By: Ethyn Reasoner
Matt Kenseth won the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire on Sunday, September 27. Kenseth joins teammate Denny Hamlin as the first two drivers who have earned guaranteed spots in the Contender Round of the Chase.
Kevin Harvick was leading with under three laps to go when he ran out of fuel, and Kenseth led the remaining two and a half laps to capture his fifth win of the year.
After blowing a tire and finishing 42nd at Chicagoland, Harvick and his Stewart-Haas team took a gamble with pit strategy in an attempt to win and lock themselves into the next round, which would have made their points deficit irrelevant.
However, since Harvick finished 21st due to a failed strategy, he is now 23 points behind the 12th-place Dale Earnhardt, Jr.
23 points is 23 positions on the track. This means Harvick would either have to finish at least 23 positions ahead of Earnhardt or win the race.
If Harvick performs well, Earnhardt has a terrible race, and other drivers near Earnhardt in the points (Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch, and Paul Menard) have poor finishes, Harvick may earn his way into the next round on points.
Having all of those circumstances fall into place for Harvick is highly unlikely, so the only realistic way for Harvick to avoid elimination is by winning at Dover on Sunday.
At Phoenix International Raceway in November 2014, Harvick won and earned one of the four spots in the championship round at Homestead. Had he not won, Jeff Gordon would have claimed the final of four transfer spots, so Harvick has won in a high-pressure situation before.
NASCAR has made some procedural changes to how the leader manages restarts. A small section of the racetrack before the start-finish line, known as the restart zones, have been adjusted for the remainder of the season. The restart zone has been doubled in length in order to give the leader more lenience when it comes to when they accelerate and lead the field back to green.
In driver news, Tony Stewart announced on Wednesday, September 30 that 2016 will be his final full-time season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
His eventual replacement for 2017, Clint Bowyer, announced on Friday, October 2 that he will drive for HScott Motorsports in 2016.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. announced that Elliott Sadler will drive for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Xfinity Series next season. Sadler’s long-time sponsor, One Main Financial, will join him at the team as the primary sponsor.
Race coverage of the AAA 400 from Dover International Speedway begins at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN. The race can also be streamed online through NBC Sports Live Extra.