Looking for the Who, What, When, Where, Why and How behind Sunday’s race? Amy Henderson has you covered each week with the answers to six race-day questions, covering all five Ws and even the H… the Big Six.
Who… gets my shoutout of the race?
He may not have had a top finish, but he deserves everybody’s respect. The sport said farewell to a driver who seemed to always be a threat to win and one who became a great spokesman for his fellow drivers this weekend. Jeff Burton‘s swan song came, fittingly, at a track where he holds the Cup Series record for wins. Burton was just about unbeatable at the Magic Mile in the late 1990s, and always seemed poised to be the next champion of the sport. He never reached that pinnacle, but instead became a champion for his fellow drivers and for race fans as one of the most respected voices within the garage area. Burton made what will most likely be his last start this weekend.
On a personal note, it really is the end of an era. Burton was the winner at the first Cup race I ever went to in person. He was the winner of the second one I went to as well. And the third. I was at NHMS for all four of Burton’s wins there, and it was a pleasure to watch him race at a time when the sport was new and exciting for me. Burton was a part of the sport I came to care about very much, and has been part of it for my entire run as a writer. It will be strange indeed to see him in the TV booth next year, but fans will be lucky to have his voice in the mix.
What… beyond the teams’ control affected the action?
There were several good cars in the field on Sunday, but not one of them had anything for Brad Keselowski, except, maybe, just maybe, his teammate Joey Logano before Logano hit the wall in the closing laps. Whatever Team Penske has figured out, other teams had better hope they can figure out soon if they want to be on a level playing field when the Chase begins. Keselowski made child’s play of New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday afternoon, just two weeks after he made the rest of the field look bad at Kentucky. Take out the Daytona crapshoot, and it’s clear that the Penske drivers, and Keselowski in particular, have something the rest of the field doesn’t. The only question is, did they find it too early, with seven races left before the Chase. Throwing in next week’s off-weekend, that’s eight weeks the other teams have to find their own something special. Can they do it, or will Keselowski sail into the Chase with a sizeable advantage?
Where… did the polesitter and the defending race winner wind up?
Kyle Busch took a gamble late in the race, and while it didn’t pay off with a win, it did make for a good finish overall. Busch, who didn’t pit on lap 250 with most of the lead lap cars but instead made his final stop with over 80 to go, ran out of fuel coming to the line, finishing second. Busch led laps and, while he didn’t have anything for Keselowski, he was able to break the 25th-place average he’s had in the last four races, and putting an end to a slump is nothing to sneeze at.
Brian Vickers won in the Granite State a year ago, but never found that feeling this week. Vickers ran between 11th and 18th for most of the afternoon and never looked like he’d sneak in for the repeat. He’s quietly put together some strong runs this year, but this week was not one of them as he finished 21st. Overall, Michael Waltrip Racing seems to have slipped back a step from the last couple of years, and if they’re going to put a car in the Chase, they need to find a way to pull off a win.
When… did it all go sideways?
One tire issue can be chalked up to bad luck. Perhaps even the second one can be cast off as an anomaly. But when you’re derailed by tire problems five times in 19 races, maybe the tire isn’t the problem. In other words, the No. 48 team is shooting themselves in the foot. A lot. Jimmie Johnson could have had at least two more wins this year had he not experienced ill-timed tire failures.
It’s not Goodyear’s fault (though there does need to be a better tire to improve the racing; that’s just not the issue here). This falls squarely on the team, and it’s been going on for more than a year. Luckily for Johnson and Co., this week was most likely slated as more of a test session for the fall race, which is a Chase race. Still, there needs to be more concern here from Team 48, more urgency. With at least 10 tire failures in the last two seasons, there’s something afoot at the Circle K. Someone needs to figure something out, because continually putting your driver in the wall isn’t really a great way to see what works in the tire department.
Why… did Brad Keselowski win the race?
It seems too easy simply to say “because he had the best car,” but the reality is that he did, by a country mile. Even losing spots in the pits was no deterrent to Keselowski’s march to Victory Lane this weekend as the driver was able to take the spots back with ease every time. Keselowski’s car was so hooked up that it looked to be in another class this week.
