Kenseth’s Win, Harvick’s Heartbreak at NHMS

Duck boats marked a tribute to Jeff Gordon's final race at NHMS

Matt Kenseth (20) racing with Kyle Larson (42).

(WWLP) – Matt Kenseth punched his ticket for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship Contender Round with a drive to victory lane in Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon.

Kenseth took over the lead when Kevin Harvick ran out of gas with 3 laps to go. Harvick had the car to beat as he led 216 of the 300 laps. Denny Hamlin was 2nd trailing his teammate Kenseth by almost 9 seconds. Joey Logano,  Greg Biffle, and Carl Edwards rounded out the top 5.

Next’s weekend’s race at Dover is the final of the 3 Challenger Round events. After that the 4 winless drivers with the least points will be eliminated from the championship chase. Denny Hamlin will join Kenseth in the Contender Round after winning the 1st chase race at Chicagoland. Right now the bottom 4 drivers are Kyle Busch, Paul Menard, Kevin Harvick, and Clint Bowyer.

Berlin, Connecticut’s Ryan Preece made his NASCAR Sprint Cup debut at the Magic Mile. Preece was behind the wheel of the #98 Tommy Baldwin Chevrolet. Preece finished 32nd in the 43 car field, 4 laps down. The 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Champion has made 3 starts in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series with a best finish of 14th. However he finished better than he started in every race,

Jeffrey Earnhardt, Dale Jr.’s nephew, is the 4th generation of the famous racing family. He raced in the Sylvania 300 driving the #32 Ford owned by Archie St. Hilaire. Earnhardt finished 35th, 8 laps down. His crew chief is Belchertown native Clint Cram. The pairing represents a reunion, as Cram was Earnhardt’s crew chief when he drove in what is now the K&N Pro Series East when Jeffrey was fresh out of high school. Cram told 22News how his driver has changed from then to now.  “I’ve known Jeffrey since he was probably 6. He’s very mature now. It was kind of forced on him when DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) closed the doors. It was every man for himself. Like I told him when he came in and jumped in this car in Richmond, I said, ‘Man, We always wanted to get here. We both had different plans of getting here, but it was always together. But here we are together and we’re here.’ And it took different paths to get us here. He went right, I went left. And then we went around the big collision and we met back here. It’s really neat. He has matured a lot, and he had to. He’s quite a respectable young man now. “

Stock car racing’s polar opposites would be the dynasty teams like Jimmie Johnson’s and the teams that can only start and park. In between there are teams enjoying varying levels of success and struggling with difficult levels of financial backing. Cram told 22News where their team fits in. “Every team has their place. We had a big discussion yesterday about setting your own expectations and managing your own expectations. I think in the course of a weekend, if you parked the 48 car next to mine and watched the 2 teams work, we probably work harder. They have more things figured out on paper, on computer, what have you. We probably drain more sweat and blood through a weekend to get to where we are. And when we leave we know we’re not going to run in the top 25. A 35th place finish for us is a good day if everybody’s running. You have executed your plan pretty well. If I came here this weekend thinking I’m going to run 30th I would leave here very discouraged. The top 35 spots are pretty well spoken for by well funded teams. So when we outrun a few of them, we feel good, especially with a young talent, a rookie who can come in here and out run a couple guys who’ve been doing it all year. It’s a feather in the cap.”

The traditional fly-over following the national anthem featured  jets from the 104th Fighter Wing of the Massachusetts Air National Guard in Westfield.  Country music star Brett Eldredge was the pre-race concert performer. Former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling delivered the invocation.

NHMS brought a New England style salute to Jeff Gordon’s career wind down and final Sprint Cup race at NHMS with a pre-race duck boat ride. Gordon, his family, and crew were loaded on the vehicle for a champion’s lap around the Magic Mile. A Boston tourist attraction, the duck boats have become a traditional part of championship celebrations by the Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins, and New England Patriots.

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