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NASCAR New Hampshire postscript

by Dave Grayson
Tuesday, June 29, 2010

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Jimmie Johnson
back on track...
Several NASCAR Sprint Cup races ago driver Kevin Harvick was asked about Jimmie Johnson winning three of the first five races of the 2010 season. Harvick replied, "that 48 team must have a golden horseshoe up their butts". Then, all of a sudden, Johnson and company became the focus of NASCAR conspiracy theorists who said the magic was gone because the team fell to seventh in the points and hadn't seen victory lane in ten races. Now, after winning the past two races aided by questionable decisions by his competitors, it appears that the golden horseshoe has been returned to its original upright position.

Also during the previous weekend we watched every one's favorite "Rowdy" driver set new another Nationwide Series record while snapping a New Hampshire win streak and, oh yeah, Danica was there.

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THUMBS-UP to Jimmie Johnson, and his #48 Lowes/Hendrick Motorsports team, for winning their second Sprint Cup race in a row, their fifth of the season and his 52nd career win. It's also his third win at the New Hampshire International Raceway.

THUMBS-UP to the dual bump and run very exciting finish between Johnson and Kurt Busch. With approximately seven laps to go, Busch put the bumper on Johnson, following a double file restart to take the lead. Johnson, a few laps later, returned the favor and put his bumper on Busch's Dodge to retake the lead and the race win. This was an old school finish. The type of finish you see in the waning moments of a 50 lap late model feature at your local Saturday night track. It was very exciting and very good for NASCAR racing.

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But WHAT’S-UP with the circumstances that put Johnson in contention to win this race to begin with? Jeff Burton and his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet was strong and led 89 laps of the race. He appeared to be on the way to that first win everyone said was overdue. But following the final caution flag late in the race, Burton's crew chief, Todd Berrier, told his driver to stay on the track when all the other lead lap cars came down pit road for fresh tires to prepare for the certain shootout that was expected. That's when a potential race win became a 12th place finish.

On the ensuing restart Johnson made quick work of taking the lead while Burton, on worn tires completely devoid of grip, found himself losing the car and hitting, of all people, Kyle Busch. That whipped the NASCAR conspiracy theorists into a frenzy with many of them claiming it was payback from an incident launched by Busch at the Charlotte Motor Speedway last month.

It was of course wasn't even close to that level of drama. Burton deserves a THUMBS-UP for being a class act after the race. Regarding passing on the pit stop he refused to throw crew chief Todd Berrier under the bus and said "we're a team, we make these decisions together." Burton also quickly took full responsibility for hitting Busch at the end of the race and referred to it as a mistake that was 100 percent his fault.

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WHAT’S-UP with Juan Pablo Montoya and his bad weekend in New England? It certainly started off strong when he won the Coors Light Pole on qualifying day. He was certainly strong enough to lead 36 laps during the early portion of the race.

But the problems began around lap 248 when there was some aggressive multiple contact with Jeff Gordon. Montoya later said "he just didn't give me any room, he never does. He has it coming one day."

Montoya's long day got worse later in the day.With only 20 laps left in the race, he was hit by former team mate Reed Sorenson and wound up in the wall backwards. The odd thing here was the video replay of the wreck that clearly displayed the fact that Sorenson turned his wheels right at the point of contact. In other words, the incident clearly looked intentional and it still has us all wondering what was the problem between the drivers. A video replay did show some earlier contact between the two cars but it didn't appear enough to warrant an intentional act. This is especially true in light of the fact that the drivers were not racing for position. Sorenson was actually a lap down. Montoya added another level to the mystery when, after the race, he said "it was just one of those deals where I'm not surprised. Coming from Reed,I wasn't surprised to be honest."

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WHAT’S-UP with Kasey Kahne and the new Ford FR9 engine? Kahne, in his Richard Petty Motorsports Ford, started the race on the front row and was strong during the early portion of the events. He was using the new power plant, developed by Roush Yates engines, and all appeared to be well.

But two thirds into the race, Kahne reported engine trouble and told the team he thought the engine was going to blow up. He started going backwards until the engine finally died with a massive plume of smoke of lap 236. There were no mosquitoes in Loudon-New Hampshire on this evening.
Directly related to this, WHAT’S-UP with TNT Network analyst Lindsay Czarniak and her promo leading into a commercial break? Czarniak, who is part of TNT's revolving studio adjacent to the garage area, raised the question: "it will be interesting to see if Kasey Kahne can get back to where he was." Apparently she must have temporarily left the studio and didn't hear the primary broadcast team announce that Kahne's Ford was running on seven cylinders and close to blowing its engine.

