The pole-sitter leads 415 of 500 laps to win the Sharpie 500 and inches closer to making the playoffs.
By wire services
Published August 28, 2005
BRISTOL, Tenn. - Matt Kenseth used his first victory in more than a year to strengthen his frantic push to make the Nextel Cup Chase for the Championship, winning the Sharpie 500 on Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway in dominating fashion.
Kenseth started from the pole and led 415 of 500 laps to win for the first time since March 7, 2004. His team had struggled most of the past year, but a late-season surge has helped him close in on qualifying for the playoffs.
"This feels great. I haven't been in Victory Lane in a long time," Kenseth said.
The top 10 drivers in the standings after the Sept.10 race in Richmond make the Chase, and Kenseth's victory pushed him to 11th. He started the night 15th but is now 11 points out of the top 10.
"I thought we were out of it," Kenseth said of the Chase. "There's still a couple races to go, but we're a lot closer. We'll just go to California (next week) and give it all that we can. If we can run like (this) the last two races, we'll make it."
Jeff Burton was second, followed by Greg Biffle and Ricky Rudd.
Rusty Wallace, in his final race at his favorite race track, finished fifth. Wallace is retiring at the end of the season and had hoped to mark his final Bristol race with a win. Instead, he leaves with nine, most among NASCAR's active drivers.
Jeff Gordon, who also is making a desperate push for the Chase, was sixth. It put him in the top 10 for the first time since June. If he can stay there for two more races, the four-time series champion will be eligible for the title.
The only driver to drop out of the top 10 was Jamie McMurray (12th).
The race wreaked havoc on many drivers on the bubble - and some of it was intentional.
Dale Jarrett, who started the race 11th in the standings, lost ground midway through the race when contact with Ryan Newman sent him spinning. Jarrett later made a sharp right turn into Newman, wrecking them both.
NASCAR ruled Jarrett's move was intentional and penalized him two laps. The incident dropped Jarrett to 14th in the standings.
"Mine was unintentional. His was intentional, that was obvious," said Newman, who started in eighth and dropped a spot. "I sure didn't expect him to retaliate like that."
The biggest loser was Kevin Harvick, who could not avoid getting caught in Jarrett's accident. Harvick finished 37th and probably will miss the cut.
But in a sign of frustration with his Richard Childress Racing team, Harvick reportedly refused to get in the car after his crew made enough repairs to get the Chevrolet back on the track.
Harvick, who has declined to discuss contract negotiations until he is certain the team is improving, had retreated to his motorhome while the crew worked on the car. When it was ready, he was nowhere to be found, so the team considered using Scott Riggs to finish the race.
Harvick eventually returned. After starting the night 14th in the standings, he is now 16th.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., the defending race champion, finished ninth. He is 15th in the standings.