NASCAR Barometer: Kenseth Bags Another Win

NASCAR Barometer: Kenseth Bags Another Win

This article is part of our NASCAR Barometer series.

The final laps of Sunday's New Hampshire 301 were the complete opposite of the rest of the race, as multiple cautions and on-track passes saw Matt Kenseth build a lead over the second place car to cruise to his second victory of 2016 and consecutive New Hampshire Motor Speedway wins. The Joe Gibbs Racing team dominated practice and the opening miles of Sunday's race, but it was the quieter driver of the crew who came forward and seized the opportunity for the win.

Martin Truex Jr. and teammate Kyle Busch drove the cars to beat throughout the race distance, but Kenseth overcame their raw speed by focusing on gaining track position throughout the afternoon. As trouble and adversity struck most of the top runners, Kenseth didn't stumble. That consistency during the laps and in the pits put him in position to take the lead and never look back. The final 75 laps of the races saw more caution periods than the opening segments, but Kenseth used them to his advantage. The veteran driver is even more confident heading into the Chase and will look to continue his current form to start of the championship run.

UPGRADE

Matt Kenseth – Kenseth went back-to-back at New Hampshire by winning the race there last fall as well as making a late charge to take the lead and consolidate the victory in the final laps on Sunday. It was his second win of the season and saw him overcome the dominant cars of Martin

The final laps of Sunday's New Hampshire 301 were the complete opposite of the rest of the race, as multiple cautions and on-track passes saw Matt Kenseth build a lead over the second place car to cruise to his second victory of 2016 and consecutive New Hampshire Motor Speedway wins. The Joe Gibbs Racing team dominated practice and the opening miles of Sunday's race, but it was the quieter driver of the crew who came forward and seized the opportunity for the win.

Martin Truex Jr. and teammate Kyle Busch drove the cars to beat throughout the race distance, but Kenseth overcame their raw speed by focusing on gaining track position throughout the afternoon. As trouble and adversity struck most of the top runners, Kenseth didn't stumble. That consistency during the laps and in the pits put him in position to take the lead and never look back. The final 75 laps of the races saw more caution periods than the opening segments, but Kenseth used them to his advantage. The veteran driver is even more confident heading into the Chase and will look to continue his current form to start of the championship run.

UPGRADE

Matt Kenseth – Kenseth went back-to-back at New Hampshire by winning the race there last fall as well as making a late charge to take the lead and consolidate the victory in the final laps on Sunday. It was his second win of the season and saw him overcome the dominant cars of Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch. Kenseth has never won at the Brickyard, but he has scored four top-10 finishes in the last five races at the historic speedway. His race performances are getting more competitive in the past few weeks with a top-10 in Kentucky in addition to Sunday's victory. While Sunday's unpredictable final miles helped him to victory, he should still be a top contender in Indy.

Kyle Busch – Busch dominated the opening stage of Sunday's New Hampshire 301 just one day after commanding the Xfinity race at the same track. His dominance only lasted for the first third of the race, but he remained well within striking distance of the win until the end. When the crazy final laps were complete, Busch found himself in eighth position and tallied his third top-10 finish in the last five races. Busch is the defending champion at Indianapolis and led 19 of the 164 laps there last season. Based on how well he has raced the past few weeks, it would be surprising if he weren't in contention again next week.

Tony Stewart – The continued improvement of Stewart as he marches toward the end of his full-time Sprint Cup career continued on Sunday in New Hampshire. The former champion continued to make his case as a driver to whom we should pay attention in the Chase for the Sprint Cup, as he scored a runner-up finish. What is most remarkable is that the finish was his third top-five in the last four races and came on a day day in which others were the dominant cars. He now has four top-10 finishes in the last five races and heads to his hometown race in Indianapolis where he won in 2005 and 2007. He will want nothing more than to turn this coming weekend into a victorious one as he signs off on a stellar career.

