RICHMOND, VA. – Joe Gibbs Racing cemented itself as the team to beat for NASCAR's championships with a dominating run Saturday night that ended in Matt Kenseth's fourth win of the season.
The victory put Kenseth in a tie with Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch and six-time champion Jimmie Johnson for the top seeds in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.
The 10-race playoff series begins next Sunday at Chicagoland.
Kenseth has won three of the last six races, and JGR has won eight of the last 11.
"Certainly right now as a company we're on a roll," Kenseth said.
The 16-driver Chase field was set in the regular-season finale, where only four spots were really up for grabs. Jamie McMurray clinched his berth as soon as he took the green flag, but Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman, Paul Menard and Clint Bowyer all had to protect their positions.
Gordon had to finish 17th or better to guarantee his slot, and he finished a solid seventh.
Bowyer was in a little bit more of a precarious position as he came to Richmond ranked 16th in the field and unable to afford any mistakes Saturday night. He never doubted he was up for the challenge at one of his favorite tracks, and he finished 10th to give Toyota five cars in the Chase field.
It wasn't supposed to be difficult for Newman or Menard, but the Richard Childress Racing drivers struggled the entire race. They both ended three laps down from the leaders, with Newman 20th and Menard 26th.
But it all resets now as the Chase gives the entire field an equal shot to race for the championship. Divided into three rounds before the Nov. 22 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway, a win automatically advances the driver into the next round. Four drivers will be knocked out after every third race.
"It's a whole new ballgame now," said reigning series champion Kevin Harvick, who finished a quiet 14th Saturday.
McMurray, who won the Daytona 500 and Brickyard 400 in 2010, is only the second driver to make the Chase for team owner Chip Ganassi, following Juan Pablo Montoya in 2009.
"It's gratifying to bring a group of people together and accomplish something like this, and to be a part of a team of guys that accomplished this," Ganassi said. "Now that's the first goal, the goal changes now. The goal post changes to winning races and advancing in the Chase."
McMurray missed the cutoff for the Chase by one spot in 2004 and lost the final spot after a crash at Richmond in 2005. He also lost out on the final Chase spot at Richmond in 2014.
Teammate Kyle Larson needed to win the race to qualify for the Chase. Ganassi said on the starting grid before the race he believed both drivers could make the field.
"Absolutely. Stanger things have happened," Ganassi said.
Ganassi won the IndyCar championship this season when driver Scott Dixon made a late charge and won on a tiebreaker after winning the finale in Sonoma.
Ganassi's left arm was in a sling after he broke his collarbone when he fell off his mountain bike last week. He tweeted a picture of his X-ray and had surgery last Sunday.
"It's more of an inconvenience and uncomfortable thing as opposed to pain," he said. "I had to ride back a couple of miles after I did it to get to my car. I'm starting to sweat just thinking about it."