Kenseth takes Chase opener


JOLIET, Ill. — After a week’s worth of controversy and a day’s worth of racing, Matt Kenseth held serve.

Kenseth, who entered the Chase for the Sprint Cup as the 10-race championship battle’s No. 1 seed, cemented his position Sunday night with a victory in the twice rain-delayed Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway.

Kenseth passed Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch on a restart with 22 of 267 laps remaining and cruised to his sixth win of the season.

Kyle Busch finished second, Kevin Harvick was third, Kurt Busch was fourth and Jimmie Johnson ended up fifth.

Finishing sixth through 10th were: Jeff Gordon, Brad Keselowski, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Clint Bowyer and Ryan Newman.

It appeared for most of Sunday dark clouds would continue to hover over NASCAR — literally.

Hoping to get back to what it does best — racing — after spending the past week addressing a team orders scandal, NASCAR instead got off to a false start.

The start of Sunday’s race was delayed approximately an hour-and-a-half by rain and then halted again by rain after completing just 109 laps.

The race finally resumed at approximately 10 p.m. — after a delay of more than five hours.

Pole-winner Joey Logano led the first 22 laps of the race until a competition caution was called to allow teams to check their tires for wear. Johnson took over the lead on Lap 34 following pit stops.

NASCAR’s new restart policy got its first test as Kyle Busch — who was second — beat Johnson to the start-finish line and was credited with leading a lap, which is one point toward his Chase total.

Johnson quickly retook the lead on the next lap.

Teams began a round of green-flag pit stops on Lap 76, and the race’s first controversy cropped up.

When then-leader Johnson pit under green on Lap 77, the NASCAR official assigned to Johnson’s pit initially signaled a lug nut had been left off a wheel. One lugnut did have an issue but the pit crew member Calvin Teague quickly was able to correct it, even before the official could signal everything was good.

The delay cost Johnson some valuable time in the pits, and when he resumed his spot on the track he had dropped from first to fifth.

“The official thought there were only four on there. We all make mistakes,” said Johnson’s crew chief, Chad Knaus. “That happens from time to time. Hopefully we can get up towards the front and compete for the win.”

Once the cycle of pit stops were completed, Kenseth emerged as the leader on Lap 84. Kurt Busch was penalized for speeding on pit road during his green-flag stop and fell a lap down early.

Rain came quickly and brought a halt to the race after Lap 109. Once the race resumed to green-flag conditions on Lap 117, Kenseth led the way, followed by Johnson and Kyle Busch.

Justin Allgaier’s spin on Lap 240 brought out the ninth caution of the race. A handful of lead-lap car elected to pit for fuel and tires but Kyle Busch continued to lead on the restart on Lap 245.

Kenseth, however, quickly made his way around Kyle Busch to take the lead.

With 10 laps remaining, Kenseth maintained a hefty lead on Kyle Busch.

Restart rules changed: Earlier Sunday, NASCAR officials unveiled changes to race restart procedures which went into effect immediately.

The leader of the race still begins the race in the “restart zone” — lines marked on each track — but once the leader starts to accelerate, the flagman will display the green flag. At that time, the second-place driver can accelerate as well, even if he ends up beating the first place driver to the line.