was the man on the spot to take advantage of the situation.

Who else had a good day: Denny Hamlin now has a win and runner-up finish in the first two Chase races. … Joey Logano’s third place finish was no surprise, considering Loudon is his home track and one of his favorite – and more successful – racetracks. … The biggest pleasant surprise was non-Chaser Greg Biffle finishing fourth, arguably the highlight of what has been a rather dismal season to date. Other non-Chasers with strong finishes included Kasey Kahne (ninth) and Tony Stewart (11th).

Who had a bad day: Kyle Busch slammed hard into the outside retaining wall on Lap 159, suffering extensive right side damage. It appeared as if a right front tire blew out on him. Busch went directly to the garage for repairs, which took 36 laps. He finished 37th and took a huge hit in the Chase standings, dropping from fourth entering the race to a tie with Paul Menard for 13th afterward, 39 points behind Kenseth in the standings. … Danica Patrick was running 12th on Lap 204 when her car was tapped by Ryan Newman, sending her slamming into the wall. The trailing car of David Ragan (finished 41st) had nowhere to go and hit Patrick’s (finished 40th) car hard, bringing out a six-minute red flag period.

Notable: Joe Gibbs Racing now has earned 13 wins in 2015, the most victories in a single season for the organization. And there’s still eight more races remaining to potentially add to that amount. … After undergoing an emergency appendectomy earlier in the week, crew chief Tony Gibson was back atop the pit box for Kurt Busch. … Jimmie Johnson was running third when he suffered a flat tire on Lap 200, dropping him to 30th place in less than one minute. Johnson rallied back to finish sixth. … Brad Keselowski was black-flagged after being penalized for a restart violation on Lap 242. The penalty dropped Keselowski from second place to 25th. Keselowski eventually rallied back to finish 12th. …Greg Biffle led 12 laps before dropping back to a a still outstanding fourth-place finish.

Quote of the day No. 1: “It’s a pretty basic understanding. It’s an entertainment sport, not a fair sport.” – Brad Keselowski after being penalized for jumping the restart on Lap 242, drawing a stop-and-go penalty.

Quote of the day No. 2: “I did not get the good end of the stick.” – Danica Patrick after her big wreck with David Ragan.

What’s next: The final race of the first round of the Chase – and the resulting first elimination of four drivers afterward – takes place Sunday, Oct. 4, in the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway.

Follow @JerryBonkowski