Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Chase Coverage: New Hampshire Wrap-Up Report

New Hampshire Motor Speedway gets a new start/finish line. (Courtesy of Josh Jones)
Twelve drivers are fighting it out to be the next "to be with" the Sprint Cup Series trophy and on Sunday they headed to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the first race of the 2010 Chase.


Hard racing, Chase drivers spinning, and an unexpected winner were just a few of the things that made the Sylvania 300 exciting. Today the ladies of Skirts and Scuffs bring you the post race report. We hope you enjoy our coverage and come back Friday morning to read our advance for Dover.


After a spin late in the race Hamlin fought back to finish second
1. DENNY HAMLIN –  5230 POINTS (leader) – 2nd PLACE FINISH – HOLLY MACHUGA
Your reigning points leader is Denny Hamlin.

The Chesterfield, Va., native finished second this week after Tony Stewart ran out of fuel with two laps to go. He started 22nd and raced his way into the top 10.

Along the way, however, Denny was met by Jimmie Johnson, whom he traded some contact with. He finally hit the top 10 on lap 108. He fought his way through the field until he was spun by Carl Edwards on lap 213, bringing out the fifth caution of the day. Carl took full responsibility respectfully. That spin pushed Denny all the way back to 22nd, his starting position. But, because of that caution, Denny had a better fuel and tire window than anyone else. A good strategy by the #11 FedEx team. At lap 262, he passed Kevin Harvick for sixth. On lap 275, he passed Dale Earnhardt Jr. for fifth. On lap 282, Denny was told that he was fine on fuel and to race the car other than worry about fuel, the opposite of what other crew chiefs were telling their drivers. With six laps to go, Denny was the fastest car on the track. At lap 298, the #14 of Tony Stewart ran out of fuel, which gave Clint Bowyer the win and second place to Hamlin and his FedEx team.

"I've learned a lot over the years. I'm gonna take all those things and put them to use," said Denny in an interview aired during the race.

The knee is obviously not in Denny's way anymore. The FedEx team is more competitive than ever in The Chase right now. Those #11 boys know what needs to get done and how. Keep an eye on Denny Hamlin. He's not falling back without a fight.

With a win, Bowyer moves up to second in points.
2. CLINT BOWYER –  5195 POINTS (-35) – 1st PLACE FINISH – AMY MCHARGUE
Starting the race in second place after a strong qualifying run on Friday, Clint Bowyer wasted no time in getting to the front of the field. Bowyer took over the lead on lap 29. Giving up the lead to pit for tires and fuel on lap 98, Bowyer regained the lead on lap 102. By the time a yellow flag flew on lap 147, Bowyer had more than a seven-second lead over second place.

Giving the lead up on lap 212 to Tony Stewart, Bowyer slipped only back as far as third place with concerns that the engine was missing from time to time. By lap 181 it was clear that Bowyer's Cheerios team was concerned about running out of fuel – the #33 car had last pitted on lap 208. Attempting to chase down the leader with just a few laps to go, leader Stewart ran out of fuel on lap 298 and Bowyer once again took the lead. Bowyer lead the majority of laps at Loudon on Sunday, and most importantly lead the last lap to take the checkered flag and head to Victory Lane.

Clint had said all week that this felt like 2007 to him – the year he last won the first Chase race at New Hampshire. When told in post-race interviews that his Sylvania 300 win took him up to second place in the Chase to the Championship, Clint said, “What did you say? Second in points? Let's go get 'em.” Clint gained 195 points in the Sunday race, closing the gap between he and Chase leader Denny Hamlin to just 35 points. Momentum and confidence is just what this team needs to continue to perform strongly in the Chase to the Sprint Cup Championship.


Harvick maintained his place in the points with top five finish.
3. KEVIN HARVICK – 5185 POINTS (-45) – 5th PLACE FINISH – AMBER ARNOLD
Kevin Harvick went into Loudon maintaining the 48 is the team to beat. While the 48 was never really a factor in Sunday’s race, Harvick and the 29 team seemed to be marred by mistakes on pit road.

The 29 team rolled off in the 27th position, with his lowest position being 38th after a slow stop on pit road. Harvick was fast on the track, putting up a 3rd fastest lap. After some late race cautions Harvick was able to bring the 29 car home 5th, keeping the regular season champion seeded in the 3rd position in points just 45 behind the championship leader, Denny Hamlin.

After the race Harvick tweeted, “A lot of fight in our team overcame a lot of things today 9 more weeks…gotta love it!” If Loudon is any indication on how the rest of this Chase is going to go, we are definitely in for a wild and interesting ride. While Harvick and the 29 team didn’t gain any ground in the championship, they didn’t lose anything either and are definitely still in contention to take home the title in 2010.

