NASCAR New Hampshire Postscript – The Chase is on

Race number one of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase For The Championship provided the fans with plenty of excitement and drama. It was pretty evident, during the New Hampshire race, that the cream from the 12 championship players is going to rise to the top very quickly. With those thoughts in mind, let's begin with:

THUMBS-UP to Mark "The Kid" Martin and his crew chief, Allan Gustafson, for an extremely well done performance during the process of winning Sunday's Sylvania 300 at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. It was Martin's series leading fifth win of the year and he remains as the top seed in the Chase. It was also Martin's 40th career win which places him 16th on the all time NASCAR Sprint Cup winner's list.

Beyond the obvious element of being a genuine NASCAR Sprint Cup racing hero, Martin is also a genuine class act who truly appreciates the efforts of his Hendrick Motorsports contemporaries who has helped him get to victory lane, and in Chase, this season. It's no wonder that Rick Hendrick was anxious to sign a contract extension with him.


THUMBS-UP to Denny Hamlin for his second place finish at New Hampshire and for clearly showing that he's going to become a major player in the Chase. I said it last week, and I'll say it again this week, this young man is really starting to impress me a lot both on and off the track. In recent months there has been a noticeable spike in his sense of professionalism and his level of personal maturity. As the lone hope for Joe Gibbs Racing's chance for another NASCAR title, Hamlin has stepped up admirably. No matter how the Chase scenario plays out for this team, you can bet that Coach Joe Gibbs is going to be very proud of his young driver.


THUMBS-UP to Juan Pablo Montoya who showed us some racing teeth during the New Hampshire race by providing much of the excitement in the race. Montoya and company will be the first to tell you they were points racing during the first 26 races of the season. They were quite content with parking their car somewhere in the top ten while accumulating the needed points to make the Chase.

With that mission accomplished, the team "took the lease off of their dog" and let him get back to that balls to the walls style of racing we've seen from this driver in the past. The result was bonus points for being a race leader, as well as an additional bonus for leading the most laps in the race, a third place finish and a significant jump in the Chase standings.

But WHAT's-UP with some of Montoya's post race comments? This is especially true of the barbs aimed at race winner Mark Martin who spent most of this week singing Montoya's praises. Really Juan, Mark Martin "screwed you on that final restart?" Earnhardt Ganassi Racing needs to settle this down quickly. This driver has achieved a new level of acceptance with American stock car fans and comments like the ones heard following the New Hampshire race can change that in a New York minute.

Speaking of the acceptance of American racing fans, WHAT's-UP with the television networks, that broadcast these races, insistence on constantly referring to Montoya as "a foreign born driver in NASCAR?" Yeah, we get that. Our first hint was his South American accent. Also, WHAT's-UP with the networks not hanging the same moniker on Australia's Marco Ambrose? The television media will call him "the Tasmanian Devil," they may even sometimes refer to him as "Kangaroo Meat" but you never hear Ambrose called " a foreign born driver in NASCAR."

Here's the absolute final Montoya observation for this week. WHAT's-UP with Montoya blowing off scheduled interviews with network affiliates after the race? NASCAR had arranged a block of time for reporters, from network affiliates all across the country, to do post race interviews with their Chase contenders. Despite some careful logistics, these sessions do have a tendency to run into a little bit of overtime. Montoya, realizing his scheduled time was up, took off his microphone and left the interview stage despite the fact there were reporters who were waiting for an interview with him. One of these television stations, reported to be a Fox Network affiliate based in Sacramento-California, was said to be so angry they left the stage not caring if they never did another NASCAR related interview again. Someone needs to tell this driver that the one way to incur the wrath of NASCAR is to embarrass them in the public relations arena.


At the beginning of the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup season absolutely no one expected any one of the four drivers from Richard Petty Motorsports to be seen in victory lane let alone the Chase line up. Kasey Kahne amazed us all with two wins and enough top ten finishes to become a championship contender.

So WHAT's-UP with the team's championship hopes turning south so early in the first Chase event? The early in the race blown engine has left Kahne 12th in the Chase standings and 161 points from the top of the chart. Mathematically the team is not eliminated from winning this championship. But they are in a huge hole that may be very tough to climb out of.

The other situation this team is going to have to eliminate quickly is the source of distraction that is coming from RPM's proposed merger with Yates Racing which will ultimately have them switching manufacturers from Dodge to Ford. Part of this procedure will require RPM to shut down their engine manufacturing department. There are already reports of employees looking for new jobs while anticipating the inevitable layoffs that are coming. How ironic is it that the engine in Kahne's Dodge blew up so early in the New Hampshire race?


