The Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway was a familiar scene resembling last year’s race at Loudon. Except this year, it was Tony Stewart who drove to victory and Clint Bowyer who ran out of fuel. Stewart started the race in 20th position and by Lap 10 he was closing in on the Top-10. On lap 174, caution came out for Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards getting together on the backstretch. This gave the leaders a chance to pit, getting Stewart out in the Top-10.
With 48 laps to go, Clint Bowyer took the lead with Stewart a close second. The race came down to who could conserve fuel the best. In the end Bowyer ran out of fuel with two laps to go, handing the win to Tony Stewart. This puts Stewart in the points lead, with seven points over Kevin Harvick. Bowyer finished the race in 26th position.
Stewart made it clear to the media before the Chase started that he wouldn’t be one of the drivers battling for the Championship. I think everyone has come to realize now that Stewart likes to play mind games. I believe he told the media that he wouldn’t be a contender so nobody considered him a threat. Now, two races into the Chase he is one of the biggest threats.
Tough Day for Chase Contenders
Dale Earnhardt Jr started the race off well, qualifying in 12th position. He was running consistently, rounding out the Top-10 for most of the race. With 72 to go, Earnhardt had a flat right front tire and was forced to make a pit stop. This threw off his pit strategy, sending him to the back of the field. To make a bad day even worse, Dale Jr coasted across the finish line after blowing another right front tire on the last lap. He finished the race in 17th position and dropped to eighth in standings. The silver lining is that he is in a three-way tie with Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth in the points.
Teammate Jimmie Johnson also had issues throughout the day, battling an ill-handling race car. On Lap 279, Johnson and Kyle Busch were battling hard for 13th position. They made slight contact, sending Johnson back to 17th position. After a rough day, Johnson finished the race in 18th position, dropping to 10th in standings.
Cracking the Top-10 with 50 laps to go, it looked as if Denny Hamlin was going to have the day he needed. He raced his way up to fifth position with five laps to go, while trying to conserve fuel mileage. Unfortunately with 3-laps to go, Hamlin ran out of fuel and finished the race in 29th position. He now sits 12th in points, 66 points behind the leader and virtually out of contention.
Roush Racing Finishes Strong
Roush Racing had a good day, having all four drivers finish in the Top-10. On Lap 174, Carl Edwards got into the back of his teammate Matt Kenseth, spinning him to bring out the caution. Edwards was very apologetic over the radio, saying it wasn’t intentional. Both drivers managed to overcome the incident, finishing in sixth(Kenseth) and eighth(Edwards) position. Edwards is now fourth position in points, Kenseth in seventh. Greg Biffle was the top Roush driver of the race, finishing in third position.
Fresh Faces in the Top 10
I have to give the spotlight to a few drivers who we don’t normally see finish in the Top-10. Brian Vickers qualified his Red Bull Racing car in third position and ran in the Top-10 almost all day. His pit crew gave him fast pit stops, helping him run well the entire race. Vickers finished the race in fifth position. Despite Red Bull exiting his team at the end of the season, it’s nice to see him racing hard and running to his full potential.
With all the drama of fuel mileage towards the end of the race, not many people noticed that David Ragan and Regan Smith finished the race in seventh and 10th position, respectively. Conserving fuel and racing consistently throughout the race contributed to their Top-10 finishes. With all the hype surrounding the Chase contenders, it’s nice to see fresh faces in the Top-10.
We head to Dover next weekend with just eight races left in the season. The point’s battle is close and tension is high between the Chase drivers. Who do you think will be in victory lane at The Monster Mile?