Busch signs RC car during media event
4. KYLE BUSCH – 5168 POINTS (-62) – 9th PLACE FINISH – LINDI BESS
It’s been said that in order to win a championship, you first have to lose one. In 2008 the title was Kyle Busch’s to lose and that’s exactly what he did. 2009 saw Busch fail to make the “playoffs” by just eight points, but in 2010 Rowdy is back and ready to show everyone he has the talent to be the next champ. When asked his  thoughts about this season and the Chase, Busch said, “I’m looking forward to it. We have a good opportunity to come out here and run strong. I don’t think we are going to shock the world, but hopefully we will steal one out of the bag.”

Busch qualified the M&M’s Camry in ninth position for Sunday’s race and felt good about the car after the final practice session on Saturday. However, that feeling of well-being didn’t last long once the race began. Busch, who finished 11th in his last start at NHMS, experienced problems with his car throughout the race. Complaining about being tight in the corners and chattering the tires, Busch’s team, led by Dave Rogers, worked tirelessly on each pit stop to improve the handling, but Busch was never able to crack the top five. Despite the problems, the team remained positive and worked toward getting the best finish possible. Busch’s day nearly ended in disaster on lap 212, when he was tagged by a spinning Jimmie Johnson (who was trying to avoid getting caught up in the accident between Hamlin and Edwards.) Busch suffered minor damage to the #18 but was able to continue the race and finish in ninth position.

With the top-10 finish, Busch retained his position in the points and now sits 62 behind teammate Denny Hamlin. Busch is looking forward to heading to Dover, one of his favorite tracks, next week.

Gordon speaks with the media in New York
5. JEFF GORDON – 5155 POINTS (-75) – 6th PLACE FINISH – GENEVIEVE CADORETTE
Jeff Gordon finished in sixth place at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. This moves him up to the fifth seed, putting him 75 points behind leader Denny Hamlin and ahead in Chase points of teammate Jimmie Johnson for the first time since October 2007.

Gordon finished second in Saturday’s practice runs; it was a positive sign and helped his effort to get better. He knows he has to work really hard at the final nine races. It’s been nine years since his championship; on Friday he told reporters that he doesn’t look at the past because the Chase was changed and is very different now, which is why he’ll consider a future win his first championship. He said to reporters, “Well, it's not a fifth championship. I know that's what the stats and the records would show, but it's really a first championship because with the points change, to me the history is different. I don't compare these championships even if I wanted, to what I won before. It's equally or more prestigious today. That's the part that makes you want to go out there and get it. This is the sport we're in. This is what we live for. And there's nothing sweeter, nothing more difficult than to win the championship.”

Gordon says that a poor finish could end his chances at winning a championship; he told the press that they can’t afford a 24th-place finish. While the #14 ran out of fuel right before the final lap, Gordon credited crew chief Steve Letarte saying, “He didn’t want to risk the fuel, it just wasn’t worth it.”


Busch was penalized Saturday for having extra tires
6. KURT BUSCH – 5144 POINTS (-86) – 13th PLACE FINISH – KATY LINDAMOOD
There is no doubt that Kurt Busch is one Chase driver who is glad to see Loudon in his rearview mirror. Entering Sunday’s Sylvania 300 fifth in points, Busch’s weekend was one problem after another. It all began on Friday when Busch’s team inadvertently ended up with an extra set of tires for the practice and qualifying sessions. According to NASCAR’s rules, teams were allowed a total of six sets of tires. According to the team, the mistake was not on their side of things but rather on the side of NASCAR, which allows teams to trade tires. Busch and his team were forced to serve a 15=minute penalty during Saturday’s practice session. Following the penalty Busch said, “It wasn’t anything we were trying to do. Bottom line is that there was a miscommunication among the officials, we paid our 15-minute penalty. It’s like calling balls and strikes, you just do with what the umpire says and we’ve moved on from there.” The penalty did not hurt the team in terms of qualifying. Busch put the #2 Miller Lite Dodge in contention with a 12th-place start.

Sunday’s race could have gone better for Busch and his team, but given the number of on-track indents he was involved in, a 13th-place finish was better than what some expected. The first 50 laps of the race were relatively uneventful for the team.  An early caution put the team further back than other Chase drivers when they chose to take on four tires rather than the two most others took, but that did not stop them. Kurt slowly worked his way through the field and narrowly avoided being collected in an accident that brought out the second caution on lap 41. Following the caution Busch took two tires and returned to the track. All day Kurt felt as if the handling wasn’t where it needed to be and in some cases he drove the car too hard into the turns. On lap 224 Busch was battling Jeff Burton for position when his car got sideways and went into a spin in turn 2. This caution also caused damage to several other Chase drivers including Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. Again on lap 242 Busch was involved in a caution. This time Kurt did not spin out but his getting sideways through the turn did take out Joey Logano.

