LOUDON, N.H. – The drivers complained bitterly of chattering rear tires and everybody else complained of chattering teeth. A bitter wind driving down the backstretch belied the beautiful sunshine during the final practice session for the Cup cars Saturday morning (Sept. 19).
Juan Pablo Montoya, the polesitter for Sunday’s Sylvania 300, continued to be the class of the field with the fastest lap of the morning at 29.214 seconds, a full tenth faster than Martin Truex Jr. Even though the Colombian lodged a familiar complaint (damn chattering), it appeared to cause less havoc with the No. 42 Target Chevrolet than the rest of the field.
The No. 1 car spent the morning trying to master handling through the corners for their Chevy. Adjusting the bumpstops resulted in less overall grip. Further tweaks by Kevin Manion obtained lap times between 29.85 and 29.65, but he still received complaints of chattering the rear off the corner, even if the car rolled through the center better.
Listed third on the speed charts was Kurt Busch. Halfway through Happy Hour, Pat Tryson assured Kurt, “The lap times are better.”
Kurt sounded a bit disbelieving with “It felt like maybe there wasn’t speed right at the apex.”
Mark Martin followed Busch with a fast lap of 29.339 seconds. The points leader commented during a tire check, “Having a car right in front of you hurts.” However, his long-run laps were consistently around 29.68. These were competitive with Jimmie Johnson’s. In fact, the Hendrick boys clustered together with similar practice times. The No. 88 snagged the sixth-place and eighth-place speeds, sandwiching Denny Hamlin in between them.
Brian Vickers continued to struggle, brushing the wall coming out of turn 4 early in Happy Hour, losing precious time to find speed for the lowest qualifier of the Chasers. The No. 83 Red Bull Team managed to salvage a decent lap of 29.536, but they enter into Sunday’s race full of frustration.
Ryan Newman’s No. 39 faired better and settled their garage with a reasonable 12th-fastest lap.
Kasey Kahne, starting 11th on Sunday, was running one to two tenths slower than Johnson and Martin during his runs. His teammate in the No. 19 told his crew that they were, “Just pissing off the front tires.” Clearly struggling, Sadler managed only 29.672 for a fast lap.
The No. 99 Aflac Ford fought to find any speed. This Chaser will be fighting to keep his fifth-place starting position on Sunday.
And don’t forget about that No. 71. The TRG Motorsports Chevy made a strong showing during the first morning practice, scoring a top-10 lap. However, Bobby Labonte lost some of the magic during Happy Hour… in fact they lost almost a half-second. At the same time, they logged 66 laps. This is no start-and-park program.
Maybe the solution for wheel chatter eluded many of the teams in the Cup garage this weekend, but with a sunny forecast of 75 for Sunday, the teeth will have stopped.
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