New Hampshire, for about 180 laps, was a mind numbing experience. It was the Round-and-round 300, and when you add the beleaguered ESPN desk trios to the mix, it was damn near unwatchable. Then stuff started to happen.
Early on, Kurt Busch had to come in due to a tire issue. Then Dale Earnhadt Jr.’s crew failed to secure lugnuts on a tire, and he had to make an unscheduled stop. Not long after, there was Denny Hamlin stuck on pit row with a car that would not accept fuel. It was enough to make one kick off the fast forward button to check out exactly what was going on.
Matt Kenseth did not seem to have a lot of command over his sliding vehicle, and when he broke traction and had to whoa up he got hit from behind by Kyle Busch, who got hit from behind by Kasey Kahne, who got hit from behind by Ryan Newman. On the positive side, it at least allowed Junior to get back on the lead lap.
Brad Keselowski got spun, but after his win at Chicago he was just driving for fun and sponsor dollars. Kurt Busch got into Jamie McMurray which caused a tire rub that caused a blow out that caused Mr. Busch to hit the wall.
Later, Kenseth again wobbled and after contact with Paul Menard it was the Chaser doing some metal work against the wall. Jeff Gordon looked good with under ten to go, until his tire let go and he nailed the fence.
In the end, it was almost a recasting of last week, with Kevin Harvick the dominant once again on the day, but once again it was a Penske car driving off on the re-starts. Joey Logano got the lead in this play, driving off, not to be seen again until the finish line, to punch his ticket to the next round. Harvick finished third.
The runner-up? That would be one Kyle Larson, as the kid did it again. Not a Chaser, but no doubt the 22-year old is a racer as he claims his second straight Top Three. Top Ten days for Jimmie Johnson, Keselowski, Kyle Busch, and Junior keep them high on the charts.
Aric Almirola was dead last amongst Chasers after his disaster in Chicago. Until his engine blew, he had been doing great. Sixth at Loudon sure helps, and having a bunch of folks joining him in the deep end of the pool at least allows him a chance of standing on somebody’s shoulders to advance. He was 23 points out when they began Sunday, he is ten away going into next weekend.
Out of 16 Chasers, half of them finished outside the Top Fifteen. Greg Biffle had a non-competitive day to finish 16th. Carl Edwards was 17th, Newman one behind him. Kenseth was 21st, Kahne 23rd, and Gordon 26th. Way back there was Kurt, at 36th, one up on Hamlin’s beast. If nothing else, it rather muddled up what had been, or so I thought, a few foregone conclusions.
What that leaves us with is Sunday at Dover. Keselowski and Logano are safe, with a disaster of Biblical proportions needed to deny Harvick. Almirola is still dead last, but the gap between 16th and 8th is now just a dozen points. One blown tire, one blown engine, one broken part, or one miscue out on the track, and all bets are off.
Last Sunday’s televised action would not have added a single new fan to the sport, not in the way Talladega might next month. Loudon was painful to watch and even more painful to listen to. However, for fans who know what is at stake, New Hampshire provided something huge. Unpredictability. Heading to Dover I am confident as to who three, even seven, of the drivers advancing to the next round of the Chase will be. I am not so sure about the other five. Not anymore.
1 – Brad Keselowski – 1 Win – 2097 Points – *
2 – Joey Logano – 1 – 2096 – *
3 – Kevin Harvick – 0 – 2090 – 41 Points in
4 – Jimmie Johnson – 0 – 2080 – 31 Points in
5 – Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – 0 – 2077 – 28 Points in
6 – Kyle Busch – 0 – 2077 – 28 Points in
7 – Jeff Gordon – 0 – 2070 – 21 Points in
8 – Carl Edwards – 0 – 2057 – 8 Points in
9 – Matt Kenseth – 0 – 2057 – 8 Points in
10 – A.J. Allmendinger – 0 – 2056 – 7 Points in
11 – Ryan Newman – 0 – 2055 – 6 Points in
12 – Kasey Kahne – 0 – 2055 – 6 Points in
One chance at Redemption
13 – Denny Hamlin – 0 – 2049 – 6 Points out
14 – Greg Biffle – 0 – 2049 – 6 Points out
15 – Kurt Busch – 0 – 2047 – 8 Points out
16 – Aric Almirola – 0 – 2045 – 10 Points out