Kevin Harvick – For the second week in a row, Harvick showed signs of overcoming his relative slump of the last few weeks by racing well and remaining within striking distance of victory until the finish. He spent all afternoon in New Hampshire running in the top five and put himself in position to capitalize should the opportunity for a win have presented itself. When all was said and done, he had to settle for a top-five finish, however. He has consecutive top-10 finishes at the Brickyard along with 75 laps led in last year's race. With four top-10 finishes in the last five races it would be hard to discount Harvick as an early favorite heading into Sunday's race.

Greg Biffle – While the final 75 laps created the perfect storm for unexpected results, Biffle's fifth-place finish was deserved. He worked to put together a fast machine, and came forward by making the right calls to gain track position on pit stops. The result was his third consecutive top-10 finish, and he's now beginning to demonstrate the confidence he exuded prior to the start of this season. Roush Fenway Racing has made significant strides throughout the middle of this season, and with Ford's backing, one can expect them to continue moving up the order. Biffle hasn't finished in the top-10 in Indianapolis since 2012, but if the team can give him a competitive car, expect him to score again in the top 10 this week.

DOWNGRADE

Chase Elliott – Once again, Elliott exited a race disappointed. He has been one of the most promising rookies in recent seasons, but hasn't had the luck to see him through to top finishes the past few races. After initially looking likely to make his first Chase for the Sprint Cup, his poor recent finishes are making that feat much more difficult. He's on a run of three finishes outside of the top 30, and looks more and more in danger of losing his spot in the Chase should other drivers pick up victories in the next races. This is the young driver's first stretch of adversity in Sprint Cup, and how he handles it could be a barometer of his future potential.

Martin Truex Jr. – Once Kyle Busch faded after dominating the opening miles, it was Truex who was ready to take the point. He dominated the middle portion of Sunday's New Hampshire 301 just like Busch commanded the opening. He looked prepared to take the victory until a broken shift lever caused his hard work to come undone in the closing miles. He went from the lead to fighting to remain in the top 20 in a terribly disappointing day. It only got worse, too. He just kept falling through the field, as a swarm of cautions plagued the final laps. His best finish at the Brickyard came last year when he finished fourth, and he needs some good luck to get through a full race distance.

Kurt Busch – After an otherwise good day, Busch was squeezed and made contact with Brad Keselowski, which ultimately caused a rear tire failure that brought out a caution with about 20 laps remaining. The time lost put him out of contention to salvage a top result, too. When the checkered flag waved, he finished 22nd, which is a terrible reflection of the potential he had for a top result prior to the race getting underway. Busch finished eighth in last year's race at the Brickyard, which is his only top-10 at the track since 2010. He has had a quietly successful season, but now has two finishes outside of the top-20 in the last five races.

Kyle Larson – Late contact sent Larson spinning down the back straight in the final miles of Sunday's race. He was an innocent bystander sitting inside the top-10 and headed for a top finish when Carl Edwards and Kasey Kahne came together to hook the rear of Larson's machine. His 17th-place finish was his third finish outside of the top 10 in the last five races and puts him 20th in the championship standings. Larson has two top-10 finishes in his two career Indianapolis starts. The young driver continues to search for his breakthrough victory, but consistently fails to piece together entire race distances to make that goal a reality.

BIGGEST SURPRISE

Dale Earnhardt Jr. – Sadly, Earnhardt wasn't even able to participate in Sunday's New Hampshire 301. The most popular driver in the series had been dealing with concussion-like symptoms recently and after extra evaluations wasn't cleared to drive. Alex Bowman took the wheel of the No. 88 while Earnhardt continued to recover, and who will pilot the car next week in Indianapolis remains unclear. Jeff Gordon is on standby to substitute in the driver's seat should he be required, but everyone would like to see Earnhardt where he belongs. He has dealt with concussions throughout his career, and it's tough to see one of the stars of the series unable to fight each week.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
C.J. Radune
Radune covers NASCAR, Formula 1 and soccer for RotoWire. He was named the Racing Writer of the Year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association in 2012 and 2015.
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