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THUMBS-UP to Dale Earnhardt Jr whose eighth place finish has added a new label to his name: Chase contender. Earnhardt and company have been quietly working their way towards the all important Chase line up. He's now 13th in the championship standings and only three points away from the top 12. The Junior Nation is really getting excited.

That same THUMBS-UP also goes to Ryan Newman and Clint Bowyer who finished sixth and seventh at New Hampshire. Newman is now 14th in the standings and only 15 points from the top 12. Bowyer is 15th and just 16 points away from making the Chase. This is going to be a very exciting conclusion to the Chase line up.

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WHAT’S-UP with the performance levels of Roush Fenway Racing's Ford teams? It's astounding that someone from this four car line up hasn't found victory lane since early last year. Greg Biffle was the lone RFR standout with a 16th place finish on the lead lap. Matt Kenseth was 17th a lap down, David Ragan was 20th a lap down and Carl Edwards was 25th two laps down. Edwards is now perilously close to falling out of the top 12 Chase line up.

With 25 laps remaining in the New Hampshire race, there was a report that team owner Jack Roush was seen storming off of pit road with a very angry expression on his face.

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THUMBS-UP to Kyle Busch and that stellar performance during the NASCAR Nationwide Series race at New Hampshire. The New England 200 marked Busch's sixth series win of the season and his 36th career win. It was also his second win at New Hampshire which snapped an amazing speedway streak that sent 23 different drivers to victory lane in the last 23 years.

Busch has been collecting a lot of Nationwide Series records and did it again last Saturday. He now holds the record for the most laps, 8,117, led in series' history. He passed the long time total held by Mark Martin who needed 45 more races than Busch to set his record.

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WHAT’S-UP with Danica Patrick's return to the Nationwide Series? Seven laps into the New England 200 series veteran Morgan Shepherd lost control of his car going into turn one, tapped Patrick's car and sent her sideways into the wall. From that point it was pretty much a long day for Patrick who finished 30th five laps down. After the crash, she came on the radio and yelled "he totally took me out." The fact of the matter was it was just one of those racing deals that happens and Patrick tapping the rear of Shepherd's car on pit road after the race wasn't necessary.
But there is good news here. According to speedway officials, Patrick's presence in this race led to a 30 percent increase in ticket sales last Saturday.

It also leads to a THUMBS-UP for TNT Network broadcaster Kyle Petty for another one of his frequently fun observations. The TNT fan survey question of the race was how did Danica look in the race? Petty quickly quipped "she looked great, she just didn't run that well."

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The final WHAT’S-UP of the week goes to the rock and blues band Foghat for their performance of "The National Anthem". I've always been a fan of this group and their hits "Slow Ride" and "Fool For The City" are still on my list of classic rock favorites. So, I was intently curious about how they were going to handle America's song. It took about ten seconds to realize that a mistake was made. The band should have passed on this performance and the speedway should have brought in someone who could actually handle the vocals of a song that is so difficult to sing.

As we all know the television networks have a tendency to aim their cameras at the drivers, their families and teams during the performance of "The National Anthem." When the camera was placed on the Matt Kenseth family you could actually see the driver's lips and jaw line quivering. It was almost as if the always stoic Kenseth was trying to stifle laughter at Foghat's performance. Mark Martin looked as if he was in pain while listening to Foghat.

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Whether or not our final item this week is a THUMBS-UP or a WHAT’S-UP probably depends on what gender you are. I chose THUMBS-UP because I thought it was funny.

We're all aware that there is a very elaborate exit strategy for Jimmie Johnson in case his wife goes into labor with their first born while he's at the race track. Those plans include the presence of driver Aric Almirola as a stand in. He was picked because he and Johnson have the same physique so things like having to change a driver's seat can be avoided. There is of course a helicopter and Hendrick Motorsports plane on standby in case Johnson has to leave in a hurry. No one wants Johnson to miss the birth of his first child.

But Johnson is also thinking about winning races to collect the ten bonus points that will determine his status in the Chase For The Championship. In a post race press conference last Sunday he addressed the issue and said "I want to stay in my ride and try to win as many races as I can. So, just all depends on when the little baby decides to make her move and when she wants to come into the world. If she's anything like her mother, she'll be late, so I'll be fine, which puts us into the off weekend, nice and deep. I might not have a place to sleep tonight, just for the record."

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