How… did the little guys do?
JTG Daugherty Racing; AJ Allmendinger (No. 47 Kingsford Chevy): New Hampshire proved to be a tough track for the small teams. None of these teams had what could truly be classified as a good run Sunday, but Allmendinger had what was, at least, a solid finish in 18th. He’d been running around 22nd or 23rd in the closing laps, but the late caution gave him the chance to pass a few more cars, and a couple of guys running out of fuel at the front gave Allmendinger a top-20 finish.
Front Row Motorsports; David Ragan & David Gilliland (No. 34 Taco Bell Ford & No. 38 Long John Silver’s Ford): Ragan had been looking to best his teammate this week, but he had to hit the brakes for Justin Allgaier‘s spin with four to go, which allowed Gilliland to squeeze by and finish 24th, while Ragan came home 25th. Those mid-to-low 20’s finishes area decent day for this team right now,
BK Racing; Alex Bowman & Cole Whitt & Ryan Truex (No. 23 Dr. Pepper Toyota & No. 26 TapOut Muscle Recovery Toyota & No. 83 Burger King Toyota): Whitt continues to be the strongest member of this team, and his 28th–place finish salvaged the day for BKR. Bowman had a solid day, completing the race in 31st without drama, while Truex struggled the most, winding up five laps down in 36th.
Phil Parsons Racing; Josh Wise (No. 98 Ford): This little team has posted a surprisingly good finish here and there this year, and Loudon was one of those. Yes, they finished 29th, but they beat some better teams in their class doing it.
Tommy Baldwin Racing; Michael Annett & Reed Sorenson (No 7 Pilot Flying J Chevy & No. 36 Chevy): A week after looking strong in Daytona, TBR as a whole struggled at the track closest to Tommy Baldwin’s New England roots. Both Annett and Sorenson struggled to find grip at the Magic Mile, finishing 32nd and 33rd. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that they finished together, which could help the team because the two cars were, at least, equally difficult to get a handle on.
Circle Sport; Morgan Shepherd & Landon Cassill (No. 33 Thunder Coal Chevy & No. 40 Newtown Building Supply Chevy): Cassill had the kind of day he probably wished ended 100 laps or so sooner, as he struggled to a 34th–place finish. But at least Cassill’s day was relatively without drama. Shepherd had to avoid a fire in his pit, and that was just the beginning. The 72-year-old found himself at the center of controversy after contact with second-place Logano (while Shepherd was 14 laps down) put Logano in the wall and many fans and media cried foul on social media, saying NASCAR should have parked the slow-running No. 33 before the incident (the car was apparently meeting minimum speed for NHMS, so there was nothing NASCAR could have done to Shepherd, who finished 39th). You have to wonder, though, if a younger driver had made the same error, would the reaction have been the same?
GoFAS Racing; Eddie MacDonald (No. 32 TryAndrozene.com Ford): MacDonald may have been a stranger to many fans, but he’s no stranger to NHMS, having raced there in the old Busch North Series before it became the K&N East and later in the K&N Series. He teamed up with fellow New Englander Frank Stoddard to make his Cup debut this week, and all in all, had about the day that was to be expected from this team; he completed the race in one piece, but wasn’t competitive. But don’t blame MacDonald; he finished 35th, about where this team has been running this year.
HScott Motorsports; Allgaier (No. 51 Brandt Chevy): Allgaier was running inside the top 25 when he spun and hit the wall with four laps to go. It was unclear if the spin was caused by contact from another car, but in the end, the result was the same, as Allgaier fell to 37th.
Germain Racing; Casey Mears (No. 13 GEICO Chevy): This team struggled to figure out NHMS from day one, but a broken upper control arm really threw a wrench in the works as the No. 13 had to make a lengthy stop on pit road for repairs. The good news is that the handling improved and crew chief Bootie Barker was able to make some adjustments to make the car the best it felt for Mears all weekend. The damage was done, though, and this team was the bottom of the barrel for the small teams this week, 13 laps down in 39th… which does make you wonder why they were so far off compared to Richard Childress Racing and the other teams with ties to RCR.