Editor’s Note: Matt McLaughlin is off this week. He’ll return next Monday, July 6th… for New Hampshire, Managing Editor and Sports Illustrated‘s Tom Bowles filled in.
The Key Moment: Joey Logano got the Lucky Dog not once, but twice, then caught a lucky break from Mother Nature to pull off one of the biggest upsets in the sport’s history.
In a Nutshell: A fine mix of, “Are you kidding? This is the New Hampshire that used to put me to sleep?” combined with, “Are you kidding… this is the New Hamp… zzz.”
Dramatic Moment: Almost every double-file restart gave us racing at New Hampshire the likes of which had never been seen… at least in the Cup Series. Watching Ryan Newman run out of fuel, then Logano inherit the lead at exactly the right time was pretty breathtaking to watch – even if it was surreal.
What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week
They say celebrities die in threes (as Farrah Fawcett, Michael Jackson, and Billy Mays proved this week)… but how about NASCAR upsets? In the past three months, we’ve seen three first-time winners who reached Victory Lane under Twilight Zone-type circumstances. Brad Keselowski, Logano and David Reutimann have less than 125 starts between them at NASCAR’s top level, but what they lack in experience they made up for with a year’s worth of luck. This trio led a total of 16 laps combined in the races they won, but – as Jeff Burton would say – they “put themselves in position to win” when circumstances dictated the outcome. There’s a lot of people who would like to argue that’s just not fair – but that’s not going to change the fact the fastest guy doesn’t always win the trophy. It’s one of the basic tenets of racing, proven for over a century… and you’re never going to be able to change it.
For those silly enough to believe Tony Stewart and Greg Zipadelli aren’t on speaking terms, you can go ahead and throw that theory right out the window. Stewart was one of the first to congratulate his former crew chief in what can only be described as a classy move. Wait, I just called Stewart classy? So much for me pretending to be Matt for a week….
If what we saw Sunday is any indication, the double-file restarts on the short tracks of Bristol, Richmond, and Martinsville are going to be something to see.
Doesn’t this always seem to happen? New Hampshire pulls not just a better crowd but arguably a better race than fellow SMI track Atlanta – but yet it’s probably the one in position to lose its second date to Kentucky, Las Vegas, or some other Bruton Smith fantasy in 2010.
In response to rumors the Truck Series is in danger of folding, Vice President Steve O’Donnell came out and said things are “going strong.” It’s been two days now, and I’m still searching for any and all signs of strength for which he speaks. In an unrelated story, O’Donnell failed to mention his cable service doesn’t carry SPEED channel.
The Danica Patrick circus continued full steam ahead this week, even though everyone and their mother seems willing to get off the train. But hidden amidst the Danica mess is the real story: her future is the only Silly Season story worth talking about. Here’s your moves for 2010 in a nutshell: Martin Truex Jr. to the No. 55. Michael Waltrip retires. Keselowski gets a full-time ride with Stewart-Haas. David Stremme gets fired and replaced by Justin Allgaier. And… we’re done. Unless Danica barges her way in somewhere and gets some more dominos to fall, we’re in for one of the quietest Silly Seasons in years; and a quiet Silly Season means no free publicity for the NASCAR/WWE. Catch my drift? So, like it or not, get ready for Danica to be shoved down your throat until the last possible moment….
Truex Jr. may have pulled one of the better fake helmet throws in recent history… but wasn’t he mad at the wrong guy? Seems that Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the one who spun his tires in the first place; but then again, it was nice for the best buddy to step up and spark another Busch rivalry while the bigger fish continues to try and take the high road.
The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune
Richard Childress Racing spent the weekend shooting down rumors the team would be cut down to two cars for 2010, then watched its team cut in half by force on Sunday after both Burton and Kevin Harvick got swept up in the big crash. With Casey Mears bringing home the bacon with a disappointing 11th place, the rain-shortened ending capped off the worst month for this car owner since Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s death in February, 2001.
Newman was busy minding his own business until Logano promptly shoved him into the backstretch wall mid-race. He put himself back in position to have the last lap… and promptly ran out of gas while leading five laps before the final caution.
