With a little bit of magic as well as mayhem, especially on pit road, here is what else was surprising and not so surprising in the 17th annual running of the Sylvania 300 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Surprising: With no wins and a 20th best driver rating at the Magic Mile, one driver who just so happened to be celebrating his 500th career start, defied the odds, scoring his second win in two Chase races.
Victor Matt Kenseth also became only the third driver to win back to back in the Chase, joining Tony Stewart and Greg Biffle in that accomplishment.
“For me to win at New Hampshire, first of all, is more than a stretch and more than a dream,” the driver of the No. 20 Home Depot/Husky Toyota said. “This is probably one of my worst places.”
“That just shows you how good this whole team is,” Kenseth continued. “I didn’t even know there was a Victory Lane here.”
“It honestly doesn’t really seem real that we won yet.”
Not Surprising: As has happened for most of the season, restarts played a pivotal role for several drivers at the Magic Mile, including those drivers that finished second and third.
For Kyle Busch, who finished runner up yet again to teammate Kenseth, the final restart was what did him in, however, Greg Biffle, who finished third, credited a good restart with his top-five finish.
“Those last couple restarts just making some spots, I spun my tires too much,” Busch said. “But just frustrating sometimes when you feel like you’re getting beat on restarts too much.”
“Other than that, second.”
“There at the end, we just drove — we just kept gaining positions,” Biffle said. “I gained like four or five spots on a couple restarts in a row and got up in the top six, and then that final restart the outside lane really got going good.”
“I’m excited about finishing third,” Biffle continued. “Our car was competitive, and we’re happy about the whole weekend.”
Kyle Busch posted his eighth top-10 finish in 18 races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Biffle posted his ninth top-10 finish in 23 races at the Magic Mile.
Biffle was NASCAR’s biggest mover, gaining six places in the point standings as he leap frogged to the fifth position, while Busch held serve in P2, just 14 points behind Kenseth.
Surprising: For all the bad luck that the No. 24 team has had throughout the regular season, this time the driver was the one that caused the poor finish.
Jeff Gordon, four-time champion, made a critical error in getting just far enough out of his pit box to have to back up, losing precious time and costing him vital track position, as well as a 15th place finish.
“I’m highly disappointed in myself,” Gordon said. “I just came in and slid through.”
“I carried a little bit more speed in there and crossed the splitter over the line by an inch and that’s all it takes to make a difference between a chance at winning and finishing 15th.”
Not Surprising: After getting booted out of the Chase through no fault of his own, as well as losing his NAPA sponsorship, Martin Truex Jr. had something to prove. And he did just that, leading 98 laps and bringing his No. 56 NAPA Toyota to a top-ten finish at the Magic Mile.
We had a good car the first half of the race,” Truex Jr. said. “That last set of tires was just terrible for us.”
“We obviously made some huge gains in the right direction,” Truex Jr. continued. “Just weren’t good enough to be there when it counted.”
Surprising: Kasey Kahne took a surprisingly hard hit into the wall and ended up appearing to be confused, unable to hear the questions, or perhaps just really disappointed in his 37th place finish.
“I seriously don’t really remember how it happened,” the driver of the No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet said. “I hit the inside wall but I’m not sure how I got there.”
Not Surprising: The Cinderella slipper lost just a little bit of its luster after yet another issue on pit road. So, it was not surprising that the driver of the No. 78 Furniture Row Chevrolet was just a tad upset and pretty disappointed at the race end.
“We didn’t hit it right on the adjustments today,” Busch said. “While we aren’t pleased with where we finished (13th), we fought for every position.”
“We know we can do much better.”
Surprising: Who knew someone would be so happy to be on the rebound? But Dale Earnhardt, Jr. was just that, finishing sixth after a disastrous first Chase race.
“Just real happy to be able to rebound from earlier,” the driver of the No. 88 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet said. “Glad we were able to get a decent finish.”
Not Surprising: Testing apparently paid off for one five-time champion Jimmie Johnson, who finished a strong fourth, now just 18 points behind leader Kenseth. And the driver of the No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet pronounced himself pleased with his team’s flat track program.
“It took a lot of hard work to get the end result, but we’ve got a nice race car for these flat tracks,” Johnson said. “I’m looking forward to Phoenix now.”
“It’s good to have a good run here knowing we can go to Phoenix and be competitive too.”
Surprising: After an early spin on lap 38 to bring out the second caution of the race, Jamie McMurray had a surprising bounce back to finish fifth. The driver of the No. 1 Linksys Chevrolet for Earnhardt Ganassi Racing gave the Chevrolet brand one of the two top-fives when the checkered flag flew.
“Yeah, are car was really good even after the crash,” McMurray said. “Just a fun day racing.”
Not Surprising: Veteran driver Jeff Burton has literally ‘owned’ the New Hampshire Motor Speedway over the years, often in dominating fashion leading laps and heading straight to Victory Lane.
So, it was not surprising that the driver of the No. 31 Cheerios Chevrolet SS had another good run at the Magic Mile. Burton was the fourth Chevrolet driver to finish top-10, scoring an eighth place at his ‘favorite’ track.
Surprising: In spite of Stewart-Haas Racing scoring the pole with Ryan Newman with a new track record, it was surprisingly not a stellar day for the team. Newman ended up finishing 16th, while teammates Mark Martin and Danica Patrick finished 23rd and 27th respectively.
“I still don’t understand what happened with the car,” Newman said. “It just never drove the same after we won the pole on Friday afternoon.”
“Even in practice on Saturday. Glad we got back up to 16th after the deal on pit road, but I don’t know,” Newman continued. “We’ll head to Dover and see what we can get.”
“It’s disappointing for sure,” Patrick said after making her second start at the Magic Mile. “The car just never felt ‘in’ the track today.”
“It was a frustrating day,” Martin said. “We just could never get track position.”
“It wasn’t the ideal race.”
Not Surprising: Landon Cassill, driver of the No. 40 Moonshine Attitude Attire Chevrolet, not surprisingly had the best response via Twitter to the race after finishing 34th.
“Tough day today,” Cassill tweeted. “We had a decent car but got trapped on pit road when the caution came out.”
“That’s the way the pickle squirts as my mom says.”