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Matt Kenseth wins at Richmond; Chase field set

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Matt Kenseth won the Federated Auto Parts 400 at Richmond, Virginia,  Saturday night. Teammate Kyle Busch was second and Joey Logano third.

Kenseth dominated the field leading 352 of the race’s 400 laps. The victory was Kenseth’s fourth of the season tying Jimmie Johnson and Busch for the most.

Kenseth took the checkered flag, but five other drivers earned their own victories. By finishing seventh, Jeff Gordon earned a spot in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship. Gordon is completing his final season as a NASCAR driver.

Also earning a spot in the Chase among this year’s non-race winners was Clint Bowyer, who finished 10th at Richmond; Jamie McMurray, the 13th place finisher; Ryan Newman, who finished 20th and Paul Menard, who finished 26th.

The most notable name to miss the Chase is Tony Stewart. The three-time NASCAR champion was never a contender and his championship days seem like a distant memory over the past year.  Since the tragedy of Aug. 9, 2014 when Stewart struck and killed driver Kevin Ward Jr. on a dirt track, Stewart has struggled mightily in the No. 14 car.

Stewart’s former car owner, former Washington Redskins’ Coach Joe Gibbs, has every reason to be optimistic about a championship run. The Joe Gibbs Racing team of Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards and Denny Hamlin won seven of the past 10 races, including three by Kenseth. All four made the Chase. While anything can happen, the Sprint Cup winner seems likely to come from the Gibbs garage.

The reigning champion, Kevin Harvick, got off to a fast start in 2015. After eight straight races of finishing first or second, Harvick settled into a more realistic season. He finished 14th at Richmond, one lap behind Kenseth and will start the Chase in fifth position.

Others making the Chase were Logano, Kurt Busch, Brad Keselowski, Martin Truex Jr. and Dale Earnhardt. Jr.

Perhaps another future champion made his debut Saturday at Richmond. Jeffrey Earnhardt, nephew of Dale Jr., and grandson of Dale Earnhardt Sr., drove his first Sprint Cup race and finished 40th.

The Chase begins Sunday at Chicagoland Speedway with the first cut coming on Oct. 4 at the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway. Four of the 16 contenders will be eliminated, a process that will be repeated every three weeks for nine weeks.

The final four contenders will vie for the Sprint Cup on Nov. 22 at the Homestead-Miami Speedway in the Ford Ecoboost 400.

Bob Sparks is President of Ramos and Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business and political consulting firm. During his career, he has directed media relations and managed events for professional baseball, served as chief spokesperson for the Republican Party of Florida as well as the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the Attorney General of Florida. After serving as Executive Deputy Chief of Staff for Governor Charlie Crist, he returned to the private sector working with clients including the Republican National Committee and political candidates in Japan. He lives in Tallahassee with his wife, Sue and can be reached at [email protected]

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