Kenseth takes emotional win in penultimate race at Phoenix, Championship four set


Credit: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images

Matt Kenseth has won the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Can-Am 500 at Phoenix International Raceway. Kenseth took the lead away from the previous leader Chase Elliott in the final ten laps of the race to secure his first win of the year in what could very well be his final race in the NASCAR Cup Series.

During the final segment of the race, it looked as though Elliott was finally in a position to win his first Cup series race; a win that would have put him through to the championship finale next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He had been in a similar position at Martinsville a few weeks ago before being involved in a controversial incident with Denny Hamlin. After the incident two weeks ago, many wondered whether Elliott would exact revenge on Hamlin. Today, he did.

Elliott had been leading the race with under fifty laps to go, but Hamlin – who looked to have the faster car – managed to find a way past to take the lead. Elliott wasn’t done, however, as he started to hit the rear of Hamlin’s car in the braking zones. Elliott would manage to prise open a gap on the inside of Hamlin for turn four and would then run him wide off of the corner and into the outside wall. The contact gave Hamlin damage, most significantly being a tyre rub on the right-rear of his Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Camry. After falling back a number of positions over the next few laps, the tyre would finally let go on the entry to turn three. The puncture would put Hamlin on an unavoidable collision course with the wall, with the ensuing hit being enough to put him out of the race and out of the championship hunt.

Elliott would go on to hold the race lead for much of the remaining laps, but with just a handful of laps to go, Kenseth arrived. He’d slowly worked his way closer to Chase in the lead, with the #24 car looking to be fading as the chequered flag got closer. There was no way for him to hold off the hard-charging Kenseth, with Matt managing to find a way through with just ten laps to go.

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Kenseth would go on to build a small lead over the remaining ten-mile distance. On lap 312, he would cross the line to take perhaps the most emotional win of his NASCAR Cup Series career. Ever since Joe Gibbs Racing announced that he would be replaced by Erik Jones for 2018, Kenseth has been hunting for good results to put himself in the shop window for other teams. A few weeks ago, he announced that he did not expect to be running full-time next year, with this race looking as though it could end up being the penultimate race of his full-time career. To win in what could be his final full-time season was a massive goal for Kenseth and after a sterling drive, he accomplished it.

“I don’t know what to say except for thank the Lord,” said a visibly emotional Kenseth after climbing from his #20 JGR Camry, “Had an amazing journey. I know I’m a big baby right now. Just got one race left. Everybody dreams of going out a winner. We won today. No one can take that from us. It was a heck of a race with Chase there.”

“The way this year was going I wasn’t really expecting to win today. This is a special one, it means a lot.”

Chase Elliott once again had to watch another shot at a maiden Cup series win slip away. He would just manage to hold off Martin Truex Jr to take second place, but sadly it was one position shy of what he needed to earn the final spot in next week’s championship four. Truex’s team-mate Erik Jones would fly up the order in the closing stages to take fourth place, with Kevin Harvick rounding out the top five in fifth place for Stewart-Haas Racing.

Jamie McMurray and Kyle Busch would take positions six and seven; with Busch being one of the first to congratulate his team-mate Kenseth post-race. Ricky Stenhouse Jr and Aric Almirola would take eighth and ninth, with Dale Earnhardt Jr taking tenth place in his penultimate Cup series start.

Brad Keselowski entered the race as the fourth-placed driver in the playoff standings, but he had to work hard if he wanted to keep that vital spot to advance to the championship showdown next week at Homestead-Miami Speedway. His #2 Team Penske Ford Fusion was overheating in the closing stages, but he managed to coast home to take sixteenth place. This would be enough for him to claim the fourth spot in the championship four, but only just. This means he will be in championship contention in the final round for the first time since 2012; the year he won his Cup series title.

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Ryan Blaney would finish just behind Keselowski to take seventeenth. The pole-sitter didn’t look to have the race pace in his #21 Wood Brothers Racing Ford and therefore was unable to race his way to a spot in the championship four. He joins fellow sophomore driver Elliott in being eliminated this weekend. Denny Hamlin‘s aforementioned incident with Elliott would put him down in an eventual thirty-fifth place finish that would also put him in elimination.

The final driver eliminated from the championship hunt this weekend would be Jimmie Johnson. The reigning Cup Series champion was in a must-win situation if he wanted to have a chance to defend his title next week, however, his hopes for a record-breaking eighth title would be dashed when his #48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet suffered a tyre blow-out. This put Johnson in the wall and out of the race, with no chance of making it to Homestead.

In just one week, Kevin Harvick, Kyle Busch, Martin Truex Jr and Brad Keselowski will battle it out for the championship victory at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Whoever finishes as the highest placed driver in next Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 will be crowned the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion.

2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series – Can-Am 500 – Race results:

PosCar #DriverManufacturer
120Matt KensethToyota
224Chase Elliott (P)Chevrolet
378Martin Truex Jr (P)Toyota
477Erik JonesToyota
54Kevin Harvick (P)Ford
61Jamie McMurrayChevrolet
718Kyle Busch (P)Toyota
817Ricky Stenhouse JrFord
943Aric AlmirolaFord
1088Dale Earnhardt JrChevrolet
1113Ty DillonChevrolet
1222Joey LoganoFord
1314Clint BowyerFord
143Austin DillonChevrolet
1527Paul MenardChevrolet
162Brad Keselowski (P)Ford
1721Ryan Blaney (P)Ford
1819Daniel SuarezToyota
195Kasey KahneChevrolet
2031Ryan NewmanChevrolet
2141Kurt BuschFord
2295Michael McDowellChevrolet
2347AJ AllmendingerChevrolet
2434Landon CassillFord
2510Danica PatrickFord
2615DJ KenningtonChevrolet
2732Matt DiBenedettoFord
2866David StarrChevrolet
2933Jeffrey EarnhardtChevrolet
307Joey GaseChevrolet
3123Corey LaJoieToyota
3200Derrike CopeChevrolet
3338David RaganFord
3451Kyle WeathermanChevrolet
3511Denny Hamlin (P)Toyota
3672Cole WhittChevrolet
3737Chris BuescherChevrolet
386Trevor BayneFord
3948Jimmie Johnson (P)Chevrolet
4042Kyle LarsonChevrolet