1. Carl Edwards Edwards has been first or second in the point standings after 17 of the 19 races this year. It may be tight at the top, but as others come and go, Carl remains.
2. Kyle Busch Kyle claims the flat tire that ended his day in Loudon was due to excessive brake heat, but it looked more like it was due to excessive contact with Hendrick Motorsports cars.
3. Jimmie Johnson Speaking of, Johnson survived numerous dogfights — and another error by his pit crew — to make his weekly late-race charge to a top-5 finish. Dude’s a machine.
4. Kurt Busch Has led at least three laps in every race since the Coca-Cola 600 for a total of 390 by averaging a 7.5-place finish in that time. He’s whittled his points deficit to 10.
5. Matt Kenseth Kenseth had his first forgettable weekend in over two months, but he’s holding steady at sixth in the point standings, 26 markers out of first.
6. Kevin Harvick “The Closer” needs to get back to his closing ways or he’ll be known as “The Fader.” Not that it’s become that bad, but Harvick needs to put the last two weeks behind him.
7. Jeff Gordon A cut tire on the last lap dropped him from a top-5 finish to 11th in New Hampshire. Bad deal. He deserved better. Forget about it and move on to the Congo, Jeff.
8. Denny Hamlin Claims he had the stuff to run down both Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman in the final laps in Loudon but had to weigh the risk vs. reward of running out of fuel. Such is life on the Cup circuit.
9. Ryan Newman A win under the new points format is huge — especially for a guy like Newman, who is on the Chase bubble and was winless until last weekend. Wonder what the intake manifold on his Cup car looked like …
Photo by ASP, Inc.
10. Tony Stewart On the topic of wins, Stewart (also on the Chase bubble) needs one in the worst way. The good news is that the Brickyard is up next and a runner-up showing in Loudon is fresh on his mind.
11. Joey Logano A string of top-15 runs may be too little too late if Logano can’t pick up a victory.
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr. Junior is going the wrong way fast. Never has there been a better time for an off weekend.
13. Kasey Kahne From 19th to 15th in the standings in the last three weeks. Is there a spoiler in our midst?
14. David Ragan Ragan joins Stewart as the wild card qualifier for the Chase as they run now. Needs to change his lack-luster Indy ways, though.
15. Brad Keselowski Is 25 points out of 20th in the standings and, with his Kansas win, a Chase spot. My thinking is he gets there.
Just off the lead pack: AJ Allmendinger, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer, Paul Menard, David Reutimann
A typical fuel-mileage race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit finds a surprise winner in Victory Lane — a driver and team running mid-pack that have nothing to lose by rolling the proverbial dice and stretching a tank of gas to the max.
Sunday’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301 was not your typical fuel mileage race.
Ryan Newman passed Clint Bowyer on a lap 260 restart and managed to milk 41 laps worth of fuel around New Hampshire Motor Speedway’s 1.058-mile layout to grab his first win of the 2011 season.
Newman and Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, Tony Stewart, flexed their muscles early and often in Loudon, N.H. Both were top-3 cars throughout the event’s three practice sessions. They followed that by sweeping the front row in qualifying, with Newman edging Stewart for the pole.
Newman then led a race-high 119 laps — including the final 72 — while conserving just enough fuel to hold off a hard-charging Stewart in the closing laps.
“One of the best cars here that we saw was the 14 (Stewart),” Newman said. “There were a couple other cars at different times, but the 14 was mired back in traffic. He had to run the wheels off of it to get up to where he had some track position so he could try to run us down.
“Fortunately it stayed green. I was more worried about a yellow coming out with five (laps) to go. Do we have enough fuel for a green-white-checkered (finish)? Usually those things that come and squash us didn’t happen today.”
Stewart settled for second, while Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top 5.
The 1-2 finish was especially gratifying for Stewart, who co-owns the team that employs Newman and his No. 39 operation, as well as Stewart’s own No. 14 Chevy.
Photo by ASP, Inc.
“It’s no secret we’ve been struggling this year,” Stewart said. “But it really shows me the depth of the people we got in our organization.
“Our guys at our shop just keep plugging away, they keep working, they keep their chins up. That’s probably what I’m most proud of. It’s easy when things are going right. But when times are tough and you have a day like today, you see how your organization battles. That, to me, shows the character of what Stewart-Haas Racing is about, what our people are like.”
