|Matt Kenseth sends Brad Keselowski spinning|
|Getty Images for NASCAR|
I spent the majority of a Sunday evening reading, and then re-reading, five and one half pages of notes I had taken during the ESPN broadcast of the Sylvania 300 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. It was rather overwhelming. Then again, so was this race which actually turned out to be the Sylvania 303 due to a green-white-checker finish.
During the course of an afternoon in New Hampshire, we witnessed reminders of how a race, and in this case a championship status, can be won or lost on pit road. We were reminded of how unexpected on track mayhem can ruin, or in some cases even enhance, the final finish order.
We witnessed the frequently seen levels of stress of Chase contending drivers, crew chiefs and crew members. We all read the latest post race results of the 16 Chase driver standings and how that's going elevate the levels of stress next weekend at the Dover race when 16 drivers are going to be trimmed down to 12.
With those thoughts in mind, here's a rundown of NASCAR's elite 16 and how they fared at New Hampshire as well as who appears to be safe from elimination going into next weekend and who will be driving on thin ice.
1. BRAD KESELOWSKI.
Okay, BK locked down his transfer spot to round 2 of the Chase over a week ago with his win at the Chicagoland Speedway and that's removes a lot of the pressure regarding next weekend. However, the five time winner this season still needs a good finish at Dover to remain on top of the Chase points standings where safety from elimination is virtually assured.
[adinserter name="GOOGLE AD"]As far as the New Hampshire race went, it wasn't exactly stress free. First, there was the pit road issue, early in the race, of dealing with a loose wheel. That's a stern example of how races and championships can be won or lost in the pits.
However, Keselowski's most serious New Hampshire moment came on lap 193 when some light contact with driver Matt Kenseth sent him spinning around and tapping the outside retaining wall. Fortunately, through some hard driving, he recovered and finished seventh in the race.
That finish keeps him on top of the Chase standings but it's only by one point ahead of his team mate, and New Hampshire winner, Joey Logano. Keselowski will be wanting another win or top five finish to maintain the top seed after the Dover race.
2. JOEY LOGANO.
The New Hampshire race winner also gets a free pass to round two of the Chase. Now with four race wins, Logano moves from third to second in the rankings and is only a single point from the top. That creates a clear picture that says these two Penske Racing cars are going to be formidable during this title run.
Logano's only real New Hampshire angst came late in the race when, during a final pit stop under caution, crew chief Todd Gordon ordered a four tire stop when everyone else was taking two tires and a splash of fuel. Logano protested the call but, fortunately, Gordon stood his ground and the move worked out perfectly. The fresher tires allowed Logano to pass cars with ease. That, combined with some great restarts following the additional caution flags, also allowed Logano to take the lead for good on lap 274.
"Happy" Harvick moved from fourth to third in the Chase standings following a rock solid third place finish at New Hampshire. He also seems very happy about the recent pit crew swap with team owner and team mate Tony Stewart. The vast majority of the team's four tire pit stops were around 12.5 seconds. Stats like that has a tendency to make a driver very happy.
Harvick should have no concerns regarding advancing to Chase round two following the Dover race.
There has been an amazing amount of chatter, from NASCAR themed television analysts, asking "what's wrong with the #48 team? Are Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus still on the same page? How did this team lose its MOJO?"
First off, the team has already won three races this season. At New Hampshire Johnson quietly drove a solid fifth place finish which elevated him from eighth to fourth in the Chase standings. That appears to be very solid "MOJO" numbers. Look for this team to easily advance to round two next weekend and, quite likely, to the final four in November.
DALE EARNHARDT JR.
Here's an example of how a pit stop miscue can upset the best laid plans of a race team. On lap 120 at New Hampshire, Earnhardt had to make a double pit stop due to a loose wheel. The loss of track position was huge and he returned to the track one lap down. However, with all the yellow flags that were to come in the race, it didn't take him long to get a lucky dog pass that returned him to the lead lap. He drove his way to ninth in the final rundown.
Rest easy Junior Nation, your guy remains fifth in the Chase standings and a transfer to round two should not be a problem.
My North Carolina Grand Father frequently used the phrase "making chicken salad out of chicken do do." That's exactly what Kyle Busch did at New Hampshire.
On lap 188 driver Matte Kenseth, and Busch's teammate, swerved to avoid contact with the car driven by Jamie McMurray. Unfortunately, he moved in front of Busch who rammed him hard in the bumper. Busch's Toyota sustained major front end damage. However, with several trips down pit road, under the yellow flag, combined with several yards of Bear Bond tape, Busch was able to return to the race. He drove his way to a eighth place finish. He even managed to elevate himself from seventh to sixth in the Chase standings. A Chase transfer spot next weekend is not expected to be a problem.
