BRISTOL, Tenn. -- Matt Kenseth's season was in shambles two
months ago, his chances of racing for the Nextel Cup title slim to
A frantic late-season surge has changed everything.
Kenseth used his first victory in more than a year to inch
closer to the Chase for the championship, winning at Bristol Motor
Speedway on Saturday night in dominating fashion.
Kenseth started from the pole and led a whopping 415 of the 500
laps to win for the first time since March 7, 2004. After
struggling for more than a year, Kenseth has turned it on the past
two months and vaulted from 20th in the standings to 11th.
"Our performance has been better and you knew we had a fast car
when we're on the pole," said Kenseth, who has started on the pole
just twice in his career. "This feels great. I haven't been in
Victory Lane in a long time."
The top 10 drivers in the standings after the Sept. 10 race in
Richmond make the Chase, and Kenseth's victory now has him 11
points out of the final qualifying position.
"I had all but written off our chances to get in three races
ago," car owner Jack Roush said. "I was thinking 'building to
next year' all the way. But they've got it turned around now. It's
going to be a horse race."
"I thought we were out of it," Kenseth said of the Chase.
"There's still a couple races to go, but we're a lot closer. We'll
just go to California [next week] and give it all that we can. If
we can run like [this] the last two races, we'll make it."
Jeff Burton was second and was followed by Greg Biffle and Ricky
Rusty Wallace, in his final race at his favorite race track,
finished fifth. Wallace is retiring at the end of the season and
had hoped to mark his final Bristol race with a win. Instead, he
leaves with nine wins, most among NASCAR's active drivers.
"It was a good top five finish, I'm happy with it," Wallace
said. "I fought for it and it was a good, strong finish."
Jeff Gordon, who is making a desperate push for the Chase,
finished sixth. It pushed him into the top 10 for the first time
since June, and if the four-time series champion can stay there for
two more races he will be eligible to race for the title.
"I'm real happy with the comeback," Gordon said. "It's a
solid day, a solid finish and I think it was a good points day for
The only driver to drop out of the top 10 after Bristol was
Jamie McMurray, who dropped to 12th.
Meanwhile, the race wreaked havoc on many drivers on the bubble
of making NASCAR's Chase -- and some of it was intentional.
Dale Jarrett, who started the race 11th in the points, lost
ground midway through the race when contact from Ryan Newman sent
him spinning. Apparently seeking payback, Jarrett later made a
sharp right turn into Newman to wreck both of their cars.
NASCAR ruled that Jarrett's move was intentional and penalized
him two laps. The incident dropped Jarrett to 14th in the
standings, and he'll need a furious rally over the final two
qualifying events to get into the playoffs.
Newman, who started the night clinging to the eighth spot in the
standings, dropped one spot to ninth.
"Mine was unintentional. His was intentional, that was
obvious," Newman said. "I sure didn't expect him to retaliate
Jarrett left the track without commenting.
The biggest loser was Kevin Harvick, who was in the wrong place
at the wrong time and couldn't avoid getting caught up in Jarrett's
accident. Harvick desperately needed a strong finish to make the
Chase, but ended up finishing 37th and will almost certainly miss
But in a sign of total frustration with his Richard Childress
Racing team, Harvick reportedly refused to get back in the car
after his crew made enough repairs to get the Chevrolet back on the
Harvick, who has declined to discuss contract negotiations with
Childress until he is certain the team is improving, had retreated
to his motorhome while the crew worked on the car. When it was
ready, he was nowhere to be found, so the team considered using
Scott Riggs to finish the race.
Harvick eventually returned to the car, but after starting the
night 14th in the points, he is now 16th.
Asked if he was angry that Jarrett's act ruined his playoff
hopes, Harvick didn't place blame.
"We don't deserve to be in the Chase anyway," he snapped.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., the defending race champion, finished ninth.
But he's 15th in the standings, a long shot to make the playoffs.