Newman’s win could pay big dividends for his playoff hopes. He had been teetering on the Chase bubble for weeks, but the New Hampshire victory falls just one week after a strong fourth-place showing at Kentucky. He now finds himself eighth in the championship standings and with insurance via the win that, were he to fall out of the top 10, could qualify his team based on the two wild card entries awarded to race-winners.
Stewart’s standing is a bit more precipitous. Normally a driver who comes alive in the hot summer months, Stewart is winless in 2011. Still, he is tied with Hamlin for 10th in the standings, although Hamlin’s win at Michigan serves as the tiebreaker. But with one of Stewart’s favorite tracks on tap — the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway — it could be the start of an SHR surge.
Kyle Busch entered New Hampshire with the points lead but blew a tire on lap 61 a limped to a 36th-place finish. That handed the points lead back to Carl Edwards, whose 13th-place run finds him seven points ahead of Johnson in the race to the Chase.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s slide continued on Sunday. A top-10 car for much of the afternoon, Earnhardt’s No. 88 was the victim of a pit road violation. Having to make up lost ground, he drove to a 15th-place finish but fell to ninth in the standings, with only a seven-point cushion over Stewart, after being a fixture in the top 5 for the first half of the season.
From the Spotter’s Stand
The first race of the Chase set the tone for what would be the most exciting championship shootout in the format’s seven-year history.
Clint Bowyer made the most of his opportunity as the last man in the Chase, leading 177 laps on his way to ending an 88-race winless drought by conserving fuel and holding off a charging Denny Hamlin. On the other side of the fuel gauge gamble, Smoke turned to fumes when Tony Stewart (100 laps led) ran out of gas and sputtered to a disappointing 24th-place finish.
Bowyer’s car was later found to be out of tolerance when NASCAR took his Chevy to its R&D Center. His RCR team claimed the car was damaged when it was pushed by a wrecker when the fuel cell ran dry while doing victory burnouts. NASCAR didn’t buy it and, while the win was allowed to stand, docked his team a title-crippling 150 points.
Earlier in the year, Kasey Kahne’s Richard Petty Motorsports Ford was the car to beat until the engine grenaded after leading 110 laps. Jeff Burton and Kyle Busch took control from there, leading a combined 135 laps. However, in the end Jimmie Johnson and Kurt Busch played bumper cars in a shootout that got physical. The 48 got the last bump ’n’ run in, and won for the second straight week with its third checkers at Loudon.
Crew Chief’s Take
“Track position is the order of the day at New Hampshire. Cars generally have one to one-and-a-half lanes to play with, making passing — especially lap-down machines — difficult at best. Rubber buildup is widespread in the turns, and that determines where the driver can and can't run. If he can't run the line he wants because of the rubber buildup on the track, it makes it frustrating. Usually two or three teams hit it right, and if it doesn’t rain and it doesn’t come down to fuel, one of them is going to win it.”
Fantasy Stall Looking at Checkers: A beefed up Martinsville, NHMS favors Jeff Gordon, Denny Hamlin and Jimmie Johnson. Pretty Solid Pick: When Kurt Busch isn’t highly irritated with his crew chief, spotter, over-the-wall gang, owner or another driver, he’s good here. Good Sleeper Pick: David Reutimann will roll the dice when the weather turns wet. Runs on Seven Cylinders: The RCR duds may change things, but Paul Menard has been really bad in Loudon. Insider Tip: Don’t put any stock in Jeff Burton’s four wins here.
Classic Moments at New Hampshire
It looks as if two of NASCAR’s bright young talents are going to decide the 2002 New England 300. However, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is dumped by Todd Bodine with 12 laps to go, and Matt Kenseth suffers a flat right rear tire with 10 laps remaining, clearing the way for the old guard.
Ward Burton, who won the Daytona 500 five months prior, records his final Cup victory in a race plagued by tire issues and spins in Turns 3 and 4 on the newly redone racing surface.
“There’s just something about the actual racing surface that needs some help,” Burton says. His brother, Jeff, agrees, saying, “I hate it to say it, but the racetrack was better the way it was before.”
Second-place finisher Jeff Green, driving Richard Childress’ No. 30 AOL Chevy, records his best career Cup finish.