Whether you're racing to win a championship, racing for the win, preparing for next season, racing for a job, or trying to keep your car in the top 35, all 43 drivers in the field were racing for something as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series entered New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
After a busy week in New York for the Chasers that included, among other things, a pie fight and a shock machine. Just another day in the life of a Chase driver.
Juan Pablo Montoya has never finished in the top ten in his five starts at Loudon, but he didn't let that stop him from getting his Chase off to a dominating start, topping the charts in all three practices and leading the field to the start of the Sylvania 300 from the pole position.
It was second place Tony Stewart who pulled away early, but Montoya looked to the inside of the No. 14, passing him going into two on the second lap.
Montoya jumped out to an early, 1.5-second lead over new second-place driver Denny Hamlin, while the top ten fell into single file. Non Chasers Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch battled side by side for 11th, with Harvick taking the spot.
Stewart and Hamlin continued battling for second, swapping the position several times before Stewart was able to clear his former teammate by lap 14. Jimmie Johnson, who started 16th on the day, had made his way to 11th by lap 17.
Kurt Busch was finally able to clear Hamlin after the two raced bumper to bumper for third and fourth on lap 20. Meanwhile, the Target Chevrolet of Montoya continued to drive away from the field, putting more than two seconds between he and Stewart.
Eight of the top ten drivers by lap 29 were Chasers, while Stewart began eating away at Montoya's lead as the No. 42 began catching lap traffic. Montoya was also complaining of a tight race car.
Third place driver Busch was also using the lapped cars to his advantage, and despite continuing to struggle with the loose condition he fought during practice began gaining on Stewart and Montoya.
With the blue deuce approaching, Stewart dove to the inside of Montoya to take the lead. Not ready to give up his position, Montoya made it three wide with a lap car but was unable to take back the spot.
It was Stewart's turn to pull away from the field. David Stremme, meanwhile, was the highest running non-Chase driver. Despite being tight Stremme, who qualified sixth, was able to hold a position in the top ten, falling to eighth on lap 51 after being passed by Chasers Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson.
As Busch continued to put the pressure on Montoya for second, Jeff Gordon continued to pick up spots. The No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet started 10th, and passed Hamlin for fourth going into four on lap 54.
On lap 65, green flag pit stops began with A.J. Allmendinger coming down pit road for his four tires and adjustments. His teammate, Reed Sorenson, would come down the following lap.
Chaser Kasey Kahne brought out caution just before green flag pit stops on lap 68 when his engine let go. Because of the misfortune, Kahne would end the race 38th, and fall from fifth to 12th in points.
“I felt it down the backstretch and it began shaking a little bit. It just didn't feel good,” Kahne said when he got out of his No. 9 machine. David Ragan was the lucky dog.
Leader Stewart lost the battle off of pit road as Montoya and Hamlin both came out in front of him. Busch gained a spot to move up to fourth.
Montoya took the green on lap 75 on the high line, getting a push from Kurt Busch while Hamlin raced to the inside of the leader. Stewart also made a look to the inside of both cars, and passed the No. 11 Toyota.
Greg Biffle, who came into the race 12th in points, was happy for the pit stops, as he told his team the car was “junk” when the race started. Biffle was in 19th and ran the lowest of the Chasers on track.
For seventh, it was a three-way Hendrick battle as Gordon held off teammates Martin and Dale Earnhardt Jr.
A close call for former Cup champion Matt Kenseth who got loose and nearly hit the wall on lap 83. Up front, birthday boy Montoya again put over a second and a half over second-place Stewart.
Caution for the second time came out on lap 85 for debris in turn three. It erased the nearly two-second lead Montoya had built over the field, and put John Andretti back on the lead lap.
Eighteenth place and back, including Harvick, Kyle Busch, Jamie McMurray and several others, hit pit road.
Choosing the inside on the lap 92 restart, Montoya had a run off two and kept the lead from Stewart, while Hamlin makes contact with Stewart. Busch takes advantage, driving on the outside to second.
The No. 14 of Stewart was passed on the outside by Johnson to fall to fifth. Hamlin was able to continue in third.
Chase rookie Brian Vickers, who started 26th, was able to make it up to 12th by lap 116.
