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Matt Kenseth Wins Wild Race at Phoenix

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Phoenix played spoiler to many driver’s Playoff hopes, as 4 drivers ended the day eliminated from contention. In the end, a non-Playoff driver spoiled the party. Matt Kenseth won his 39th career race, and first of 2017.

The day started with 2 Playoff drivers on the front row, Ryan Blaney and Denny Hamlin. Blaney would lead the field to the green, but Hamlin showed his strength early on. Taking the lead on lap 26, Hamlin would lead the most laps on the day. He was in desperate need of stage points to dig himself out of a 19 point deficit entering the day.

The first half of the race was relatively calm. Kyle Larson took the lead from Hamlin late in Stage 1. Larson would win Stage 1, with Hamlin finishing second. Hamlin would retake the lead on pit stops and start Stage 2 up front.

On lap 104, Kyle Larson suffered from another engine expiration. This would mark his 4th-straight DNF and only the second engine failure of his career. Coming to the end of Stage 2, Jimmie Johnson blew a tire and made heavy contact with the wall. These damages would end Johnson’s day and his quest for an 8th championship. Hamlin would win Stage 2 in dominating fashion.

Shifting ahead to lap 230, Trevor Bayne hit the wall hard in turn 4, bringing out a caution. On the pit stops, Matt Kenseth would beat Denny Hamlin off of pit road. Matt Kenseth, who was in the midst of a 51 race winless streak, was trying to win 1 final time with Joe Gibbs Racing. Earlier this month, it was announced that Matt Kenseth had no ride for 2018, and he is taking a hiatus from NASCAR.

Playoff Tempers Boil Over

While racing hard for position, Chase Elliott forced Denny Hamlin into the front-stretch wall. This was payback from Hamlin turning Elliott late in the race at Martinsville 2 weeks prior. Hamlin would get a tire rub, and it would cause him to retire early on lap 275. This ended Hamlin’s hopes of advancing on to Homestead, as he had led 193 laps.

On lap 284 Elliott took the lead from Matt Kenseth. Elliott’s only hope at racing for a championship next week was to win Phoenix, and he was poised to do so. However, Elliott last changed tires on lap 231. As a result, he had older tires than the hard-charging Kenseth. The 45-year-old veteran passed the 21-year-old sophomore on lap 303 and held on to win. The top 10 finishers were Kenseth, Elliott, Martin Truex Jr, Erik Jones, Kevin Harvick, Jamie McMurray, Kyle Busch, Ricky Stenhouse Jr, Aric Almirola, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Victory Celebration

This win marked the 39th Cup victory in Matt Kenseth’s illustrious career. It is likely that he will retire from the Cup Series after this season, so this may have been his final career win. Kenseth definitely knew all of this, as he broke down in tears in victory lane. Kenseth’s last win was at Loudon in 2016.

Championship 4 Field Finalized

Almost forgotten by Kenseth’s big celebrations were the Playoff implications. Since Denny Hamlin was taken out by Chase Elliott, the final Playoff spot went to Brad Keselowski. He will join Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, and Martin Truex Jr in the Championship 4 battle next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

While Matt Kenseth was eliminated from Playoff contention after Kansas, he showed the will to win in Phoenix. The immense joy shown by Kenseth was similar to that shown by Jeff Gordon and Tony Stewart in their final wins. Kenseth was sure to soak in the feelings of victory, as this may be his final trip to victory lane.


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