AVONDALE, Ariz. — For the first 318 laps of the Can-Am 500, which was extended 12 laps beyond its advertised 312-lap distance, it looked like either Alex Bowman or Matt Kenseth would be the driver to beat.
Bowman, a Tucson, Ariz. native won the pole at his home track, Phoenix International Raceway, and dominated in Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 by leading a career-high 194 laps.
Kenseth, who entered Sunday’s race as of one the eight Chase contenders, led 55 laps but a caution with two laps remaining took away what would have been a Homestead-clinching victory at the desert oval.
By Lap 311, Kenseth had built nearly a three-second lead over second-place Bowman. But the caution flag flew when the right rear tire of Michael McDowell’s No. 95 went flat and sent the car sideways into the Turn 3 wall.
Kenseth’s enormous lead was eliminated, and this meant a double-file restart would ensue.
For the green-white-checkered restart, Kenseth picked the outside lane and Bowman was on the bottom. Bowman spun the tires and blocked Kyle Busch entering Turn 1. Busch tapped the No. 88’s bumper, which sent him into the corner with extra momentum.
Bowman got into Kenseth, who had a strong restart and tried to clear the No. 88 going into the turn. Kenseth’s No. 20 spun into the retaining wall as a result of contact, and both racers lost a chance at the win.
“I almost feel like the No. 20 thought he was clear,” Bowman said of the incident. “I wasn’t at the best angle, but I was also against the inside wall when we made contact. I guess he heard something on the radio that he thought he was clear.”
The 23-year-old Arizonan finished sixth — a career high in NASCAR’s premier series, but he wasn’t satisfied with the result.
“I hate taking someone out of the Chase like that, it ruined our day, too,” Bowman said. “There’s no way we should have finished sixth or whatever. That’s the worst we were all day. It’s just frustrating.”
As for Kenseth, he lost his aspirations of a third win in 2016 and second Cup title in the blink of an eye.
“We had a great day going until we got crashed with two to go,” Kenseth told POPULAR SPEED. “It’s really a disappointing result, but the effort was there. We had them right where we wanted them, but you also have to finish the deal.”
Kenseth said his spotter, Chris Osborne, cleared him entering Turn 1 on the restart.
“The No. 88 was laying way, way back for that restart, more than a car would, so I got going early on purpose, and I looked at him at the start-finish line and I thought we were doing OK,” Kenseth told the Motor Racing Network. “It looked like he had a little run on me, maybe not, and shortly thereafter Chris cleared me so with the glare I started looking to the corner, and I got turned out of the way.”
He ended up 21st, and the best he can finish in the Chase standings is fifth. His Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Busch, finished second and took what could have been Kenseth’s spot in the Chase finale next week.
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