NASCAR Race Weekend Central

Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2012 New Hampshire Summer Race Recap

The Key MomentDenny Hamlin dominated much of the race but miscommunication in the pits dropped him to 14th. Kasey Kahne inherited the lead and with clean air on the nose of his Chevy drove to an easy win.

In a Nutshell – The race is not always to the swift nor the battle to the strong.

Dramatic Moment – Hamlin’s determined drive over those final laps to get back to the lead was something to watch, especially at a track where passing is so difficult.

What They’ll Be Talking About Around the Water Cooler This Week

What a fantastic race! 17 passes for the lead in the final half of the race and a margin of victory of only three thousandths of a second! It was so close NASCAR had to consult their photo finish cameras to decide who won. Of course that was Saturday’s Whelen Modified race not the “big” show on Sunday. Who else wishes ESPN would have broadcast the modified series race from New Hampshire rather than the Global RallyCross event?

There were exactly two on-track green flag passes for the lead in the 300-mile event. Both occurred before the first corner on restarts. Graduated banking isn’t enough. I suggest having the New Hampshire Air National Guard use the place for bombing practice and starting over.

It’s hard to label the radio disaster that cost Hamlin the win as a simple miscommunication. What we have here is the biggest failure to communicate since the Captain and Cool Hand Luke. These races are tough to win. It’s a shame to throw one away.

Brad Keselowski, teammate to the suspended AJ Allmendinger, isn’t sounding very supportive of his running mate. He stated that whether the B-sample comes back positive or negative it’s still “a death sentence.” Keselowski went on to say he strongly believes NASCAR drivers should not take any sort of supplements as well, including Flintstone chewable vitamin tablets. Wow. When the day comes a driver is suspended for taking kid’s vitamins I’m kicking this hot dog stand for good. (Imagine a nightmarish situation where it’s found the sesame seeds and secret sauce on a Big Mac combine to trigger a false opiate result.)

Speaking of Allmendinger he was silent this weekend, said to be relaxing at home with his family. About the only thing of substance (no pun intended) he had to say was denying a report he planned to have legal representation with him when the B-sample is tested. Good for him. I’ve found in life there’s no situation so bad it can’t be rendered worse by having lawyers get involved.

A final note on the Dinger-gate. It seems the NASCAR PR folks are playing this one smart. The second test won’t be run until this week and next weekend is an off weekend. That means a lot of fans won’t be following the sport too closely for the next two weeks and by the time racing resumes at the Brickyard the Olympics will be the big sports buzz. (And no doubt a few failed drug tests in London too.) Right then, this little spot of embarrassment ought to be a blip on the radar screen.

SPEED really seemed to stir up a hornet’s nest with their coverage of qualifying. While it appeared to be a live broadcast, it was in fact tape-delayed for much of the coverage. Thus if you were watching live timing and scoring or following on Twitter, they got to be almost a dozen cars behind. Kyle Busch had actually won the pole almost a half hour before the qualifying show ended. Speed.com’s editor-in-chief, Tom Jensen, defended the practice noting they wanted to show the maximum possible amounts of cars (and fans often complain about not getting to see their driver as well) and with the need for commercial breaks he estimated they’d have missed one in four cars. Back when TV was the only way to follow events this was fine, but it’s a bit unwieldy with so many alternative methods to follow the sport.

Others objected to the prolonged discussion of fears of Friday the 13th in the booth during qualifying. For the record the medical term for this phobia is Friggtriskaidekaphobia. Yeah try working that into a Tweet. (Frigga is of course the Norse goddess for whom Friday was named. You can’t make this stuff up folks.)

The Hindenburg Award For Foul Fortune

Polesitter Kyle Busch had the fastest car in the first segment of the race. A speeding penalty and a botched pit stop dropped him from the lead to 22nd. Busch kept his temper and methodically drove his way back to the front. Then he entered the pits too hot and overshot his pit box. He then, by all accounts, flipped the Hell out. Despite a strong car he was only able to rally to a 17th-place finish.

What in blazes was with Carl Edwards all weekend? He looked like a monkey trying to hump a football out there on Sunday. He eventually finished 18th about where he ran all day.

