LOUDON, N.H. It’s not everyday somebody tries to hand you a giant lobster.
Mark Martin in his No. 5 Chevy held out against a hard-charging No. 42 driven by Juan Pablo Montoya during the final three-lap shootout to win the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Martin maintained his spot atop the Chase points standings with the win. Martin couldn’t wipe the smile off his face in victory lane, telling the cameras, “This is just incredible.”
He insisted his crew chief Alan Gustufson won the race. “It’s Alan, all the guys that back him up, the guys that surround him” that gave Martin the car he needed to hold off three late-race restarts and win the pit stop strategy of the day.
Montoya, whose No. 42 Target Chevrolet set the bar for the rest of the field all weekend long starting from the pole, began to suffer during long runs late in the race. Combined with the decision of the No. 5 to stay out during a caution, ultimately pit strategy beat the nearly infallible machine. “I could’ve pushed him out of the way,” referring to Martin holding him up during the last restart, “but I respect him a lot.” The bumping cost Montoya, consigning him to finish third.
Denny Hamlin snuck by Montoya on the last restart to snare second. Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48 started in 16th position and struggled early on. During the first set of pit stops, the needed adjustments set them on a march toward the front and Johnson finished with a healthy fourth.
Rounding out the top five was a surprising Kyle Busch in his M&M’s No. 18. During the first caution, he complained to his crew, “I can’t drive this car at this track,” sounding like he was ready to give up for the day. Clearly, the team wasn’t ready to listen to him.
In sixth, arrived Kurt Busch in the Blue Deuce. His day was nearly destroyed when he pulled out of his pits right into David Ragan. Spitting over his radio, he wondered why he had pitted at all. The mishap clearly didn’t harm his day overall.
Ryan Newman had a relatively quiet day, lodging a solid seventh-place finish. Elliott Sadler, Greg Biffle and Clint Bowyer finished out the top 10, benefiting from late-race shenanigans during restarts.
Brian Vickers finished a respectable 11th, considering he was the worst Chaser to qualify for the event. Tony Stewart finished his number, right ahead of Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 in 15th. Carl Edwards looked like he may have found speed for his No. 99, settling into about seventh for much of the race, but finished 17th anyway.
The Chaser who suffered a mulligan (he can hope it will be the only one) was Kasey Kahne. His engine expired at lap 66, sending him to the garage with a dismal 38th-place finish. However, Johnson did win a championship after New Hampshire demolished his hopes one year.
The Chase points standings after the Sylvania 300:
1) Mark Martin
2) Jimmie Johnson -35
3) Denny Hamlin -35
4) Juan Montoya -55
5) Kurt Busch -65
6) Tony Stewart -74
7) Ryan Newman -79
8) Brian Vickers -90
9) Greg Biffle -92
10) Jeff Gordon -102
11) Carl Edwards -113
12) Kasey Kahne -161
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