The Frontstretch: Frontstretch Breakdown : Sylvania 300 by Thomas Bowles -- Sunday September 18, 2005

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Frontstretch Breakdown : Sylvania 300

Thomas Bowles · Sunday September 18, 2005


To the Point: Ryan Newman snuck by Tony Stewart in a thrilling side-by-side battle with two laps remaining, holding on to win the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire. The win capped a wild beginning to the Chase for the Championship that left tempers flaring, helmets flying, and several drivers with wrecked race cars before the day was over.

Who Should Have Won: Tony Stewart. For a team that dominated the majority of Sunday’s race, the ending was a bitter pill for the 20 group to swallow. Driving a dominant car which led 133 of the first 138 laps of the race, Stewart found himself shuffled back in the pack shortly after the race’s halfway point due to pit strategy. The 20 quickly and comfortably worked its way back through the field, but the one driver Tony never could quite get back in front of was Newman. Stewart passed him for the lead with 8 laps left shortly after the restart from the race’s final caution, but never could pull away, allowing Newman to pull a final slide job coming to the white flag in order to seal the win.

Five Questions You Should be Asking After the Race Weekend:
1) Was that side-by-side racing and a late-race pass for the win we saw in Loudon, New Hampshire? Was that fans we saw standing up in the stands instead of dozing off in the final 10 laps?

Sure, some of the drama in the race was due to the Chase and several crashes, but kudos to the Bahre family and NASCAR for working to continually improve what was once an awful track to race on to the point where it’s finally showing signs of life.

2) What the heck was the matter with the drivers on Sunday?

No one seemed to be able to keep from wrecking everyone else, and tempers flared out of control. Kasey Kahne slammed his wrecked car into Kyle Busch after Busch turned him into the wall coming out of the second corner. Robby Gordon chased down Michael Waltrip and threw his helmet at the 15 car after Waltrip turned him down the back straightaway. Kurt Busch was wrecked five laps into the race by Scott Riggs. All in all, accidents took six drivers out of the race, left several more crippled, and sent three drivers to the NASCAR hauler when it was all said and done.

3) Since when is Kurt Busch the one that acts professional when all the drivers around him are losing their cool?

After being wrecked in the first five laps of the race by Scott Riggs, Busch wasted no time getting out of his car in the garage area, and most observers feared the worst. Instead, Busch calmly walked over to the 10 car’s pit, and had an extended, civil conversation with Riggs’ crew chief Rodney Childers. Afterwards, Kurt refused comment to the media so as not to get himself into any hot water, went to his hauler to cool off, then came back out to drive his car for points and finish the race. Sure, things could have been handled better, and Busch went off slightly on Riggs in a post-race interview. But in the end, he was the only driver in one of the major wrecks to avoid being called to the NASCAR hauler, and may have kept the respect and support of his “lame duck” team for the final ten races, critical for the hole he’ll have to dig out of to have a shot at a second title.

4) What would have happened if Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. has made their crew chief changes at midseason instead of one race after missing the Chase?

Earnhardt, Jr. (5th) and Gordon (14th) had inspired runs on Sunday, and it was clear both drivers were happy with new crew chiefs Tony Eury, Jr. and Steve Letarte. One race is way too early to judge what will be a full season of results in 2006, and it’s much easier to run well when there’s no championship pressure. Still, the early writing was on the wall is that both may have had a better shot at this year’s title if these moves had been made back at Charlotte in May.

5) Will the championship be decided by the last-lap battles we saw on Sunday?

Yeah, it’s early, but keep tabs on what happened coming to the checkered flag at New Hampshire. Chasers Ryan Newman & Tony Stewart (1st), Matt Kenseth & Greg Biffle (3rd), and Rusty Wallace and Mark Martin (6th) were in side-by-side battles for position, with Newman, Kenseth, and Wallace coming out on top. With the championship being decided last year by 8 points, the position the other three drivers missed out on could be critical come Homestead.

Who’s Smiling on Monday Besides the Winner:
Matt Kenseth. Certainly, a win would have been icing on the cake for the 17 team, but a third-place run continued Kenseth’s run of strong finishes heading into the Chase. This week, it wasn’t easy, as a lugnut stuck on pit road and locked up the right front rotor of the 17 car, forcing an extra pit stop under caution. Kenseth dropped out of the Top 25 after that, bur gradually worked his way back up with pit strategy and a strong car, delivering a championship caliber performance.

Dale Earnhardt, Jr. Already mentioned earlier, Junior had a strong run on Sunday, running in the Top 10 for over 200 laps on the day, leading a few laps, and surviving on-track contact with both Elliott Sadler and Tony Stewart to come home 5th. Clearly, this was a strong debut for Tony Eury, Jr., and the 8 team appeared the most relaxed it’s been in several months.

Rusty Wallace. Another Chase driver with a big smile on his face exiting New Hampshire, Rusty had an up-and-down day that ended on the upside. Wallace was running in the Top 10 early, but then pitted outside the box during a caution period and failed to heed the warnings of a NASCAR official, causing himself a one-lap penalty. Rusty then had an altercation with Jimmy Spencer on the track that sent the 50 car into the wall and damaged the left side of the 2 car. However, Wallace perservered, got the Lucky Dog pass, and used pit strategy to slowly work his way back to a solid 6th-place finish.

Joey McCarthy. I know…you’re saying Joey who? Huh? But kudos go out to this former police officer and Busch North regular, who not only made his first Nextel Cup race but did a fine job with the Front Row Motorsports car, staying out of trouble and coming home in 31st place, 5 laps behind race winner Ryan Newman. In what has been a struggle at best for this unsponsored underdog team running the full schedule, McCarthy brought home one of their best runs of the season.