After the race Busch said, “I wanted more. I wanted a good finish today and when you do that, when you stretch yourself thin, you get in trouble. That's what happened today. We'll pick up the pieces, head on to Dover and look for a better performance there on that fast one-mile track.” While Busch may have had to settle for a less than perfect day, don’t count him out just yet. With nine races to go until the champ is crowned, it’s anyone’s race to win or lose.

Daughter Genevieve joined Jimmie on pit road
7. JIMMIE JOHNSON – 5138 POINTS (-92) – 25th PLACE FINISH – REBECCA KIVAK
After a poor qualifying effort, Jimmie Johnson was eager to rebound with a good finish at the Chase opener at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. But the No. 48’s strong run for the majority of the Sylvania 300 ended in disaster. Several late-race incidents left the four-time Sprint Cup champion unable to contend and further out in the points standings.

Johnson qualified 25th, his worst starting spot ever in 18 starts at Loudon. But in Sunday’s race, the driver of the No. 48 worked quickly to make up ground. After contact with Denny Hamlin in the opening laps, Johnson broke into the top 10 within 30 laps and the top five by lap 80. For the next 140 laps or so, he was running between the third and ninth positions. On lap 223, Johnson tried to avoid a spinning Kurt Busch in turn 2 and got into the left rear of Kyle Busch, causing both drivers to spin. Johnson pitted afterward and got four tires; as a result, he restarted in 24th, the last car on the lead lap. Within 20 laps, Johnson was involved in another incident when he and Elliot Sadler made contact after Kurt Busch and Joey Logano got together.

On lap 254, Johnson reported a vibration in the front right tire and on the next lap came in to pit. Johnson took four tires to correct the possible loose wheel, but the unscheduled stop put him a lap down and he fell to the 28th position. With time running out, Johnson was unable to recover and finished the race in 25th.

“We were kind of in the eye of the storm on the restarts,” Johnson said after Sunday’s race. “We did what we could. We had a decent car today and ran in the top five and top 10 but just didn’t end up finishing there. We’ll go home and get back to work and go after it again next week.”

The poor finish caused Johnson to tumble from second place and 10 points out in the Chase standings to seventh place and 92 points behind leader Hamlin. However, don’t count out Johnson from the title hunt just yet. In 2006 Johnson finished the Chase opener at New Hampshire in the 39th spot, dropping to ninth and 139 points out, a deficit he would eventually overcome to win his first Cup championship.

Edwards gained one position in the points with 11th place finish
8. CARL EDWARDS – 5135 POINTS (-95) – 11th PLACE FINISH – AMANDA EBERSOLE
Carl Edwards went into the race at Loudon in ninth place among the Chase drivers and leaving he gained one spot, moving into eighth place.

Practice throughout the weekend was up and down. The first practice on Friday was the best effort for the 99 team when they posted the second fastest lap time. Second practice was later that same day and the Aflac Ford fusion was posted in the 23rd spot. With a qualifying draw of 17th, Carl went out and ran a lap that ended up with him starting in 10th place.

The race started great for Edwards, moving up from 10th and into fourth by lap 26 and that was in part to a great pit stop by the Aflac team. By lap 64 Carl had moved up to second place and was trying to battle with Clint Bowyer for the lead, but Bowyer at that point had a four-second lead. The 99 team and crew chief Bob Osborne made good calls on pit road and were looking great. Late into the race Carl got loose and slid into Denny Hamlin; a caution came out and Edwards got marred back in traffic. Carl did acknowledge that the incident was his fault for getting loose and into Hamlin. Edwards finished the race in 11th and Hamlin managed to finish in 2nd.


An ill-handling car kept Biffle out of contention
9. GREG BIFFLE – 5122 POINTS (-108) – 17th PLACE FINISH – STACIE BALL
New Hampshire Motor Speedway, better known as the Magic Mile, definitely worked some tricks over on the No. 16 3M Ford Fusion. Greg Biffle started in the 14th place on the grid, ending three spots behind at 17th. What was going on with the car that brought such bad luck for Biffle?

During the first caution on the 25th lap, Greg Erwin, crew chief of the 3M Ford, decided to pit for two tires, fuel and adjustments. improving the their position on the restart to 11th on the grid. The adjustments did not fix the loose car and the chattering of the tires, with which Biffle struggled as they worked on it over the 110 laps.  On lap 229, Biffle started in 18th and during the next run gained five spots on the track, running 13th when the final caution came out on lap 241. Crew chief and driver debated pitting, which was probably a good choice to do and as the field came to the entrance of pit road, the 16 entered the pits for four tires along with fuel. Biffle restarted 21st on lap 246 and was able to pick up four spots in the last 54 laps of the 300-lap race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“I don’t know where we would have ended up if we would have stayed out there at the end,” said Biffle. “We struggled a little with the car today but the 3M Ford was pretty good on that next-to-last run. I just think that last set of tires wasn’t as good as the set before it.  know we dropped a little in the points but some of the other guys finished behind us so we’ll just learn from this one and get ready for Dover.” Greg Biffle in response to how the race went for him in the 3M Ford Fusion. 

