The 17th race on the 2009 Sprint Cup Series' schedule involved a trip to the New England area and the New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Described as “Martinsville on Steroids”, New Hampshire is a one mile flat track that has a knack for producing surprise winners.
Qualifying for the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 was rained out on Friday afternoon, setting the field by owner points, putting point leader Tony Stewart on the pole.
Stewart though, had wrecked in the first practice session before qualifying and was forced to a backup car for Sunday’s race. At the same time Stewart was wrecking in turn one, Mark Martin was wrecking in turn three.
Martin, fortunately, was able to repair his primary car in time for the race.
Dark clouds and heavy winds hung over the speedway, as the rain from Friday hung around all weekend and Sunday morning.
Many crew chiefs became prepared to race to lap 152, the halfway point of the race, which makes it official if rain hit and the race could not be restarted.
Because a torrential downpour Saturday night washed all the rubber off the racetrack, NASCAR officials called for a competition caution on lap 35. This would allow teams to check tire wear and better diagnose how their cars were handling.
Pole sitter Tony Stewart led the field to the green flag, but wouldn’t lead the first lap. Stewart told his team that the car was too loose, and he lost seven spots in the first three laps.
Stewart would be able to rebound and finish fifth after coming back to lead forty laps.
His early struggles, however, had cleared the way for Jeff Gordon and Kurt Busch to battle for the lead.
And battle they did.
The two were side-by-side and lap-after-lap for some of the most exciting racing of the day. The two also put on a show when three cautions fell in the first 27 laps, putting them along side each other for the double-file restarts and drag race to turn one.
Gordon told his team that if Busch continued to run him up the track, he was going to wreck Busch in the next corner.
Busch did lead 27 laps en route to a third place finish in the event that he won last year when it rained.
“It’s really tough for me to really feel awful about a third place finish because the way we won here last year under the same circumstances.”
The dominate car of the day though, belonged to Jimmie Johnson who stunk up the show in the middle part of the race upon taking the lead and racking up 93 laps led.
Johnson’s day, however, became doomed on lap 188 thanks to Kurt Busch. One week ago, Johnson ended Busch’s day after wrecking him at Infineon.
And, on Sunday, Busch returned the favor after he got loose and bounced off Johnson.
The contact sent Johnson to the back end of the top ten, and he never recovered to challenge for the win and would finish in the ninth position.
Then there was the day of the Connecticut rookie Joey Logano. Logano made his Sprint Cup Series debut at New Hampshire last year.
This season, Logano is in the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing, which was vacated by Tony Stewart who started his own team.
Logano started the day 24 on the grid and was not a contender for the win most of the day. Things went from bad to worse on lap 182, when he blew out the left rear tire and went for a spin.
Having to pit for repairs put Logano down a lap to the leaders, but seven laps later, when caution flag No. 10 flew, Logano received the “Lucky Dog” award and was put back on the lead lap.
As the race restarted, rain moved into the area and teams started playing the strategy game to position themselves near the front of the field.
Logano did just enough to stay in touch with the leaders, and, as everyone started hitting pit road, he began to pick up positions. By lap 250, he was in the top five. Ten laps later, he was running second.
Ryan Newman was the leader on lap 263 as the rain began to fall, only Newman couldn’t wait it out since he ran out of fuel and had to come to pit road, which put Logano in the lead.
On lap 266, the yellow flag came out for rain as Logano still led. He, however, needed to do all he could to save as much fuel as possible as they rode around the track.
NASCAR would bring the cars to pit road and red flag the race on lap 273, as they made decisions on the future of the race and consulted the radar.
New Hampshire does not have lights, and, in order for the track to get dried off and the race restarted, the rain would need to quickly come and go.
It didn’t and at 5:42 p.m. Eastern Time, Joey Logano was declared the winner.
It’s Logano’s first career win, making him the youngest winner in Sprint Cup Series history.
Jeff Gordon, who led sixty five laps on Sunday, was trying to run Logano down as the rain came and the race was called.
He ended up finishing second.
For Logano, he got to celebrate with the crew chief who told Tony Stewart to pit in this race last year with rain in the area. Stewart pitted and lost the race because of it when it did start to rain shortly afterward.
“We overcame a lot,” Logano said. “I figured out this sport is a roller coaster earlier this season. I go up and down, up and down...and one week you could win and the next week you could be 43rd.”
The race's biggest incident of the day came on a restart when Dale Earnhardt Jr. spun the tires and caused the drivers behind him to stack up.
Kyle Busch attempted to go three-wide and ended up turning Martin Truex Jr. into eight other cars. Truex looked to throw his helmet at Busch, but thought better of it and would later blast Busch to the media.
It was a wreck that Logano avoided on his way to joining Brad Keselowski and David Reutimann as first time winners in 2009.
“Yeah we got lucky obviously...the rain came at just the right time.”
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