Greg Biffle arrived at New Hampshire with high hopes. His weekend first hit a sour note when he backed out of the garage and into the No. 48 team’s wheeled generator cart. He lost control in qualifying and delivered a profanity laced tirade over the radio. He never seemed completely on song all afternoon and was lucky to escape NHMS with a ninth-place finish.

The “Seven Come Fore Eleven” Award For Fine Fortune

Jimmie Johnson was caught out by an untimely caution flag right after he’d made a pit stop. (Johnson apparently believed that the caution was unnecessary which is why he was so livid but cautious to say anything in his post-race comments.) He used the wave around rule to get himself back on the lead lap and then drove on to a seventh-place finish.

At a track where everybody (with the possible exception of Hamlin) was saying passing was all but impossible Keselowski moved from a 22nd-place starting berth ahead to a fifth-place finish. He looked whupped after the race. Hopefully somebody gave him an energy drink and a chewable vitamin.

Jeff Gordon’s gamble to stay out under the first caution flag gave him the lead but put him off cycle with the majority of the field. He was forced to make a green flag pit stop 10 laps before the rest of the pack and fell from third to 22nd. Fortunately a timely caution flag (and they were few and far between Sunday) helped get the No. 24 back in sequence with the leaders and he drove on to a sixth-place finish.

It was a good afternoon for Rick Hendrick who saw all four of his cars finish in the top 7.

Worth Noting

  • The top 10 finishers drove six Chevys, two Toyotas, a Ford and a Dodge.
  • Matt Kenseth, Johnson and Hamlin lead all drivers with nine top-five finishes this season. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson lead the pack with 14 top-10 results each.
  • Of the top 12 finishing drivers, eleven of them also started inside the top 12.
  • Kahne’s win was his second of the season. The last season Kahne won more than one race was 2009. (In 2006 he won six of the things.)
  • Hamlin’s second-place finish was his best since Darlington on Mother’s Day weekend.
  • Earnhardt now has eight top-five finishes this season, one less than he managed in 2009, 2010 and 2011 combined.
  • Kevin Harvick managed a top-10 result for the first time in the last four events.
  • Biffle hasn’t managed to put a top-five on the board since Michigan.
  • Ryan Newman has back to back top-10 finishes for the first time since Fontana and Martinsville. But he hasn’t led a lap since Martinsville either.
  • Martin Truex Jr. hasn’t managed a top-five result since Darlington.
  • Kenseth’s 13th-place finish matched his result at Sonoma, his two worst finishes of the season since Fontana.
  • Kyle Busch hasn’t managed a top-five finish since Charlotte.
  • If misery loves company maybe you’ll see Edwards and Kyle Busch sharing a sherbet at the Cold Stone Creamery this week discussing the possibility they might both miss the Chase. Edwards hasn’t had a top-five result since Fontana. Last year Edwards had top-five results in 19 of 36 races.
  • Kurt Busch has refrained from posting the crap out of a top-20 finish the last two events in a row.

What’s the Points?

Kenseth maintains his points lead and is now 16 points ahead of second-place Earnhardt.

Biffle and Johnson hold serve in third and fourth positions. Johnson is now more than a full race worth of points out of the lead. (Oh, and oddly enough if that 25-point penalty at Daytona had been upheld, he’d still be fourth in the standings.)

Hamlin advanced two spots to fifth in the standings.

Another curiously lackluster run by Tony Stewart dropped him two spots to seventh.

Clint Bowyer and Keselowski swapped ninth and 10th spots, with Bowyer now having the advantage.

Edwards remains 11th in the standings, but there’s an ominous goose egg in the wins column beside his name. If the Chase were to be set right now, Kahne would supplant him as the first wild card with his two wins.

Kyle Busch currently holds the second wild card berth. He’s nine points ahead of Newman and 12 points ahead of Joey Logano. All three of these drivers have a single win apiece this season.

Gordon remains 17th in the standings and still hasn’t won a race. It appears nearly impossible he’ll make the chase this year, but then again with only two top-five results in 19 races he probably wouldn’t be a factor even if he snuck his way in.

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 cans. The race started slowly then petered out all together until the No. 11 team shot themselves in the foot and Hamlin made that mad if ultimately futile dash back towards the front.

Next Up – The Cup schedule takes a week off and so do I. Racing, or some semblance thereof and my writing, or some semblance thereof, return at the Brickyard.

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