In the second race of the Chase for NASCAR’s championship, here is what was surprising and not surprising from the 18th annual Sylvania 300 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Surprising: Instead of being magical, New Hampshire Motor Speedway proved to be more of a combination of Daytona, Darlington and Martinsville.
The 303 lap race included a Daytona-like ‘big one’, many cars striping the wall similar to Darlington, and some typically short-track Martinsville-like beating and banging, especially during the restarts.
David Ragan was involved in New Hampshire’s version of the ‘big one’, slamming hard into the wall after tangling with Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr. and then getting tagged after the wreck by Denny Hamlin to boot.
“It was unfortunate,” Ragan, driver of the No. 32 Taco Bell Ford, said. “It looked like the 51 and 78 were both mad and they were running over each other. They kind of shot up the race track and that just kind of shot me up.”
Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. was just one of many drivers who had a too close encounter with the New Hampshire wall, getting an even more severe stripe than at Darlington.
“I blew a left-front,” the driver of the No. 17 EcoPower Ford said. “We were all just racing really, really hard on that restart. Everybody was bouncing off each other. I don’t know who hit my left-front, but it got a fender rub and just blew the left-front going down the front straightaway.”
“I was trying to get it slowed down as much as I could, but it wasn’t gonna turn, so I just hit the wall.”
Chaser Matt Kenseth and Paul Menard were just one pair that were duking it out like on a short track while on the Magic Mile. Both drivers spun, causing a 21st place finish for Kenseth while Menard soldiered on to finish 15th.
“I got spun out on that wall up there,” the driver of the No. 20 Dollar General Toyota said. “Menard said he wheel-hopped it in there and got into me.”
Not Surprising: New England native Joey Logano, clicking his heels together in Victory Lane, proved that there truly is no place like home. Logano won his fourth race of the season at his home track and secured his place, along with his Penske teammate, in the next round of the Chase competition.
“This is my home race track, the coolest place to win for me,” the driver of the No. 22 Shell Pennzoil Ford said. “I could never pick a better race track to win.”
“I watched my first Cup race here when I was five and I won that other Cup race here (rain-shortened race), but I just felt like I had to win one the right way here, and this means so much.”
This was Logano’s seventh career NASCAR victory and his second win at the Magic Mile.
Surprising: Penske teammate Brad Keselowski emerged after the race surprisingly conflicted, in spite of finishing fourth in the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford.
“I don’t know,” Keselowski said. “We had a lot of adversity. I made a few mistakes that got us behind, but Paul Wolfe (crew chief) and the crew did a great job of getting us back in position. It was kind of an up-and-down day and I guess we ended on an OK note.”
“We finished seventh, but I was definitely looking for more than that,” Keselowski continued. “We certainly have a lot to be proud of, but there’s still a lot of work to do.”
Not Surprising: It certainly was not surprising that Denny Hamlin’s post-race interview included the word crap as he battled a fueling issue and then got involved in a wreck to finish 37th in his No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota.
“It’s so frustrating,” Hamlin said. “We just got bit by a mechanical deal. We’ve had them bite us in the Chase in the past, but I thought we were past that — but sometimes you roll the dice and you crap out.”
“Today is that day for us.”
Surprising: While Michael Waltrip lived to dance another day after being in the bottom three in ‘Dancing with the Stars’, his drivers both had decent top-15 runs at New Hampshire this race weekend.
Vickers fared best in his No. 55 Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota, with a 10th place finish, while Clint Bowyer, expectant father, finished 14th.
“The guys just did an awesome job with our Aaron’s Dream Machine Toyota today,” Vickers said. “We had a really good race car — it was fast, we were one of the best cars in the corner today.”
“The guys did a good job today, I’m really proud of them.”
Not Surprising: Yes, the youngster did it again. Kyle Larson, the highest finishing rookie, scored the runner up finishing spot in his No. 42 Target Chevrolet.
“It was a really good race for us,” Larson said. “Our Target Chevy wasn’t even a top-15 car the first 100 laps, and Shine (Chris Heroy, crew chief) and everybody on this Target team did a great job to get me in the game.”
“They made some big changes there under the second or third caution, and it felt like a totally different race car.”
This was Larson’s second top-10 finish in just two races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and his 13th top-10 finish of the season.
Surprising: There was plenty of talk after the race yet again about restarts, from Kevin Harvick’s complaint about the restarts late in the race to other drivers commenting on the craziness of the multiple restarts, particularly the green-white-checkered finish.
“And then at the end there, NASCAR must not be able to see the lines on the restart there and the No. 22 (Joey Logano) was way early all day,” Harvick said ruefully about the restarts after finishing third. “But all in all, we did what we had to do and I just enjoyed racing that hard.”
“All those cautions are fairly frustrating,” Jamie McMurray said after finishing fourth in his No. 1 Belkin/WEMO Chevrolet. “I know it is fun to watch as a fan, but you are so panicked as a driver as to which lane you are going to get to restart in because that is critical.”
“It was a wild day, especially with all of those restarts,” six-time champ Jimmie Johnson said. “Man I don’t know what it looked like from the grandstands today, but I can tell you that inside the car, I was hanging on trying not to spin out.”
Not Surprising: The pendulum swung for Aric Almirola, whose engine blew up last weekend, to his sixth place finish this weekend in his No. 43 Smithfield Ford.
“We’re down but we’re not out,” Almirola said. “We can only control what we can control and today we did that and did a good job and finished sixth.”
“Last week it didn’t work out in our favor, but this week it did,” Almirola continued. “We’ll do the same thing at Dover and we’ll see what happens.”
Surprising: Martin Truex, Jr. made another surprising comeback from two laps down just like last weekend to finish a respectable 12th place.
“The guys didn’t quit on me today and I’m driving my heart out,” Truex said. “Though we made good adjustments today and came through at the end, we struggled for most of the weekend and need to work out some issues. But the guys worked hard and kept on making the car better.”
“I never thought I would say this about New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but I wish the race was longer,” stated Truex. “We were moving forward and felt there were more cars that we could have passed.”
Not Surprising: Next week will be anything but comfortable for the remaining Chase contenders fighting to go into the next round.
“I wonder that the last race in each round may be quite eventful,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said about the next race in Dover after finishing ninth at the Magic Mile. “Guys are going to have to – you know on the last restarts or those last cautions guys that need those points and aren’t going to get them any other way are going to have to take some crazy gamble on tires, fuel.”
“You are going to have some guys out there on old tires trying to hold people off and it’s going to cause a lot of traffic,” Junior continued. “It’s going to get tight. It’s going to get furious.”