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NASCAR New Hampshire postscript

by Dave Grayson
Tuesday, September 21, 2010

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Clint Bowyer
Over the previous weekend we watched a very happy race driver very carefully hold up a giant lobster in victory lane at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. NASCAR's Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship officially began and we were amazed when the guy who should have been eating that lobster ran out of gas. One of the largest motorsports fan clubs in the country found their smile again and NASCAR's favorite "rowdy" driver spent Saturday doing what he does best: winning. With all of these thoughts in mind let's begin with:


THUMBS-UP to Clint Bowyer for an outstanding driver performance that led to him winning last Sunday's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire. Bowyer and his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet was a major player all through this race and led 177 of 300 laps. But he was running second with two laps left when race leader Tony Stewart heard the heartbreaking sputter of an engine that had ran out of gas.

A little over a week ago we were all commenting on how Clint Bowyer slipped through the NASCAR Sprint Cup back door, following the Richmond Race, to claim the coveted 12th and final berth in the Chase line up. There was commentary that indicated that he wasn't expected to be a major player in the Sprint Cup championship. However, Bowyer's first win in 88 races vaulted him from 12th to second in the standings and he now has every one's attention.

Here's hoping that Bowyer is going to treat his pit crew to the finest steak and lobster dinner available in the state of New Hampshire. Led by crew chief Shane Wilson, that crew deserves a rarely issued double THUMBS-UP for their flawless performance on pit road that kept their driver at the front of the field all day long.

THUMBS-UP to the winning team's sponsors General Mills and their Cheerios and Hamburger Helper brands. After being sponsors of NASCAR Sprint Cup teams for 14 years, General Mills scored their first ever race win at New Hampshire. A team celebration dinner featuring Cheerios, Hamburger Helper and that giant lobster actually sounds pretty good despite the fact that Bowyer admitted, on Monday afternoon, that he's not exactly sure where the giant lobster is.

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Denny Hamlin's second place finish earns him the THUMBS-UP award for turning chicken do do into chicken salad. While running fourth, with 85 laps to go, Hamlin's Toyota was hit by a very loose Ford driven by Carl Edwards. Hamlin spun out and, amazingly, the on coming race traffic managed to avoid hitting him. Following a trip down pit road for new tires, Hamlin restarted the race in 22nd. It turned out to be a good situation. That unscheduled stop also allowed the team to pack the tank with fuel. Hamlin was one of the few front runners at the end of the race who had more than enough fuel to finish the race. When the checkers fell on the race, Hamlin had managed to cut Bowyer's lead down to a mere 0.477 seconds.

Kevin Harvick also deserves a THUMBS-UP for making the chicken do do to salad transformation in his Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. For someone who's nickname is "Happy", Harvick was not feeling any joy at all during much of the Sylvania 300. Harvick became increasingly angry over the way his car was handling, how pit road adjustments didn't seem to remedy the situation and even expressed anger over pit road calls and performance. Some of the transmissions from his in car radio were often brutal. But, true to his form all season long, this driver and team returned to reading from the same page and Harvick was able to turn a non effective day into a fifth place finish. It also allowed him to maintain his rock solid status as a bonafide Chase contender.

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WHAT'S-UP with Chase contenders pushing the fuel mileage limits during this race? The trend started late in the race when Jeff Burton's potential top five finish turned into a disappointing 15th place in the final running order.


Then there was the gut wrenching matter regarding Tony Stewart. This team was strong all day and the Sylvania 300 clearly belonged to them. But no one expected a long green flag run in the late stages of the race. The additional yellow flag that crew chiefs were counting on never arrived. Stewart's tank ran dry with two laps left. He helplessly limped across the finish line to a 24th place finish while Bowyer was doing victory burn outs directly behind them.

However, Stewart more than deserves a THUMBS-UP for being a class act after the race. After making it a point to congratulate Bowyer and saying how much fun it was racing with him, Stewart shouldered the blame for his situation by saying "I ran myself out of fuel. That's racing, you never know who's going to win until it's over. That's what makes this sport so exciting."

Even the race winner was not immune from the stress of fuel mileage. His tank was perilously low during the final two laps of the race. But he couldn't afford to back off of his pace because a hard charging Denny Hamlin, with plenty of fuel, had Bowyer in his sights.