Who’s Hungover:
Kurt Busch. Kurt may have conducted himself professionally after his early-race wreck at the hands of Scott Riggs, and the crew may have fixed Busch’s car, allowing him to get back on the track and gain back 24 valuable points. But the cold, hard fact remains that last year’s Nextel Cup champion is now 10th in points, 142 behind Tony Stewart with 9 races to go. The two Chasers who crashed in this very race last year couldn’t make up that deficit, and it’s going to be very tough to do for the 97 bunch, that’s for sure.

Kasey Kahne. Other than his first career win at Richmond in May, it has clearly been a sophomore-slump type of season for Kahne, and that frustration may have boiled over into a confrontation with Kyle Busch on Sunday. Kyle tapped the 9 car and sent him into the wall coming out of turn two for what seems like his thousandth crash of the season. It was a bump that appeared unintentional…but Kahne thought otherwise. He drove his damaged car around and slammed into the 5 car before driving his car into the garage and giving a fired-up interview about how drivers need to payback other drivers who “ruin your day.” Clearly, NASCAR and Ray Evernham were not pleased, as the 9 car was parked for the day. After a visit to the trailer and a Tuesday worth of fines I’m sure Kahne will be reconsidering his actions, although it was interesting to see a fire lit under a normally quiet, unassuming guy.

Robby Gordon. For the second year in a row, Gordon was involved in an accident during this race. He didn’t take out any Chase drivers this year; instead, he felt he was taken out by Michael Waltrip while running in the Top 5 as Waltrip turned him into the wall on the back straightaway. A frustrated Robby got out of his wrecked race car and proceeded to throw his helmet at Michael’s car, all before going on TV and cursing out Waltrip with the “S” word on national TV. As a result, the question is not if Robby is going to be put on probation, but for how long, and not if he’s going to lose points, but how much. A killer for a team trying to sneak in the Top 35 in owner points before season’s end.

J.J. Yeley. Two Cup starts, two quick crashes of his own making. Yeley now has 3 accidents in 4 Cup starts in his career, and at this point could be handing the keys of the 11 car to Denny Hamlin before he’s even had a start in the car.

Worth Noting:
Newman’s win ended a 35-race winless streak that dates all the way back to the Fall Dover race in September 2004. Ironically, the Nextel Cup series heads to that very track next week.

Twice, the winner of the last regular-season race at Richmond has been a driver who makes the Chase. And twice, that very same driver has been involved in a crash the first race of the Chase not of their own making (Jeremy Mayfield in 2004, Kurt Busch in 2005).

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s 5th-place finish is his best since winning at Chicagoland in July.

Mark Martin’s 7th-place finish is his best at New Hampshire since July of 2000 (3rd).

Jeff Green’s 17th-place finish was his fourth Top 20 in the past eight races. He just had three Top 20 finishes all season before this stretch.

Points Shuffle:
In the race for the Chase, Stewart remained solidly in front with his second-place finish. His points lead grows to 20 over second-place man Greg Biffle. Newman’s win moved him from 10th all the way up to third, 40 points behind Stewart and tied with his “teammate” Rusty Wallace in the standings. Rounding out the Top 5 in the Chase was Matt Kenseth, 50 behind Stewart after his strong run on Sunday.

In the second half of the Top 10, Jimmie Johnson fell from third to sixth, falling 53 points behind Stewart but remaining one point ahead of Mark Martin, who had a strong 7th-place finish in the race but fell one spot to 7th in the standings. After that, there’s a dropoff. Jeremy Mayfield and Carl Edwards struggled to 16th and 19th place finishes in the race, and fell to 8th and 9th in points in the standings, respectively. Mayfield finds himself 95 points behind Tony Stewart, while Edwards is 109 back with 9 races left. Rounding out the Top 10 is Kurt Busch, who took a huge hit on Sunday and has fallen 142 points behind Stewart.

Behind the Chase, the race for 11th tightened up, as a poor finish by Elliott Sadler allowed Jamie McMurray to reclaim that spot by 1 point over Jeff Gordon. Kevin Harvick moved up to 13th, 23 behind those two drivers, with Sadler falling to 14th and Dale Earnhardt, Jr. jumping up two spots to 15th. Further down, Jeff Burton climbed two spots with a Top 10 finish to get back into the Top 20 in points at 19th; Kasey Kahne fell out of the Top 20 with his wreck and is now 22nd.

“It’s big (Sunday’s win), but we have to deliver. We can sit third (in points) now and be 10th after next weekend. So, we have to keep the momentum up and we have to perform.” – Ryan Newman

“You know, everybody thinks Michael is a good guy. He’s not the good guy. The caution was out and he wrecked me. He’s a piece of (expletive)...yeah there will be some repercussions (from saying an expletive on national TV), but that’s what happens in the heat of the moment. I’m not worried about the penalties. Michael wrecked me plain and simple.” – Robby Gordon

“It’s his own fault. (Robby Gordon) passed me like he was in the desert or something… I don’t have any idea what he said or why he said it, but I didn’t do anything wrong.” – Michael Waltrip

“If people are going to run you over for no reason and think they’re going to get away with it, you just go out there and ruin their day, too. That’s the way I feel. We just got cleaned out by Kyle Busch. He ran us over.” – Kasey Kahne

“The same thing happened (with me & Kurt) at Indy to us, he got into us when we were running in the Top 10 and he didn’t think it was necessary to come over and apologize to me, so I don’t feel like I woe him an apology. He can look at the tape.” – Scott Riggs

Next Up:
The Nextel Cup drivers tackle the second race of the Chase for the Championship at Dover International Speedway in Delaware, as they run the MBNA NASCAR Racepoints 400 next Sunday.

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