Allen Lessels on Motor Sports: Chasing, but not catching
Brad Keselowski wins the Camping World RV Sales 301 race on July 13, 2014 at NHMS. Keselowski swept the weekend by winning both the Nationwide Sta-Green race and the Sprint Cup Series CWRVS301. (NEW HAMPSHIRE MOTOR SPEEDWAY)
Drivers on the outside looking in at the Chase to the Sprint Cup championship are running out of chances to grab spots in NASCAR’s 10-race playoffs.
Eleven different drivers — Sunday’s winner Brad Keselowski, Jimmie Johnson, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Carl Edwards, Joey Logano, Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Aric Almirola and Kurt Busch — have won at least one race this season, making them locks, or at least heavy favorites, for spots in the Chase.
A bunch of those desperate drivers were in the top 10 late in Sunday’s race, looking for their chance in case race leaders Keselowski, Hamlin, Gordon or Harvick faltered.
But Keselowski was going nowhere and held on for his third win of the season. Keselowski became the first driver to sweep the Nationwide and Sprint Cup races on a weekend at NHMS.
The next five finishers — Kyle Larson, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Clint Bowyer and Tony Stewart — all helped themselves in the Chase picture.
Not nearly as much as they would have with a win, however.
Bowyer was sitting fourth and planning to take a shot at the win on the final restart.
“Just frustrating,” Bowyer said. “Kind of our M.O. This year, nothing goes right. We got into position to get a top-five and solid run and the 4 (Harvick) runs out of gas and stacks us all up on the bottom and a bunch of them get around us. We got the consistency down — we’ve just got to keep gaining on it.”
If the Chase started today, there would be spots for five drivers based on points.
Kenseth, Newman, Bowyer, Paul Menard and Larson would earn spots based on points at the moment. Larson is actually tied in points with fellow rookie Austin Dillon, but would get the spot based on having a better finish, a runnerup result.
JOHNSON had the toughest of days.
He had a flat tire on Lap 6 and had to make a pit stop and then had the same tire, the left rear, blow on Lap 12, sending him hard into the wall in Turn 1.
Worry not about Johnson when it comes to the Chase, though.
“It’s definitely a setback,” Johnson said. “We had a good test up here. We had a very fast car. It would have been nice to get a race in here before we come back for the second one, so it’s definitely a setback missing out on track time.”
JEFF Burton competed in his first Sprint Cup race here in the inaugural Cup event at the track on July 11, 1993.
Sunday was likely his last race here and perhaps his last Cup race overall and NHMS general manager Jerry Gappens presented Burton with a trophy made of granite to commemorate the moment.
Burton, Jeff Gordon and Morgan Shepherd, 72, were the three drivers in Sunday’s race who also raced in that first race here in 1993.
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EDDIE MacDonald of Rowley, Mass., finished 35th in his Sprint Cup debut, driving the No. 32 tryandrozene.com Ford owned by Stoddard and Archie St. Hilaire of Old Orchard Beach, Maine.