With the race running in temperatures hot enough to boil a lobster, here is what was surprising and not surprising from the 23rd annual 5-Hour Energy 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Surprising: Although Kyle Busch ended the race in Victory Lane, with a gutsy pass at the end and a great restart, he may owe a major debt of gratitude to young Alex Bowman, who survived a fire in his car exiting pit road only to wreck on the white flag lap, bringing out the very caution that Busch needed to win the race.
“Today we may not have been the best car, we were early, but towards the end I’m not sure that we were,” Busch said. “We put ourselves in the right spot to be able to capitalize. Sometimes in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series you got to be able to do that. Today was one of those opportunities for us.”
Not Surprising: While a top-five finish is a source of pride for many drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was still frustrated with his continuing streak of top-five finishes at Loudon without a win to show for it.
“Seem like I run in the top five or top 10 every damn time we come here,” the driver of the No. 88 Nationwide Chevrolet said. “I’m always like the third, fourth, fifth best car. I’m never like the 2, the 18, the 4, the 11. That is very frustrating.”
“But at the same time, you know, I got to say something about my ability and the team’s ability. I take a lot of pride in having a good, positive statistic like that. But it sure would be nice to hold the lobster and do all the fun stuff they do in Victory Lane.”
Surprising: Penske teammates Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano may have finished top-five, in second and fourth respectively, but they seemed on the opposite ends of the speed opinion poll.
“We had a really fast car,” Keselowski, driver of the No. 2 Miller Lite Ford, said. “I’m proud of my team for the effort. It feels good to have fast cars.”
“We had a really fast car and led a lot of laps. I’m really proud of the team for bringing me two fast cars these past two weekends. It’s a joy to drive cars that fast.”
“We had great execution with the Shell/Pennzoil Ford, just not enough speed,” Logano said of his No. 22 race car. “Todd made some great calls keeping us toward the front. We were good on the restarts and got a few when we could there. When you’ve got four tires you try to make something happen, but we just didn’t have enough speed in our race car to go up there and race with those guys.”
“We’ll find a little bit more speed before we come back.”
Not Surprising: In spite of a bit of a misstep on pit road, Kevin Harvick stood by his team, crediting them for strategy and overall performance for the weekend in his third place finish in the No. 4 ‘Freaky Fast’ Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet.
“I think we had the right strategy, just a little miscue on the last pit stop,” Harvick said. “Those guys have done great all year. They did great today.”
“I just have to thank everybody at our Jimmy John’s/Budweiser Chevrolet for everything they do. We were off on Friday and we were able to really rebound and have a good Saturday and good racecar today. It’s encouraging.”
Surprising: Paul Menard, who had been having a good race run for the first half of the laps at least, had contact with Kasey Kahne, missed pit road, limped around the track and then spun getting onto pit road.
Menard then capped it all off with no less than four pit road penalties on top of the less than stellar stop. The driver of the No. 27 Richmond/Menards Chevrolet took the checkered flag in the 25th position and on the lead lap.
Not Surprising: Although they raced one another hard at one point during the race, the young Dillon boy and the seasoned veteran on his last run, Gordon managed to both pronounce their top-ten days good.
“It was a good day,” Dillon said. “The Dow Chevy was pretty solid. I can’t thank (crew chief) Slugger enough for sticking with me. We were not very good in practice. I learned a lot in the XFINITY car, I think, it laid over today, and it was probably one of our best races in the last two years.”
“Honestly, that’s the kind of effort that this team has been putting in a lot lately,” Gordon said. “We haven’t been coming to the track in the position that we really feel like we could be like we were last year. We’ve got some catch-up to do there; but my gosh, one thing we’re not lacking is determination and just the ability to overcome adversity. I’m really proud of that.”
“It was still a nice top 10.”
Surprising: There was no one hoping more for a caution than Danica Patrick, who had to pit for fuel with just six laps to go. She ran short after taking the wave-around being short on gas in order to get back on the lead lap.
The trip down pit road so late in the race put the driver of the No. 10 GoDaddy Chevrolet a lap down to finish in the 24th position.
“The call to take the wave-around was definitely the right decision to make there,” Patrick said. “We had to go for it and get our lap back so we could try to compete for a better finish.”
“Days like these are tough and require a lot more effort and energy from everyone. It’s disappointing to end up as far back as we did, but I’m proud of my GoDaddy team for not giving up and working so hard today.”
Not Surprising: With fans taking refuge under the stands from the unusually hot weather in New Hampshire, it was no wonder that at least three drivers had to be attended to medically after the race. Michael Annett and Matt DiBenedetto were both helped to the infield care center and treated there for over an hour and a half for their heat-related conditions.
AJ Allmendinger was also attended to in his hauler from a combination of heat and having strep throat all weekend.
“I wasn’t at my best today either,” Dinger said. “I’ve been battling strep throat. It was very hot today and I got frustrated at times because I wasn’t feeling good. Brian (Burns, crew chief) and the guys did a good job. The pit crew was solid again. I will get a little bit better, but hopefully something we can build off of.”
Surprising: After two good race runs, Trevor Bayne had a surprisingly difficult time at New Hampshire, finishing a disappointing 32nd.
“We fought hard all race,” Bayne said after the race. “Our AdvoCare Ford was just tight in the center throughout the day.”
Not Surprising: Although he continued his less than stellar season, with a 20th place finish at Loudon, Tony Stewart does have a bright spot ahead for the upcoming week.
He will get to step out of the car and into the role of track owner for the Mud Summer Classic at Eldora Speedway for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series on Wednesday.