Note: The quotes in this article are fictional.
1. Denny Hamlin: Hamlin survived a tussle with Carl Edwards with 88 laps to go and charged late, nearly catching Clint Bowyer for the win but settling for the runner-up spot in the Sylvania 400. Hamlin more than tripled his points lead, and now leads Clint Bowyer, Sunday’s winner, by 35.
“I’m probably the first driver to say this,” Hamlin said, “but that run-in with Edwards may have been the best thing to happen to me. Usually, incidents with Edwards lead to thoughts of ‘99’ ways to die; this time, however, it resulted in one way to win.”
2. Clint Bowyer: Bowyer duplicated his feat from 2007, starting the 2010 Chase for the Cup with a win in the opener at New Hampshire. Bowyer, in the No. 33 Hamburger Helper/Cheerios Chevy, dominated, leading 177 of 300 laps, but needed luck, capitalizing on Tony Stewart’s empty fuel tank to clinch the win.
“I’d like to say seeing me in his rear view mirror contributed to Tony Stewart running out of fuel,” Bowyer said. “If it didn’t, then my constant encouragement to ‘Go ahead, make my day’ certainly did.”
3. Kevin Harvick: Harvick finished fifth at New Hampshire, posting a strong first race of the Chase after starting 27th. It was Harvick’s 12th top-five finish of the year, and he remained third in the point standings, 35 behind Denny Hamlin.
“Clint Bowyer drove a heck of a race,” Harvick said, “and made Richard Childress Racing proud. No offense to my 2011 sponsor, but to Clint, I must raise a drink and say, ‘This is for you, Bud.’”
4. Jimmie Johnson: Johnson started 25th at Loudon and patiently worked his way through the field, with a top-10 finish a likely result until a series of mishaps led to a disappointing finish. Johnson was battling Kyle Busch for seventh on lap 221 when Kurt Busch spun battling Jeff Burton for position.
Johnson and Kyle Busch made contact, damaging the front of the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy. Johnson recovered with only lost track position, but a vibration forced a green flag stop on lap 255. He lost a lap and eventually finished 25th.
“It wasn’t much of a birthday present,” said Johnson, who turned 35 on Friday. “But one thing’s for sure—I certainly got a ‘spanking.’”
“A 92 point deficit can be overcome, but I can’t afford another misstep. This team won’t panic, though. Don’t think I’m vulnerable because, after four Cup championships, I’ve lost the desire to win another. That’s not the case. I do want another, and when I climb the leaderboard to glory, they’ll be calling it a ‘comeback for more.’”
5. Jeff Gordon: A decision to top of his fuel tank with 90 laps to go proved wise for Gordon, as it allowed him to go the distance on the way to a sixth in the Sylvania 300. Gordon improved from eight to fifth in the point standings; however, he lost ground to the leader, and trails Denny Hamlin by 75 points.
“After 56 races without a win,” Gordon said, “I think I’m qualified to recognize a ‘no-win situation’ when I see one.”
6. Kyle Busch: Busch survived contact with Jimmie Johnson’s No. 48, as both checked up to avoid Kurt Busch’s spin on lap 221, to bring home a ninth at New Hampshire. Busch remained fourth in the Sprint Cup point standings, and trails Denny Hamlin by 62 points.
“Things are certainly looking up for Joe Gibbs Racing,” Busch said. “Between Denny Hamlin and I, I’d say a championship is a likelihood, which would give Gibbs another ‘Cup A Joe.’”
“Plus, I’ve got my own television show, ‘Riding Shotgun: Kyle Busch,’ on ESPN, where people on the street can question the authenticity of my fiancee’s body parts. Gosh, people do the same thing with my brother Kurt.”
7. Carl Edwards: Edwards led the way for Roush Fenway Racing at New Hampshire, placing 11th in the Chase opener. Edwards raced in the top 10 for most of the day, suffering a slight setback when he slid into Denny Hamlin on lap 215, causing the No. 11 Fed Ex car to spin. Edwards improved one spot in the point standings to eighth, and trails Hamlin by 95.
“Hamlin’s lucky,” Edwards said. “One would think that when Carl Edwards nudges a car sponsored by a package delivery company, chances are usually good that someone goes ‘airborne.’”
“Anyway, if Hamlin eventually wins the Sprint Cup, I can call my little incident with him my ‘brush with greatness.”
8. Tony Stewart: Stewart led 100 laps at New Hampshire, but fuel mileage betrayed him two laps from the end when his tank ran dry. Clint Bowyer flew by Stewart’s sputtering No. 14 Office Depot Chevy, and Stewart finished 24th, falling five places in the standings to 11th.
“We went down swinging,” Stewart said. “I’m not bitter, and I’m very happy for Clint Bowyer. I guess that makes me ‘Mister Congeniality,’ a fellow that pairs up nicely with the female counterpart, ‘Miss Calculate.’”
9. Kurt Busch: Busch finished 13th in the Sylvania 300, not the result he desired yet not one that ruined his Sprint Cup hopes. Busch started 12th and fought a loose-handling No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge all day, at times driving a bit too over-aggressively. He is now sixth in the point standings, 86 out of first.
“You’ve got to feel for Tony Stewart,” Busch said. “That had to be a heartbreaking loss, as is the case with most victories/losses decided by fuel mileage. I saw Tony after the race and asked him how to spell ‘fuel.’ All I got from him was the ‘F-U.’”
10. Jeff Burton: Burton and the No. 31 Caterpillar racing team say a top-five finish evaporate when he ran out of fuel with two laps to go in the Sylvania 300. Burton was able to coast to the finish line and finish 15th, which puts him 112 behind Denny Hamlin in the point standings.
“It’s not often you can say you gave it everything you had,” Burton said, “and still ‘tanked.’”