Reed Sorenson had a top-five car in all three practice sessions, but never so much as sniffed the top five during the race while slumping to 17th. Sorenson is just like the McCafe he drives these days: a good idea on paper, but not when you’re forced to stomach it down.
Scott Speed and Brian Vickers had a war of words Saturday after both wrecked on the white flag of the Nationwide race. Both Red Bull drivers followed that up by knocking themselves out in separate crashes during the Cup show.
Carl Edwards was done in again by a faulty pit stop. At this point, don’t be surprised if one more problem causes a new AFLAC trivia question about the last time an entire crew got fired all at once.
The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune
This is certainly not the way Logano pictured his first win – but he’ll take it. Driving a crippled car after a mid-race spinout, Logano benefited from not one but two Lucky Dogs, then stretched his fuel tank to the limit before Mother Nature gave him the break of a lifetime. The 19-year-old also just missed being part of the day’s multi-car melee, that lap 176 wreck on the frontstretch that collected over half-a-dozen cars.
Speaking of that melee, Reutimann was one of the innocent victims, spun around after getting tapped from the rear. But another round of top-notch gas mileage got him to rebound up to fourth.
Stewart’s car was in such bad shape early, he never led a lap and had to pit under the race’s first caution on lap 17. He spent the rest of the day making up for lost time, but once again crew chief Darien Grubb worked some magic tricks to have the No. 14 contending for the win late before fading to fifth.
It wasn’t one of Kyle Busch’s best races Sunday. He ran over a crewman from the No. 98 team on a pit stop, never got the track position he needed and technically tapped Truex to start the day’s big wreck. Yet despite all the problems, he came home with a badly needed top-10 finish to give himself some breathing room in the points.
Meanwhile, considering brother Kurt Busch looked ready to wreck the field on every restart, it’s a miracle he made it through to a top-five finish without getting punted.
- The top-10 finishers at New Hampshire drove four Chevrolets, three Toyotas and three Dodges. Greg Biffle was the best-running Ford in 18th.
- Logano becomes the youngest winner in Sprint Cup history at 19 years, one month and four days – breaking the record set by teammate Kyle Busch at California in the fall of 2005. Not surprisingly, Logano was also the highest-finishing rookie of the race and the second freshman to win an event this season.
- Gordon (second) leads all drivers with four runner-up finishes this season.
- Kurt Busch (third) had his best finish since Phoenix in April.
- Keselowski (sixth) scored his third top-10 finish in five Cup starts this season.
- Sam Hornish Jr. (eighth) scored his first top-10 finish since Richmond in May.
- John Andretti (16th) scored his best Cup finish of the season.
- Newman (29th) has now gone three straight races without a top-10 finish.
- Harvick (34th) hasn’t run higher than 11th since Atlanta in March.
- David Ragan (38th) is without a top-10 finish since the Daytona 500.
What’s the Points?
Gordon’s second-place finish allowed him to close the gap on Stewart a bit. Gordon trails by 69, with teammate Jimmie Johnson 169 back in third. Kurt Busch and Edwards maintain fourth and fifth in the points, respectively, with nine races left until the Chase starts in September.
Denny Hamlin moves up a spot to sixth in the standings, displacing Newman who dropped a position to seventh. Kyle Busch jumps up to eighth, leading a pack of six drivers separated by a total of just 60 points. The others, are, in order: Biffle, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kasey Kahne. Kahne now trails Montoya by only one point for the all-important final spot in the top 12.
Further back, Reutimann is 11 behind Montoya in 14th, with Clint Bowyer and Burton 15th and 16th. Vickers is now 196 points behind in 17th spot and is in all likelihood the final driver with a chance to make the Chase. Earnhardt Jr. moved up a spot to 19th, but is a whopping 294 markers outside the top 12.
Overall Rating (On a scale of one to six beer cans with one being a stinker and a six-pack an instant classic): We’ll give this one three plastic cups of a mystery brew. All day long, you never quite knew what you were going to get, leaving everything from a memorable to a downright sour taste inside your mouth.
Next Up: The circuit heads to Daytona for their annual Saturday night showcase on the 4th of July – officially ending the first half of the 2009 Cup season.