By lap 118, Busch was running on the bumper of Montoya, riding right on the back of the No. 42 as he pursued the lead. Busch was able to take the lead on lap 123 as Montoya slipped up just before the entrance of pit road, letting Busch complete the pass.
In true COT fashion, the leader was able to pull out to a substantial lead as Busch held over a two-second lead before it was erased on lap 141 by another debris caution, this time in turn three.
Both Montoya and Hamlin would beat the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge off of pit road.
Trouble for Vickers on the pit stop, as a dropped lug nut dropped him to 30th on the lap 148 restart. Montoya again started on the inside, but a three wide battle with Hamlin and Busch saw Hamlin take the lead.
Out of turn four, Montoya made contact with Hamlin, continuing to race side by side as Earnhardt, Jr. and Busch took a look on the No. 42. Montoya continued to make a run on the FedEx Toyota while Busch and Earnhardt, Jr. raced side by side going into four for third and fourth. This helped Stewart, Martin and Johnson catch up to them.
Hamlin cleared Montoya just for a second as they hit the start finish line on lap 152, but Montoya again got back in the throttle and made a side by side charge for the lead. But Hamlin battled back on the outside, just keeping his nose ahead of Montoya before the No. 42 cleared him three laps later.
Despite a cross over attempt, Hamlin relinquished the lead and began falling back.
Erik Darnell hit the wall on lap 161, bringing out yet another caution and again bringing down the leaders on pit road. It was a strategy smorgasbord, with two tires, four tires and fuel only on the menu.
Busch, who took gas only, received damage after spinning the UPS Ford of David Ragan, spinning the No. 6 right into his pit stop.
Stewart and Johnson were among those who didn't pit, and Stewart took the lead on the lap 166 restart.
A big wreck on lap 169 as Logano got into the back of the No. 19 of Elliott Sadler, sending him spinning and collecting Andretti, Michael Waltrip, Paul Menard, Scott Speed, Reed Sorenson and Robby Gordon. Speed was the lucky dog.
Stewart jumped out to a great lead on the lap 175 restart, but an axle cap . Montoya made it three wide jumping to the inside of Labonte and Gordon, completing the pass and moving to seventh.
Jeff Burton's turn two spin on lap 176, bringing out the race's fifth caution. Speed was again the lucky dog. The leaders again stay on track.
Stewart and Johnson raced side by side on the lap 181 restart, Johnson taking the lead on the outside just before the pair hit the start finish line. Johnson's teammate Earnhardt, Jr. then began putting pressure on the No. 14.
Montoya again began picking off spots, clearing Ryan Newman before jumping to the inside of Hamlin, clearing him on lap 187.
As Johnson pulled away to nearly a three-second lead, Jamie McMurray began gaining on the side by side battle of Earnhardt Jr. and Stewart before being caught by Montoya, losing the spot on lap 189 and falling to fifth. Montoya continued his strong run, passing Stewart just two laps later for third.
A.J. Allmendinger spun David Stremme in turn two, which brought out the seventh caution of the day. The caution put Michael Waltrip back on the lead lap.
Third place Stewart stayed on pit road to replace his axle cap. He would restart all the way back in 36th.
The top seven cars stayed on the lead lap, with Busch leading the field to the green on lap 198. Martin was right on his bumper as the two began pulling away from the rest of the field.
Hendrick teammates Johnson and Gordon would make contact racing side by side as Burton closed up on the side by side battle of Martin and Busch.
Martin continued digging on the inside of Busch before falling back in line behind him in turn two. He made another run as the two hit the start finish line, and with 96 laps to go he took the lead.
A mad fast Montoya restarted 15th, but by lap 206 was already up to eighth. Meanwhile, Stewart had made his way up to 20th with just 86 remaining in the race.
With 77 laps to go and pit stops looming, Martin held a 1.82-second lead over Busch. Montoya had made his way back into the top five.
On lap 236, Johnson passed Montoya for fifth as Martin extended his lead over Busch to 2.3 seconds. Martin came down pit road with just 57 laps to go for four tires and fuel, handing the lead back to Busch, who still had to make his final stop.