Bowyer later stated that he clearly hear the nervous tone in his crew chief's voice when they were discussing fuel issues during the final moments of the race and he did his best to heed that warning. How close did Bowyer push the fuel limits? He required the services of a wrecker to get him to victory lane.

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WHAT'S-UP with four time Sprint Cup champion, and pre Chase favorite, Jimmie Johnson and his long day in New Hampshire? First off, there was that extremely aggressive racing with Denny Hamlin within the first five laps of the race. That action became so tight that even Chad Knaus, Johnson's always stoic crew chief, felt compelled to get on the radio and tell his driver "there's no need to go three wide this early."

The next anxious moment for team #48 came with 78 laps to go. By his admission Kurt Busch came too hard into a turn and collected Jeff Burton. That in turn led to the proverbial accordion effect which saw Johnson spinning after contact with Kyle Busch.

But the WHAT'S-UP factor concerns a very rare mistake made on pit road by this team. With 45 laps left in the race, Johnson reported that he felt one of the wheels were loose. An unscheduled green flag pit stop uncovered the fact that the problem was the right front wheel. Johnson returned to the track nearly two laps down while the team watched a strong top five finish turn into a 25th place finish.

However, Johnson does get a THUMBS-UP for displaying the attitude of a champion prior to the Sylvania 300. The ESPN television team did a series of interviews with the 12 Chase contenders asking them who among them was the biggest threat to win the 2010 Sprint Cup. Most of the replies were vanilla soaked and diplomatic. While the #48 team was mentioned often, most of the replies were centered around the fact that any and all Chase teams were capable of winning the title. When Johnson was asked the same question he quickly replied "I am the biggest threat for the championship, I'm going down fighting while thinking that all the way through." That, racing fans, is the true sign of a championship caliber driver and team

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You also have to send a WHAT'S-UP to Matt Kenseth for the harsh luck he received during the opening race of the Chase. While fighting handling issues all race long, in his Roush Fenway Racing Ford, Kenseth got tagged, with 67 laps to go, by pole sitter Brad Keselowski. The Kenseth Ford spun and slammed backwards into the wall. The team was able to get their driver back into the race but the net result was a disappointing 23d place finish.
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A double THUMBS-UP goes out to Dale Earnhardt Jr, crew chief Lance McGrew and the entire #88 team for their strong fourth place finish. With the disappointing results this team has seen all year long a solid run like this one had to seem like a win for them. The #88 team was actually the strongest of the four Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolets and nobody remembers the last time we've been able to say that. During a mid race recap ESPN broadcaster Brad Daugherty actually yelled "hey, look at June Bug," the long time nickname given the driver by his famous father. The Junior Nation will be smiling this week.
 
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THUMBS-UP to Kyle Busch for winning the Race Day Raffle Series Dot Com 175 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event Saturday at New Hampshire. Busch started the race from the pole and led 156 laps while earning his fifth series win in only 11 starts this season. It was also his 80th win in a NASCAR national touring series event.
Another THUMBS-UP goes out to Busch and Kevin Harvick for their non stop, all race long, side by side racing efforts. What we had here was two full time Sprint Cup drivers, who are also truck team owners, putting on a show that thrilled everyone who watched it.

THUMBS-UP for James Buescher, the 20 year old Texas driver, who almost stole the show from the series veterans. With ten laps to go, Busch and Harvick were again side by side with some occasional contact between the two trucks. Meanwhile Buescher reeled them in and made a beauty of a low line pass to jump from third to the lead.

But the appearance of a first time series winner evaporated three laps later when the eighth and final caution flag came out to turn the race ending into another green-white-checker finish the series is so famous for. In those final laps, Busch performed a slide job on Buescher to reclaim the lead. But in the process of making that pass, Busch slammed hard into the backstretch wall and nearly took Buescher with him. Busch would later say that he hit was so hard that "it knocked my racing helmet sideways." Somehow Busch managed to keep his truck under control and took the win with Buescher a mere 0.280 seconds away from his bumper.

Buescher was less than thrilled about the way the race ended and presented Busch with the one finger wave during the cool down lap. He gets a WHAT'S-UP for that gesture. But it's not because it was the wrong thing to do. In fact, it was pretty funny. Buescher has been in the truck series long enough to know that a hand gesture is only going to fuel Kyle Busch's sarcastic sense of humor and the gesture isn't going to phase him at all. That's the reason for the WHAT'S-UP.

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