Biffle and the 3M team are now ninth in the point standings, 108 points behind leader Denny Hamlin but only 33 points out of fifth. The team will return to the track on Sunday, Sept. 26, at Dover International Speedway.


Burton speaks with the media
10. JEFF BURTON – 5118 POINTS (-112) – 15th PLACE FINISH – GENNA SHORT
The Chase is officially under way.

Jeff Burton started 13th for Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. He had a solid car and had broken into the top 10 by lap 90, then the top five near the halfway point, where he stayed for the rest of the race. Around lap 223, Burton tangled with Kurt Busch and ended up spinning him out. Busch’s spin collected Jimmie Johnson but Jeff escaped with no damage.

The 31 one car continued to remain strong for the rest of the race, although it never led a lap. A gamble on fuel at the end cost the team a top-five finish. However, Burton did not completely run out of fuel and managed to grab a 15th place finish. In spite of a late race tiff and poor pit call, Burton still sits 10th in the points. He has, however, lost 52 points to the leader, Denny Hamlin.


Stewart signs for fans in the infield
11. TONY STEWART – 5106 POINTS (-124) – 24th PLACE FINISH – UNIQUE HIRAM
There was a little less than two laps to go and Smoke was leading the field down to the white flag coming around Turn 4 … until he ran out of gas, costing him the win for the first Sprint Cup Chase race.

The Sylvania 300 in Loudon, New Hampshire, proved to be an eventful day for Tony Stewart and the #14 Office Depot/Old Spice Chevrolet team. His starting position at the beginning of the race was third and beginning on lap 2 Smoke led a total of 24 laps. Ironically, at the conclusion of this race that is the position number that Stewart ended up in due to his gas shortage.

“I’m not happy, that’s for sure, but we went down swinging,” Stewart said after the race. “It’s hard to lose one that way, but at the same time it was fun racing Clint like that. He was definitely the fastest car, and congratulations to those guys. It’s a tough way to start the Chase, but I’m proud of my guys. Darian kept swinging at it all day and finally on the last set of tires we got it halfway decent.”

Due to the events and outcome of this race, Stewart has dropped to 11thin the Chase standings and sits 124 points behind the current point’s leader Denny Hamlin. Although this race team took a huge hit in points, they are headed to a track where their driver has been successful in achieving two wins and a few consecutive top finishes.


Race Highlights:
1st Pit Stop (shuffled back to 18th) - Lap 32 (14th on the track) - Lap 47 (9th on the track) - Lap 83 (8th on the track) - Lap 104 (7th on the track) - Lap 131 (5th on the track) - Lap 229 (1st on the track)

Kenseth speaks with crew chief Fennig during practice
12. MATT KENSETH – 5094 POINTS (-136) – 23rd PLACE FINISH – WHITNEY RICHARDS
After securing his spot in the Chase at Atlanta two weeks ago, Matt Kenseth and his team seemed to be turning their roller coaster season around. Kenseth was hoping to build on his recent momentum to make a run for what could be his second Cup championship as the Cup Series headed to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for the Sylvania 300. However, the team struggled all weekend in practice and in qualifying. Unfortunately for Kenseth, the race would prove to be no better for him. Handling issues and a late race incident left him accepting a 23rd-place finish.

There were three practice sessions over the weekend at New Hampshire, each of which Kenseth struggled in. He was 28th in the first practice session, 13th in the second practice session, and 30th in the final practice session, which was on Saturday. Qualifying on Friday was a big disappointment for Kenseth, who earned the 33rd starting position in the No. 17 Crown Royal Ford. In the opening run of the race, Kenseth informed crew chief Jimmy Fennig that the No. 17 Ford was too tight in the center of the turns and lacked the grip he needed to challenge for position. Handling issues would plague Kenseth for nearly all of the 300-lap race.

Throughout the race, Kenseth’s pit crew continued to make adjustments to help the handling. Nearly every pit stop saw the Crown Royal crew making changes to the air pressure, track bar or wedge. Long green-flag runs did not give the crew a lot of time to make changes, but Kenseth’s pit crew was in top form on Sunday.

Eventually, the changes began to work, and Kenseth had quietly worked his way up to 15th when bad luck struck on lap 233. After making contact with the No. 12 of Brad Keselowski in turn 1, Kenseth spun and the back of his car hit the wall. Kenseth headed for pit road so his crew could repair the damage, but they could do nothing more with the car. Kenseth took the checkered flag in the 23rd position.

Kenseth’s 23rd place finish caused him to drop to 12th in the standings, 136 points behind leader Denny Hamlin.

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