Mark Martin tops Hamlin in New Hampshire
Unbelievable. That's the only word to describe it.
Ageless Mark Martin, 50, held off a tremendous charge by Juan Pablo Montoya and Denny Hamlin with three laps to go to win the Sylvania 300 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Hamlin finished second and Montoya third in a race full of action.
Three-time champion Jimmie Johnson was fourth and Kyle Busch finished fifth. His brother Kurt was next, followed by Ryan Newman, Elliott Sadler, Greg Biffle, Clint Bowyer and Brian Vickers.
Four of the top five finishers are in The Chase for The NASCAR Sprint Cup. The younger Busch did not qualify for it this season.
The stage for the wild-and-wooly finish was set with less than 10 laps remaining when Marcus Ambrose bumped AJ Allmendinger from behind, sending AJ around. It created a down-to-the-wire dash in which Martin jumped ahead of Montoya by just a few feet. Hamlin was awarded second when a final-lap spin brought the caution out before the cars got back to the start-finish line. Hamlin was ahead when he and Montoya crossed the last scoring line before the caution fell.
Dale Earnhardt Jr., having his best run in many a race (he was running third), was tagged from behind by David Reutimann on Lap 283 and crashed into the outside retaining wall.
Tony Stewart wound up 14th after making a lengthy pit stop to repair a loose axle cap on a left rear tire.
It was Martin's first victory at this track and the popular Arkansas native was beaming afterwards. He is truly "living the dream" in running for a championship in a Rick Hendrick-owned Chevrolet, a championship that is about the only thing he has not won in his career.
There has never been a more gorgeous day for racing, and the pole winner, Montoya, streaked away to a solid lead when the green flag waved.
Hamlin quickly moved into second ahead of Stewart and the 2009 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup was on.
The 75-degree temperature and solid blue sky lent itself as a serene backdrop for 43 screaming stock cars around this one-mile New England speed palace. Montoya was flying and it appeared he would check out on the field but Stewart seemed to be able to keep up.
At 25 laps, it was Montoya, Stewart, Kurt Busch, Hamlin, Gordon, Stremme, Truex, Edwards and Johnson in the top 10.
By Lap 35, Stewart was on Montoya's bumper and Kurt Busch was gaining on both in third position. Stewart took the lead on Lap 37 and Busch hooked himself to Montoya's bumper.
At 50 laps, it was Stewart, Montoya, Busch, Gordon, Hamlin, Edwards, Johnson (all Chase contenders), then Stremme, Kahne ( another Chase contender) Truex, Reutimann and Martin, the points leader coming into the Loudon race.
Four-time champion Gordon moved into third on Lap 65.
Kasey Kahne brought out the first caution of the afternoon with a blown engine on Lap 66. It was tough luck for the Richard Petty Motorsports team, which has a car in the Chase for the first time.
Montoya beat everyone out of the pits and was in front again when the race restarted on Lap 75. Stewart and Hamlin mixed it up for several laps before Stewart took over. Another caution, this one for debris, slowed the field again at Lap 86. Montoya maintained the lead as none of the front-running cars pitted.
Hamlin got into the left rear of Stewart's Chevy and sent him sliding high on the Lap 92 restart. The contact shuffled Stewart back to fifth. It was Montoya, Kurt Busch, Hamlin, Johnson, Stewart, Martin, Earnhardt, Edwards, Newman and Stremme at 100 laps.
Busch passed Montoya for the lead at Lap 124. Another caution fell on Lap 141 and created a mad scramble the pits.
Once again, Montoya came out of the pits first but Hamlin jumped into the lead. At the halfway point, Hamlin and Montoya raced side by side for several laps before Montoya took over again.
* Denotes Rookie
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