Matt Kenseth used his first victory in over a year to strengthen his frantic push to make NASCAR's playoffs, winning at Tennessee's Bristol Motor Speedway last night in dominating fashion.
Kenseth started from the pole and led a whopping 415 of the 500 laps to win for the first time since March 7, 2004. His team had struggled for most of the past year, but a late-season surge has helped him close in on qualifying for the Chase of the Championship.
''This feels great. I haven't been in Victory Lane in a long time," he 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 in the points. He started the night 15th in the standings, but is now just 11 points out of cracking 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 and was 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 wins, most among NASCAR's active drivers.
Jeff Gordon, who is also making a desperate push for the Chase, finished sixth. It pushed him into 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 to race for the title.
The only driver to drop out of the top 10 after Bristol was Jamie McMurray, who dropped to 12th.
Dale Jarrett, who started the race 11th in the points, lost ground midway through the race when contact from Ryan Newman sent him spinning.
Apparently seeking payback, Jarrett later made a sharp right turn into Newman to wreck both of their cars.
NASCAR ruled that Jarrett's move was intentional and penalized him two laps. The incident dropped Jarrett to 14th in the standings, and he'll need a furious rally over the final two qualifying events to get into the playoffs. Newman, who started the night clinging to the eighth spot in the standings, dropped one spot to ninth.
Indy Car -- Rookie Ryan Briscoe won his first career pole, posting the best time at Infineon Raceway for today's Argent Mortgage Indy Grand Prix in Sonoma, Calif. Briscoe, 15th in the IRL IndyCar point standings, recorded a speed of 108.248 miles per hour around the 12-turn, 2.26-mile road course, slightly better than the 108.130 he had in practice Friday.
IRL points leader Dan Wheldon qualified seventh at 106.454, behind Buddy Rice at 106.594.
Champ Car -- For the second straight year, Sebastien Bourdais won the pole for the Montreal
His fastest lap was clocked at 1:20.396, a speed of 121.305 m.p.h. Four of Bourdais's 13 laps would have been good enough for the pole.