Matt Kenseth pulled out a stunning win in the closing laps Sunday. It denied Chase Elliott another chance at a win and a shot at a NASCAR title. Here’s how it all went down in a drama filled race that set the field for the Final 4 at Homestead.
From his second career pole and his second of the season, Ryan Blaney led the field to the green. Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson, Chase Elliott and Martin Truex Jr. rounded out the top five.
Blaney took the lead on the outside, but Hamlin was looking for the spot; Elliott charged to third. On the next lap Larson shot down into the dog leg and it was three wide entering turn 3; Elliott took second Larson grabbed third. Hamlin retook third on the next lap.
Harvick was soon working his way forward he was fifth by lap 5.
Elliott was soon chipping away at the lead.
Elliott took the lead on lap 12. Hamlin took second on lap 15, as Blaney was reporting a tight condition.
Larson took third on lap 18.
Hamlin was closing the gap by lap 20. The two were fighting for the lead by lap 24.
Blaney had dropped to seventh.
Hamlin was finally able to take the lead exiting turn 3 on lap 28. Larson was close behind Elliott.
Larson took second on lap 30.
Blaney was 10th by lap 32. Brad Keselowski was 18th after starting 16th and the final driver able to make the final four on points.
The lead was 1.4 seconds by lap 41.
Matt Kenseth took fifth on lap 54.
With 15 to go in Stage 1: Hamlin, Larson, Elliott, Harvick, Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Truex, Erik Jones, Jimmie Johnson and Jamie McMurray.
In lapped traffic, Larson took the lead from Hamlin on lap 67. Larson was soon pulling away.
Top 10 Stage 1: Larson, Hamlin, Elliott, Kenseth, Harvick, Kyle Busch, Jones, Truex, Ryan Newman and Johnson.
The first caution came out to end the stage. There were 21 cars on the lead lap.
The leaders pitted. Hamlin was out first followed by Kenseth, Larson, Kyle Busch and Elliott.
Green came out to start Stage 2 to start lap 84.
Hamlin had the lead by turn 1; Kenseth by second but was challenged by Kyle Busch. Harvick lurked close behind; Busch had second on lap 86; Larson followed for third. Harvick was fifth behind Kenseth.
Larson was looking for second by lap 88 and had it exiting turn 2 on lap 89. The lead for Hamlin was just over a second.
Kenseth took third on lap 93.
Larson was soon catching Hamlin. But by lap 102. He was reporting an engine issue; he pitted on lap 104. The crew looked under the hood, he made a slow lap and headed to the garage. The top five: Hamlin, Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Harvick and Jones.
Jones had fourth by lap 120.
Truex took fifth on lap 130.
With 5 to go in Stage 2, Jones had moved to third. Top 10 Hamlin, Kenseth, Jones, Truex, Kyle Busch, Harvick, McMurray, Newman Elliott, Clint Bowyer. The lead for Hamlin was 1.5 seconds.
Johnson blew a tire and hit the wall on lap 164 and the second caution of the day flew. Stage 2 ended under caution. Johnson’s hopes for a title ended as he headed to the garage.
The Top 10 at the end of Stage 2 which ended under caution: Hamlin, Kenseth, Jones, Truex, Kyle Busch, Harvick, McMurray, Newman, Elliott, Clint Bowyer.
The leaders pitted. Hamlin was out first followed by Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Truex and Harvick.
Green came out to start lap 159; Hamlin and Keselowski were tied in points for the final playoff spot.
Hamlin had the lead by turn 3 after fending off a challenge from Kenseth; Truex and Kyle Busch were side by side for third behind. Truex had the spot by lap 162; Jones was fifth.
The Penske cars, specifically Keselowski were improving; he was 11th by lap 167.
Jones had fourth from Kyle Busch by lap 171.
Kyle Busch was continuing to fall back; he was 7th by lap 177. McMurray was fifth.
Harvick took fifth on lap 181.
