Matt Kenseth might have gotten the final victory of his Cup Series career on Sunday. And in doing so, he spoiled the title hopes of Chase Elliott.
Kenseth passed Elliott with nine laps to go to deny Elliott his first win a chance to race for the championship. That pass meant Brad Keselowski was able to advance with a shot for the title to the Nov. 19 championship race at Homestead along with Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr.
Keselowski advances to the final round at the expense of Denny Hamlin, who had the best car throughout much of Sunday’s race. But a bump from Elliott — possible retribution for an incident two weeks ago — put Hamlin into the wall and caused a tire rub.
A few laps later, Hamlin’s car was in the wall.
At Martinsville, contact from Hamlin to Elliott’s back bumper sent Elliott into the wall. Elliott was leading at the time. A win in that race, much like a win on Sunday, would have locked Elliott into the final round of the playoffs.
Kenseth, 45, said last weekend that he’s got no ride for the 2018 season and isn’t sure if he’ll ever have one again. The 2003 Cup Series champion’s contract with Joe Gibbs Racing expires at the end of the season and he’s being replaced in the No. 20 car by Erik Jones.
The final 50 laps of Sunday’s race were, uh, a bit wild and set up by a crazy moment. Scalding hot brake rotors from Chris Buescher’s car flew in between the SAFER barriers on the outside wall as Buescher had a mechanical failure that caused an accident.
Those brake rotors caused parts of the wall to catch on fire.
After the red flag to extinguish the fire, Elliott started marching to the front and had his run-in with Hamlin. Elliott took the lead shortly after Hamlin’s blown tire and pulled away from Kenseth.
But Kenseth’s car came to life within the final 15 laps. He ran down Elliott and passed him with ease to cruise to the 39th win of his career.
Elliott finished second while Truex was third.
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