JOLIET, Ill. — Matt Kenseth pulled away from teammate Kyle Busch to win the opening race in the Chase for Sprint Cup championship.
The steely win by the top seed in the Chase helped restore a sense of normalcy at the end of a week that saw NASCAR fighting the biggest credibility crisis in its history.
Now the sport waits to see if its fans are still angry that several teams manipulated the race finish at Richmond. The ensuing scandal has raised questions about NASCAR’s integrity that winning team owner Joe Gibbs said he’s seen before in sports.
“I’ve seen things like that happen on the NFL side,” said Gibbs, a three-time Super Bowl winning coach with the Washington Redskins. “We tried to do the best we could in handling it, and hopefully we’ve got this behind us with the race. We all love our sport and nobody wants anything that would hurt or harm it or disappoint people.”
Kenseth slid into Chicago under the radar as all the attention centered squarely on NASCAR’s investigation into the schemes of at least three teams to alter the outcome of the previous week.
It led to severe sanctions against Michael Waltrip Racing, and Martin Truex Jr. was replaced by Ryan Newman in the Chase field. NASCAR continued to review incidents long after cars began to practice for Sunday’s race. Chairman Brian France took the unprecedented step of expanding the field to 13 drivers to add Jeff Gordon.
Then France held an ethics meeting for teams on the eve of the opening race to outline new “rules of the road,” demanding drivers give 100 percent going forward and banning any attempts to artificially affect the outcome of races.
Kenseth said he was eager to help NASCAR move on.
“I think the important thing is it’s behind us,” Kenseth said. “I think it’s pretty clear what everybody expects and the things we should do or not do, though a lot of that is pretty obvious, anyway. Hopefully we can move on because I think it’s been a tough week — not only for some of the teams involved, but I think it’s also been a tough week for NASCAR.”
A strong opener to the 10-race Chase would have gone a long way, but rain made it a difficult day.
The start was delayed by mist for almost 90 minutes. Once the race did go off, it made it almost to the halfway point before the sky opened up again. In all, there were two stoppages totaling 6 hours, 30 minutes and Kenseth didn’t cross the finish line until early today.