The top five with 100 laps to go: Hamlin, Kenseth, Truex, Jones and Harvick.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. lost a right front tire and pitted on lap 228.
Trevor Bayne crashed hard coming out of turn 4 on lap 229 after losing a tire and the third caution of the day came out.
The leaders pitted. Kenseth was out first followed by Hamlin, Truex, Harvick and Jones. Bowyer was penalized for speeding.
The green came out to start lap 235; Kenseth held the lead as Truex and Harvick fought for third. Harvick had third a lap later. Hamlin’s crew reported that they only had four lug nuts on the left rear tire.
NASCAR called a caution for debris on lap 239.
Keselowski was among the few to pit. Harvick and Elliott were reporting possible brake issues.
Green came out on lap 243; Kenseth took the lead while Truex was looking for second; he had the spot from Hamlin a lap later and was looking for the lead. Hamlin fought back to retake second on lap 246. Jones took fourth behind Truex, Harvick was close behind.
Elliott took fourth on lap 249.
Caution five came out when Chris Buescher hit the wall in turn 3 on lap 251. The SAFER barrier was soon showing flames. NASCAR threw the red flag as two fires in the SAFER barrier were caused by broken pieces of brake rotors from the Buescher car landed in the wall.
The red flag lasted for five minutes, three seconds.
Several among the leaders pitted including Harvick and Kyle Busch. Harvick was out first and restarted 13th.
The top 10: Kenseth, Hamlin, Truex, Elliott, Blaney, Newman, Keselowski, Joey Logano, Kurt Busch and Daniel Suarez.
Green came out to start lap 258.
Kenseth had a clear lead by Turn 1; Elliott was looking for second from Hamlin; he had the spot by the end of the lap. Hamlin was third, Truex fourth, Newman fifth.
Cole Whitt crashed on lap 262 entering turn 3 and caution six waved.
Green came out to start lap 263; Kenseth again had the lead; Truex and Elliott was side by side for second; Truex had second by the end of the lap. Hamlin grabbed third from Elliott on the apron. Elliott was soon bumping Hamlin looking to regain the spot. Blaney was fifth.
Elliott pinched Hamlin into the wall exiting turn 4 on lap 270 and took third. Hamlin was soon showing tire smoke. Hamlin was soon fifth and trying to stay ahead of Keselowski in eighth. He was sixth by lap 272
It ended on lap 272 when Hamlin lost a tire and crashed entering turn 3. Caution seven flew. Hamlin’s day was done.
Keselowski, Kyle Busch and Harvick were among those who pitted. Hamlin stopped and climbed from the car, his day and championship hopes were over.
The top five when the green came out to start lap 281: Kenseth, Truex, Elliott, Jones and Blaney.
The field bunched up on the restart when Jones failed to go. Keselowski slowed but avoided contact. Up front, Kenseth took the lead; Truex second. Elliott had second a lap later; he took the lead on lap 283 to the roar of the crowd. Keselowski fell back to 18th.
Elliott was soon stretching out of the lead.
Harvick took fifth on lap 298.
The lead was shrinking by lap 299; it was only a half a second.
Kenseth had caught Elliott on lap 300.
Kenseth took the lead on lap 302 with a move on the dog leg. Keselowski then took over the final spot for the championship.
Truex had caught and passed Elliott on lap 305; seven to go.
With five to go the lead was .630 of a second for Kenseth.
It was nearing a second on the final lap.
There was no further drama as Kenseth won his first race in 51 starts. Keselowski with his 16th place finish cemented his spot in the Final 4 at Homestead. Elliott was second, followed by Truex, Jones, and Harvick. McMurray was sixth, Kyle Busch seventh, with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Aric Almirola and Dale Earnhardt Jr. who rallied back from two laps down, finished 10th.
The final race of the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season will be the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway next Sunday. The green flag will fall just after 2:30 p.m. ET with live coverage on NBC.