Now here's a New Hampshire hard luck story. With nine laps remaining in the race, Jeff Gordon was racing for fifth place when a cut right front tire sent him hard into the outside retaining wall. The result was a 26th place finish and a drop from second to seventh in the Chase standings. However, Gordon should be fine regarding a top 12 transfer.
Edwards began the early part of the season on a strong note and scored two wins which placed him in the initial Chase line up. However, since then there has been a consistency and speed problem that has also hampered all three of the Roush Fenway Fords.
With 39 laps to go at New Hampshire, Edwards made some contact with his team mate, Ricky Stenhouse JR. Stenhouse sustained a tire rub that, a few laps later, ruptured and sent him into the wall. Edwards lost track position from the initial contact and wound up with a 17th place finish.
The good news is: drivers above him in the Chase standings had even worse luck and that allowed Edwards to move from 12th to eighth. The bad news is: he's only eight points above that all important 12th spot and will need a strong, incident free, finish at Dover to advance to round two.
Here's yet another hard luck New Hampshire story, After being somewhat involved in two yellow flags in the first half of the race, Kenseth and Paul Menard made some contact, on lap 269, that was just enough to send Kenseth into the wall. He finished 21st in the race.
He fell from eighth to ninth in the standings and is also a mere eight points above the 12th place transfer cut off. A strong showing will be needed at Dover. A win would, of course, guarantee a transfer in the Chase. However, it remains a mystery how a team who won seven races last year has yet to find victory lane this year.
A J ALLMENDINGER
The Dinger finished 13th at New Hampshire and that, combined with the hard luck of other Chase contestants, moved from 14th to 12th in the rankings. However, he's only seven points above 12th and will need a very strong finish at Dover to earn a transfer spot.
In a season filled with frequent bouts of bad luck, Kahne found himself getting caught up in the aforementioned lap 188 crash with Kyle Busch. The result was a 23d place finish. Kahne remains 11th in the Chase standings but is only six points away from 12th. He needs a strong showing at Dover next weekend.
At New Hampshire, Newman was also caught up in that lap 188 wreck and sustained some light cosmetic damage that required pit road repairs. He finished 18th but managed to move from 13th to 12th in the standings. He is, of course, on the bubble in terms of a Chase transfer and needs a strong finish at Dover.
Here is absolutely the genuine hard luck story from the New Hampshire race. Hamlin started the race strong and led 32 laps in the early stages. Then a very bizarre problem developed on pit road. During a pit stop it was discovered that gasoline was not properly making its way to the gas tank. A return to pit road turned up the fact that the fuel probe, which allows gas to flow to the tank, was loose and had slid away from the gas cap area of the fender. By the time repairs were made, Hamlin was five laps down.
The situation got worse on lap 180 when Hamlin found himself getting into a four car crash, not of his making. He spent 44 laps in the garage while the team made repairs. In the name of salvaging any points possible, Hamlin returned to the track 38 laps down. He finished a disappointing 37th.
The extremely harsh luck dropped Hamlin from sixth to 13th and six points away from the all important 12th position. Look for him to charge hard next weekend at Dover in a final effort to get a transfer spot.
It's been a long season for Biffle, and his Roush Fenway Racing team, based on months of inconsistent performance levels. He did manage to race his way into the Chase based on points. Things were not any better at New Hampshire. Early in the race Biffle found himself with an ill handling car and eventually went two laps down. The saving factor here was all of the caution flags that eventually awarded him two consecutive lucky dog passes. Back on the lead lap again, Biffle drove his way to a 16th place finish. He's 14th in the Chase standings and six points out of 12th. He's going to need a strong dose of car improvement to avoid elimination.
Here's another hard luck story from New Hampshire. Kurt Busch's frustration began early in the event when a pit road miscue led to the discovery of a loose right rear tire. Much later in the event there was contact between Busch and Jaime McMurray that led to a right front tire rub on Busch's Chevrolet. On lap 221 the tire blew and sent Busch into the outside wall.
That led to a 36th place finish and free fall from ninth to 15th in the Chase standings. Busch is eight points away from the 12th place cut off. It's go time for this team next weekend.
Almirola and Richard Petty Motorsports scored a win last July and became Chase contenders. A blown engine at Chicagoland left him 16th in the standings and 23 points out of 12th. A solid driving performance at New Hampshire, combined with the misfortunes of other teams, created a solid sixth place finish. Almirola is still ranked 16th but he has dropped the deficit to 12 points. His transfer status needs another win but that's not expected. He will have to depend on a strong finish, and additional help from other teams, to get that transfer spot.
The one aspect that has many Chase teams worried is the fact that Dover, like New Hampshire, is also a one mile oval and there may be genuine concern that we may be seeing mayhem part 2 next weekend.