On the topic of Chase distractions WHAT's-UP with that personnel situation involving Pat Tryson, Kurt Bush's crew chief, and Roger Penske Racing. In recent weeks the word got out that Tryson was leaving the Miller Lite team at the end of this season to join driver Martin Truex Jr and Michael Waltrip Racing.

The distraction of having a high profile chief like Tryson planning on emptying out his employee locker in the middle of the Chase is strong enough. But making the situation even worse was the recent revelation that Tryson is only allowed to come to the Penske Racing shop on Tuesdays for a debriefing with his driver. That's because the Penske group is currently holding strategy sessions for the 2010 season and they don't want to share the data with a lame duck crew chief.

On the other side of the issue is the fact that Penske has not given Tryson permission to visit the Michael Waltrip shop in order to get acquainted with his new team members. Tryson, yet another NASCAR class act, said he can do his pre race planning at home and remains committed to helping Penske and Busch win this championship.

But one has to wonder: why not just release Tryson from his contract, name an interim crew chief for Busch and let the man move on to his new job? That's a lot better than the distraction that's going on right now.


WHAT's-UP with the hearts of every member of the Junior Nation getting ripped right out of their chests during the New Hampshire race? Dale Earnhardt Jr looked good during this race and was in the process of achieving the performance everyone of his fans has been waiting for all season long. After running as high as second, in a very well prepared race car, the bottom fell out when David Reutimann got into the side of the Earnhardt and sent him hard into the wall during the final moments of the race. Saying that "a great day is gone" Earnhardt also theorized that Reutimann "just somehow ran out of talent."


The THUMBS-UP/WHAT's-UP combo for making chicken salad out of chicken do do this week goes to Tony Stewart for having to overcome that bizarre situation involving a loose axle cap on his left rear wheel. It seems this cap was not properly secured prior to the race and, in fact, three of the cap's mounting bolts were loose. Checking this cap is on the team's pre race check list but somehow it escaped their attention. Despite the lengthy stop for repairs, Stewart kept his cool and drove to a 14th place finish.


On the topic of overlooking important items on a pre race check list, WHAT's-UP up with Kyle Busch's Toyota not passing NASCAR's post race technical inspection? It turned out that the left front of the car was too low and that could lead to a Tuesday afternoon announcement from NASCAR regarding penalties.

Busch just can't seem to get off his NASCAR roller coaster. His efforts in the Nationwide Series and Camping World Truck Series has been spectacular. In fact, he won the truck race at New Hampshire the day before. However in comparison his Sprint Cup season has been all over the map. Despite winning four races this season, there has been more than a few disappointing finishes which led to the team not making the Chase line up.


WHAT's-UP with the timing of the yellow caution flag during the final lap of the Sylvania 300? While race leader Mark Martin was roaring down the backstretch during the white flag lap, the car driven by A J Allmendinger was spinning down the frontstretch. This was followed by a slight hesitation by NASCAR to immediately put out the yellow flag. By the time the yellow did appear, the front of the field was coming into turn four at full speed while Allmendinger was still trying to get his car out of the way.

In a prepared statement after the race Robin Pemberton, NASCAR Vice President of Competition, said "we were waiting to see if Allmendinger could get going and get out of the way. You wait as long as you can to try not to affect the outcome of the race. We don't like the races to end under caution."

But the bottom line here is the fact that the front runners were in effect racing back to the caution flag. That's a policy NASCAR abandoned many years ago in the name of safety.


The final WHAT's-UP of the week goes to the concept of synchronized spinning on pit road for the second week in a row. During the Richmond race David Ragan got into the back on Brad Keselowski's car on pit road. Keselowski did a 180 degree spin and came to a rest perfectly positioned within the lines of his pit stall. The only problem here was the fact that the car was facing the wrong way.

In a sheer note of irony, during the New Hampshire race, Ragan was hit from behind on pit road by Kurt Busch and also did a 180 spin while landing perfectly in his pit stall backwards. It looked like a performance from a Hollywood stunt driver in the process of making a movie. In fact, it actually resembled a scene from one of those old Burt Reynolds car chase films from days gone by.


The final THUMBS-UP of the week goes to NASCAR's Whelen Modified Series and their performance during Saturday's New Hampshire 300. The race was very exciting and was won on the final lap by Ron Silk. This is an outstanding racing series that deserves more national television time.

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