He made his pit stop four laps later, taking four tires and fuel as well, getting a track bar adjustment. Hamlin began the leader as Busch pitted. Elliott Sadler and David Reutimann, who were on the same strategy as the No. 2 and No. 5, also made their final stops.
Gordon came in on lap 250, asking more chassis and air pressure adjustments as well as four tires and fuel. Mears and Burton also made four tire stops on their stops.
Defending champion Johnson made his stop with 40 laps remaining, with his teammate Earnhardt, Jr. came down for his final four tire stop.
Montoya, Biffle and Hamlin all made their stop with just 37 laps to go. McMurray also made his stop as Newman took the lead for the first time today.
When he came down the following lap, he became the first car to take two tires after much debate with his crew.
Edwards would take the lead and pit with 33 laps to go. He took four tires, and gave the lead to Marcos Ambrose. He, Labonte and Stewart were the last three cars needing to pit with 30 laps remaining in the Sylvania 300.
Stewart would take two tires on his final pit stop, while the No. 29 Shell/Pennzoil team of Harvick had the hood up on their machine. Ambrose and Labonte came down pit road the following lap.
On lap 273, Hamlin made a pass on Johnson for third, and with 24 laps debris brought out caution for the eighth time. Stewart, Biffle, Edwards, Vickers, Labonte, McMurray and Gordon all came down pit road.
Just before the caution Montoya and Burton, who were racing side by side for sixth, nearly spun, allowing Earnhardt, Jr. to pass both of them.
Both would continue, but Burton would nudge Montoya under caution to show his displeasure with the No. 42.
Side by side, Busch and Martin led the field to the green flag, Martin on the outside but able to clear Busch thanks to help from his teammate Johnson. Busch made it three wide with Johnson and Hamlin, causing Hamlin to smoke his tires.
Lap 283, the same lap as the green flag waved, Earnhardt Jr. made hard contact with the wall to bring out the ninth caution of the race.
The incident was caused after contact with the No. 00 of Reutimann. Logano was the lucky dog. Earnhardt, Jr. would finish 35th.
Five laps later, it was Martin on the outside, Busch to the inside, and Johnson right behind his teammate to restart the race.
Johnson on the bumper of Martin, Hamlin on the bumper of Busch, the momentum of both the No. 11 and No. 48 were shot by a three wide move from Montoya.
Montoya was quick to clear the No. 2 of Busch and begin his pursuit of Martin. Meanwhile, Busch and Hamlin raced side by side for third, with the Miller Lite Dodge losing the spot. Vickers, Biffle and Mears, meanwhile, raced three wide for the 11th spot with just 10 laps remaining.
As Montoya mirrored the lap times of the leader, Busch and Johnson raced side by side for fourth. They continued to run side by side, with Johnson taking the spot away with seven to go.
Allmendinger spun with six laps to go after contact with the No. 47 of Amborse.
With four laps to go, it was Martin on the inside leading the field to the green as Montoya jumped to the inside of him, racing door to door, but Martin would have the advantage as they hit the start finish.
Again Montoya made a run, but Hamlin got a run on the No. 42, helping Martin build over a five-car length advantage over Montoya and building. Allmendinger spun just at the start finish line, but still not caution.
Montoya continued to race side by side, and as they headed to the start finish line, Allmendinger sitting in the middle of the track, and with cars scurrying everywhere it was Mark Martin who took
Montoya said after the race that he was not happy with the way Martin raced him on the final restart, saying he would be sure to race the points leader hard next time but “won't wreck him.”
“Well it's pretty darn good. Alan won the race. Alan's the man. This is a dream come true,” Martin said. “This is just incredible. Pinch me...I'm sure I'm dreaming.
“We still have the lotto, Talladega, but this is my hardest place. It's these guys. It's Alan, and the guys that back him up and the guys who surround him.”
Martin remains in the points lead, 35 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson. Juan Pablo Montoya jumps seven spots to fourth, 50 points out of the lead.
The big loser in points for the day was Kasey Kahne, who with an engine failure is 12th and 161 points back. Jeff Gordon dropped four spots to four spots to 10th in points.
Next week, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Dover, Del. for the AAA 400. Catch all the action on ABC at 1 p.m. Eastern time.
This article also appears on SoCalSportsHub.com.
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