In the second race of the 10-race 2015 Sprint Cup Chase here is what was surprising and not surprising in the 19th annual Sylvania 300 from the New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, New Hampshire.
Surprising: A dominant day for Kevin Harvick ended in disappointment as a rare mistake by crew chief Rodney Childers-led to the No. 4 Chevrolet running out of fuel.
During the final caution on lap 240, Childers called for Harvick to pit after Harvick had already passed the pit entrance and thus missed his window. Although Harvick was able to climb back up to the lead from fourth on the restart, he ended up running out of fuel on the backstretch with three to go.
After leading for 216 laps, Harvick ended up 21st. That, along with a 42nd last week at Chicagoland, has the Stewart-Haas Racing team entering Dover next weekend 23 points out of the final cut-off spot for the next Chase round.
Harvick declined to speak with any media following the race.
Harvick wasn’t the only Chase driver affected by fuel strategy. Kurt Busch and Dale Earnhardt Jr., after spending most of the day in the top 10, finished 19th and 25th respectively after running out of fuel in the final few laps.
Not Surprising: Joe Gibbs Racing continued to dominate the Cup series with their 10th win in the last 13 races and three cars finishing in the top five.
Carl Edwards continues his recent resurgence after being a little behind his teammates in the summer months with a fifth place finish while an up and down day for Denny Hamlin ended in a second place effort.
Meanwhile, although Matt Kenseth only led 27 laps today, he led the most important laps- the last three.
“You know, we just have really been on a roll here lately, just getting good finishes and just everything is kind of clicking really well. You know, I wish we could get more race wins. That’s the greedy part about it,” Hamlin said after the race.
“Everybody at JGR just does such a great job working together. It’s really – it’s cool to be a part of it,” said Edwards.
“These are all big races. They’re hard to win. You ever get in a position to win one, you want to do everything in your power to be able to win it, no matter what the consequences are for the points, so I’ve got to be honest, I haven’t really thought about the points or Chase or anything, just going to really enjoy this win and look forward to going to Dover next week,” Kenseth said in the media center.
This is Kenseth’s 36th victory and his second at Loudon. This wins marks 13 wins so far this season for JGR, and five for the No. 20 Toyota alone.
Surprising: Brad Keselowski became the first victim of NASCAR’s recent crackdown on the restart procedure.
On what turned out to be the final restart of the race, the No. 2 team was ruled by NASCAR to have jumped the start and ordered to serve a drive-through penalty.
Keselowski went from running in the top five to finishing 12th after working his way through the field and taking advantage of some cars ahead running out of fuel in the closing laps.
“It’s a pretty basic understanding. It’s an entertainment sport, not a fair sport, but we had a great car,” Keselowski told media following the event.
After being pressed on it, Keselowski continued. “The first person to ever be penalized for jumping a restart when I didn’t pass anyone, so that’s a new one, but we moved on and we made the most of a good day with the Miller Lite Ford and got a solid finish that hopefully will make our Dover a little bit easier, so that was good.”
When asked if he thought he was being made an example of, Keselowski responded nonchalantly with, “Yeah.”
Richard Buck, the NASCAR Sprint Cup series director, said following the race that the restart rule was enforced fairly and that they were not “out to get” anybody.
Not Surprising: In a race full of great comebacks from adversity, it shouldn’t be a shocker one of those teams was the No. 48 Chevrolet.
Jimmie Johnson finished sixth after blowing a left front tire and going a lap down two-thirds of the way through the race. Johnson took the free pass on the next to last caution and worked his way back up to ninth before taking advantage of cars ahead running out of fuel.
“The car was strong. Maybe it wasn’t a race winning car, but certainly a top five car. We had to deal with a lot of adversity today and overcame and got a great finish,” Johnson told NBC Sports. “Dover is a great track for us. A victory could be a huge shot in the arm for our team and really get some good momentum going for us.”
Surprising: On lap 160, a tire went down for Kyle Busch going into turn four and he slammed into the wall, hurting his chances at a berth in the second round of the Chase.
Busch finished the day in 37th and one point away from 12th (Dale Earnhardt Jr.), the all-important Chase cut-off spot following Dover next week.
Crew chief Adam Stevens, however, is confident in his team’s chances going into the Monster Mile.
“Sure, Dover is a strong track for us. We were going to run third there in Kyle’s second race back and wrecked with a lap car, you know?” Stevens said following the race, referring back to the June race at Dover earlier this year.
“I’m sure our cars have gotten better and Kyle’s gotten more in shape and knows what he wants a little better, so there’s no reason we can’t go there and have a good day.”
Not Surprising: Although Martin Truex Jr. and his Furniture Row Racing team had an average day on the track (ending the day eighth), the big news from this team came before the race.
After months of speculation and rumor, FRR finally confirmed both a move to Toyota and that they are picking up Truex’s contract option in 2016.
Also announced was a technical alliance with JGR, the only other Toyota supported team starting next season.
“The track record of Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing speaks for itself,” said FRR president and general manager Joe Garone at the announcement event. “They are both proven winners with an unyielding commitment to raising the performance bar in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.”
Truex currently sits ninth in points after Sunday, needing only a finish in the top nine next week to remain in the Chase hunt.
Surprising: Greg Biffle, in the midst of a terrible season with Roush Fenway Racing, finally led his first laps of 2015 and finished fourth after staying out during the final caution.
“I feel really good about this run, especially when we got out in clean air how fast the car was. I knew I had a long ways to go if we were gonna make it that far, so it was a great run for us,” Biffle said following the race.
“The team needed this. We need to continue to work and try to make our cars a little bit better.”
Not Surprising: Jeff Gordon started the day becoming NASCAR’s newest “Iron Man,” breaking Ricky Rudd’s consecutive start record with his 789th series start.
The four-time Sprint Cup Champion struggled during the event but ended the day with a solid seventh place finish.
The third race in the Chase will occur at Dover International Speedway next weekend on Sunday, Oct. 4 in the AAA 400. Coverage will begin at 2:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN as the Chase field goes from 16 Nations to just 12.
Note: T0 the loyal Surprising and Not Surprising readers, the usual author, Mary Jo Buchanan, will be back next week. I’m filling in for her this week this week only.