Championship Charge: Matt Kenseth Wins at Charlotte Motor Speedway
How many times have we seen this story play out at Charlotte Motor Speedway where the driver who leads the most laps doesn't come home with the trophy?
Earlier this year, it was Matt Kenseth who walked away empty-handed after showing his best cards too early in the Coca-Cola 600.
On Saturday night, it was Kyle Busch who came home without the checkered flag, falling short of a win as the runner-up despite leading 111 of 334 laps.
Instead, it was Kenseth who emerged as the winner with a clutch performance, gaining major points on a night where title rival Jimmie Johnson crashed hard late in the Bank of America to place 34th.
Kenseth, who's noted for his somewhat subdued personality, shot back at his critics who claim he lacked the flair as his contemporaries on and off-the-track.
"It doesn't really matter to me that much what everyone thinks," Kenseth said in AP Sports Writer Jenna Fryer's article per Yahoo! Sports. "We're in it or out of it or whatever."
Busch had a rather heated battle for the runner-up position with Carl Edwards, beating the points leader for the second spot in the closing laps.
Following the race, both racers had a conversation regarding their hard battle, clarifying any ill intent to wreck each other in the final stretch of the 500.
Ultimately, Busch and Edwards made good in their post-race press conferences.
"It was just a product of what we had at the end going for everything we could, and trying to come home second," Busch said.
Frustrated with his race for the early going, Busch battled his way from shotgun in the field due to an engine change all the way into the lead before relegating to the second position.
"He just flat out drove right past me like I was standing still. The frustration is, again, we did not finish where we wanted to, which could have been a real win, a real highlight," Busch said.
Perhaps the Chase driver who had it the worst was five-time Cup champion Jimmie Johnson, who was in the top-five running order until a pit stop cycle put him a lap down.
Making up that deficit with the wave around rule, he never climbed back into the top-five, as he crashed himself out of the race when battling with Ryan Newman for position.
Johnson tried correcting his No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Impala before making a sharp right turn head-on into the turn 2 wall, smashing his car hard and perhaps shattering his championship chances.
"That one stung for sure. Pretty big impact," Johnson said.
Rounding out the top-10 finishers were Kasey Kahne, Marcos Ambrose, Kevin Harvick, AJ Allmendinger, Tony Stewart, Denny Hamlin, and Ryan Newman.
As for the rest of the Chase for the Sprint Cup contenders, Kurt Busch finished 13th, Brad Keselowski came home 16th, Dale Earnhardt Jr. nabbed 19th, and Jeff Gordon struggled with a 21st.
Next Sunday, the Cup circuit hits up the 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway for the Good Sam 500, which will certainly be a harbinger for the championship field. Defending race winner Clint Bowyer hopes to close out his Richard Childress Racing chapter of his career with another win at the tour's biggest track.
Here's a look at the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Championship field, with drivers' teams, manufactuers, and wins (if applicable) are listed in the parentheses below:
- Carl Edwards (Roush-Fenway/Ford/1 win)
- Kevin Harvick (Childress/Chevy/4 wins)
- Matt Kenseth (Roush-Fenway/Ford/3 wins)
- Kyle Busch (Gibbs/Toyota/4 wins)
- Tony Stewart (Stewart-Haas/Chevy/2 wins)
- Brad Keselowski (Penske/Dodge/3 wins)
- Kurt Busch (Penske/Dodge/2 wins)
- Jimmie Johnson (Hendrick/Chevy/2 wins)
- Dale Earnhardt Jr. (Hendrick/Chevy)
- Ryan Newman (Stewart-Haas/Chevy/1 win)
- Jeff Gordon (Hendrick/Chevy/3 wins)
- Denny Hamlin (Gibbs/Toyota/1 win)