By Toby Christie (Originally appeared on RubbingsRacing.com)
Late in the Lenox Tools 301 Jimmie Johnson got around Jeff Burton for the lead and it appeared to be another easy victory for the 48 team. However later that lap Burton made contact with Kyle Busch which caused a caution.
This bunched the field back up, and on the restart with five laps to go, Johnson received a bump-and-run from Kurt Busch for the lead.
The usually ‘vanilla’ Johnson was anything but that after the race when discussing Busch’s move.
“I have to say I was a little shocked, and I haven’t spoken to him or really seen any video to know, if he slipped and accidentally got into me or that was his intentions.” Johnson said. “If it was his intentions, that’s the first time in nine years racing with him that I have experienced that and definitely changed the way that I race with him from that point moving on. I hate that he felt that I wasn’t going to wreck him because that was my goal was to wreck him.”
Johnson continued by saying, “I usually get caught up in it, so I knew what my thought process was, “Wreck his ass.”
Busch however as it turned out made his move a little too early, as Johnson made his way to the back bumper of Busch’s car with just a few laps remaining. The four-time champion repaid the favor, and gave a shove to the Miller Lite Dodge of Busch.
Busch would slide up the track, Johnson would go to the lead, and would stay there for the final few laps to take his 52nd career victory of his Sprint Cup Series career. This is Johnson’s fifth win of the season and the second win in as many weeks for he and crew chief Chad Knaus, who weeks ago looked lost.
Throw the notion of Johnson being lost away right now, this team is hitting it’s strides heading into it’s strong point… The Chase. The team had one issue on pit road all day long, but rebounded big according to crew chief Chad Knaus.
“Honestly it was a lot of fun for us. Unfortunately we had an issue in the first third of the race in our second pit stop with a socket.” Knaus said. “The spring that’s inside the socket that knocks the lug nut out during a pit stop had come out and the tire changer had to pull the string out of the socket and complete the pit stop after that. So good work on his part to get that done and out of the way without any huge error or loose wheel or something like that.”
“Obviously we lost six seconds to the leader or seven seconds to the leaders — at that point, obviously we were the leader at that point. But to get back from that was going to be a challenge, and we knew that. Jimmie did a good job of especially keeping his head, and getting through traffic when he could.”
“I feel like the guys did a really good job of executing pit stops from that point forward and things worked out well. We are all pleased and happy to be up here in Loudon. It’s an awesome, awesome racetrack and I really love racing up here and it’s a lot of fun. I enjoyed it.” Knaus said proudly.
Tony Stewart was able to slip past Kurt Busch for second thanks to the bump Johnson put on the No. 2 car. Stewart was on a different pit sequence than everyone else on the day, due to his team not getting enough gas in his car on an early pit stop. This strategy would bite Stewart late in the race, when Kasey Kahne blew a motor to bring out the yellow.
Stewart, who had been running among the leaders all day would now be mired back in 13th position, however he would fight his way back to an impressive second place finish. Stewart of course was out of chase contention just weeks ago, but thanks to a great early summer push he has fought back into the picture.
“So I just appreciate everybody’s work at Stewart Haas. Nobody has quit on the deal. We have all just dug deeper and, you know, it’s hard when you’re down like that.” Stewart said following Sunday’s race. “It’s hard to keep motivated and keep everybody pumped up, and we all kind of have to pat each other on the back and keep each other pumped up. I’m as guilty of it as anybody, but I’m really proud. We go back to the shop tomorrow, I’m going to make sure I’m going to take the time to thank everybody.”
Kurt Busch finished third, and explained his bump and run as a classic short track move that gave him a shot at the win.
“We didn’t just flat-out wreck them. We didn’t cut his tire. We didn’t drive over him. It was just a nice nudge that we are all used to seeing and appreciating on short tracks.” Busch said.
Kurt was followed by Jeff Gordon, who last week hit everything but the pace car, and points leader Kevin Harvick came home fifth.
Three guys who are chasing a spot in the chase (Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer, and Dale Earnhardt Jr.) finished sixth, seventh, and eighth. However the one who is now closest to making the chase is the guy who finished eighth.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. over the past three races has fought his way to within three points of a chase berth. All that stands in his way right now is Carl Edwards, but over the past few races Earnhardt has easily outperformed Edwards. Earnhardt really was the main story for the majority of the race as he climbed to the top-ten after being horrible all week long.
The week started with a bad fuel pump on Thursday, and a 31st place qualifying run on Friday. However when the chips were down, the team came through when it counted.
Jeff Gluck of SBNation.com caught up with Dale Earnhardt Jr. after the race to get his opinion on his team’s sudden turnaround.
“I didn’t expect it, but I’m really pleasantly surprised that it’s happening,” he said. “We’ve been working very hard, and sometimes it just bears fruit. I guess that’s what’s been happening for us. Lance has just been working really, really hard.” Earnhardt said.
The past two weeks Earnhardt has gained points at two of his worst statistical tracks on the circuit, now next week he heads to one of his best tracks Daytona International Speedway with some momentum.
A.J. Allmendinger impressed everyone today and capped his day off with a top-10 finish in tenth place. Allmendinger has been quite consistent lately, and actually has finished inside the top-15 in six straight races. However following the race Allmendinger actually said he was a little displeased with Ryan Newman.
“It seems like most of the time the 39 (Ryan Newman), when he just wants to run into you he will, but that’s how tight this racing is because there’s 20 to go and it’s basically near a green-white-checkered so everybody is gonna get after it.” Allmendinger said. “I roughed some guys up to, so you can’t really complain that much about it. It’s just one of those racing deals.”
I mentioned already that the final caution came out when Jeff Burton and Kyle Busch made contact on the track. Jeff Burton admitted after the race that the incident was completely his fault. Kyle Busch sarcastically attributed the incident to good hard racing at the end of the race.
Of course these guys got together in Charlotte, and Busch was at fault in that incident. Burton was quite critical of Busch following that incident. Both drivers who were shuffled to the back of the pack with just a handful of laps came back to finish 11th and 12th respectively.
One odd stat for New Hampshire Motor Speedway is that front row starters haven’t had much success here. In fact no front row starter has ever won a race here. That trend continued Sunday.
Juan Montoya, who started on the pole was tagged by Reed Sorenson after some very aggressive driving which sent the No. 42 car into the wall and out of the race. Montoya would finish 34th on the day.
Kasey Kahne started the race from the second position and looked great all day. In fact Kahne led a race-high 110 laps, but then the motor came undone. Kahne was one of two drivers running Ford’s new FR9 engine in this event, and it didn’t last until the end. Kahne would finish 36th, and took a huge hit to his chase hopes.
“We had a fast Budweiser Ford. It was nice to drive, but we just had another mechanical failure. It’s tough. We’ve been doing pretty good points-wise and that hurts again, but we can keep going for it.” Kahne said.
One last note on the day; we have documented Roush-Fenway Racing’s struggles on the season, well things got even worse Sunday. Of the four cars in their stable, just one of them finished on the lead lap. Greg Biffle was that one Roush powered car to finish on the lead lap, and he finished as the last car on the lead lap in 16th spot.
Biffle insists the team is doing the best they can, and he’s convinced the problem stems in the handling of the race cars and not the power plant.
“We were just chattering the front tires. We can’t get our cars to turn very good. I don’t know what it is, but we’ll just keep working at it. It’s pretty frustrating. In the middle part of the race it was like somebody flipped a switch because we just got super, super-tight and I don’t know what the heck it was. We just did the best we could and that was 16th.” Biffle said following a disappointing day.