While rain played a factor earlier in the race weekend, New Hampshire Motor Speedway was not only bathed in sunshine, but was hot enough to boil a lobster for the running of the 15th annual Sylvania 300. Here is what was surprising and not surprising from the track dubbed the ‘Magic Mile’.
[media-credit name=”Credit: Gregg Ellman-Pool/Getty Images” align=”alignright” width=”228″][/media-credit]Surprising: While one five-time champion usually peaks in performance during the Chase competition, it was most surprising to see another driver, one who deemed himself unworthy of even being in the Chase, win his second race in a row.
Tony Stewart, behind the wheel of the No. 14 Mobil 1/Office Depot Chevrolet, took the checkered flag, giving him a perfect Chase record to date. This was Smoke’s 41st Cup Series win and put him in the lead dog position in the point standings.
“I’ll be honest, we were about a 10th place car the majority of the day,” Stewart said. “The closer to the front we got, the better it drove.”
“Man, what a day to win it,” Stewart continued. “Such an irony from last year where we ran out of gas coming to the white.”
Not Surprising: Speaking of fuel mileage racing, which happened all weekend long, it was not surprising to see this come into play yet again at the ‘Magic Mile.’ In fact, fuel mileage cost one driver the race and another Chase driver a possible win as well.
Most affected by the fuel mileage gremlin was Clint Bowyer, driver of the No. 33 Cheerios/Hamburger Helper Chevrolet. Bowyer ran out of fuel with just three laps to go, allowing Smoke to blow by him for the win.
“It’s just not our year,” Bowyer said. “What a great car. It just didn’t turn out the way we wanted it to.”
The other driver who struggled with fuel mileage was Jeff Gordon, driver of the No. 24 Dupont Chevrolet. As Gordon was moving forward at race end, his crew chief Alan Gustafson advised him that there had been a problem while fueling that may have resulted in his tank not being completely packed full.
Gordon immediately went into conservation mode, letting many of his competitors blow by him. Gordon finished fourth in the race and move dup in the point standings to the fifth spot.
“It is tough conditions to race in,” Gordon said. “I don’t think that we wanted to see back-to-back fuel mileage races like this, but it is kind of the name of the game these days.”
“We were just setting the pace so it is unfortunate that that happened,” Gordon continued. “It is something we need to be better at.”
Surprising: Although battling tire camber troubles all race long, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and his ever positive crew chief Steve Letarte seemed surprisingly pleased with their 17th place finish with the No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet. Earnhardt, Jr. fell three spots in the points, from fifth to eighth.
“We had a flat tire there at the end,” Junior said. “We had a fast car all day.”
“I was real happy with the car,” Earnhardt, Jr. continued. “We were real competitive. And I got to race up front.”
“I had an awesome car all day long and I’m happy about what my guys did.”
Not Surprising: After starting the race fuming because he his car was stuck in NASCAR technical inspection during the pre-race festivities, Kurt Busch continued his ‘Drive for Anger’ campaign in his No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Dodge.
Busch was so annoyed when he finally did get in the car to race that team ‘Captain’ Roger Penske had to come on the radio, telling his driver to “Keep your head in this.”
“It was a frustrating day,” Busch said. “We were late going through inspection and that set the tone for the day.”
“NASCAR wasn’t 100% happy with what they saw on one of their gauges,” Travis Geisler, Director of Competition for Penske Racing, said of the inspection delay. “So, we had to do a little work on it.”
Busch finished 22nd, making him also the official ‘Biggest Loser’ in the points, falling from fourth to ninth.
Surprising: As a result of the Sylvania 300, three surprising basement dwellers emerged. Five-time champ Jimmie Johnson, driver of the No. 48 Lowes Chevrolet, was the first, finishing 18th and falling to tenth in points.
In addition to his struggles on the track, Johnson also had some harsh exchanges with his crew chief, Chad Knaus, who goaded his drive to ‘prove’ that he could drive the car.
“Yeah, it wasn’t what we thought it was going to be,” Johnson said. “We just didn’t have the breaks go right and really get the track position as we needed it throughout the day.”
“I’m going 100 percent regardless of what’s being said on the radio,” Johnson continued. “I think he (Knaus) was just being optimistic there about what was left in my back pocket; but my suit doesn’t have any back pockets.”
Ryan Newman, driver of the No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet, also became an official basement dweller. Newman, who started the race from the pole, finished 25th and fell four spots to 11th in the points.
“We just had a tough day,” Newman said. “We had a couple of slow pit stops and then we had a tire go down at the end.”
“It was just a disappointing day for us.”
Finally, it has been surprisingly painful to watch the ongoing implosion of Denny Hamlin and company. The driver of the No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota, finished 29th, remaining in the 12th Chase spot.
“It was another tough day for us,” Hamlin said. “We’re just figuring out what we need to do to be a little bit more competitive.”
Not Surprising: To no one’s surprise, the ascent of the Keselowski continued at the ‘Magic Mile’. The driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge Charger finished second to Stewart and catapulted himself to third in points.
“I feel really good about this one,” Keselowski said. “We struggled a little bit this weekend, but we executed and that’s what these races are about.”
“It’s been a good roll.”
Surprising: Mark Martin, behind the wheel of the No. 5 GoDaddy.com Chevrolet, looked surprisingly like the driver of old. Martin led a total of 46 laps, almost two times more than he had led all season.
Not Surprising: David Ragan’s ‘Drive for a Sponsor’ continued behind the wheel of the No. 6 UPS Ford. The young driver overcame being a lap down with the ‘lucky dog’ to finish seventh.
“We didn’t have the best of cars today but we showed that with some hard work and good strategy, we could overcome that,” Ragan said. “It feels good for the UPS team to get a top 10.”
“So it was a good job by everybody and now it’s on to Dover.”