After 26 races, the time has finally arrived to begin the Chase for the Championship. New Hampshire marks the first out of 10 races in the Chase, where any driver in the top 12 in the point standings after the first 26 races has the opportunity to win the Championship.
The starting field for the first race in the Chase was set by owner points due to qualifying being rained out. Qualifying has been rained out on seven separate occasions so far this season due to bad weather.
This race also marked the first start for 18-year-old Joey Logano, who started from the 40th position. Logano would stay out of trouble all day and finish the race in the 32nd position.
Logano ran a smart race and just tried to earn the other drivers' respect, since he will be racing full-time next year in the Sprint Cup Series for Joe Gibbs Racing.
With qualifying rained out, Kyle Busch once again started from the pole position with Carl Edwards alongside in second. All 12 drivers in the Chase started from the first twelve positions, which made for some exciting early racing.
Kyle Busch led the first handful of laps before Carl Edwards passed him for the lead on lap 4. Edwards would lead the race to lap 36 when NASCAR brought out a competition caution to allow the teams to check their tire wear.
All the leaders would come down pit road with Edwards holding the lead with the help of a two-tire stop.
Edwards would lead a number of laps after the restart until Jimmie Johnson mounted a charge and passed Edwards on lap 65 for the lead.
Johnson would continue to lead when bad luck struck one of the chase contenders. Kyle Busch, the point leader, spun out coming off turn two causing an accident involving Jamie McMurray and David Ragan on lap 83.
Busch would continue after the incident but the lengthy repairs on pit road caused him to go 8 laps down.
Under the caution flag, the leaders came down pit road with Johnson holding the lead. During the pit stops, Tony Stewart hit the car of Johnny Sauter while exiting his pit causing a right front fender rub.
Stewart had to come back to pit road for a second time to fix the damage. Stewart initially came out of the pits in the second position behind Johnson but ended up restarting at the tail end of the field.
Shortly after the race restarted, Dale Earnhardt Jr. drove his way past Johnson to take the lead. Earnhardt would lead the race to the halfway point when green flag pit stops began to occur.
After the pit stops cycled through, Greg Biffle was now at the head of the field with Earnhardt back in second. Earnhardt would eventually catch Biffle and pass him on lap 166, but Biffle would retake the lead from Jr. on lap 175.
Biffle was still leading as the race had gone over 100 straight laps of green flag racing. However, the caution flag soon waved again on lap 214 for debris on the track. This would allow all the leaders to come down pit road with Johnson retaking the lead out of the pits.
The race pace soon slowed for back-to-back cautions for Joe Nemecheck’s crash and for a multi-car accident involving chase driver Matt Kenseth. The accident would cause Kenseth to finish way back in the 40th position.
Kenseth’s bid for a second championship has taken a huge hit because he cannot have another bad race to finish the season if he wants to compete for the Sprint Cup.
Johnson continued to lead the race and looked to be well on his way to a third straight victory when a caution flag waved for a spin by Patrick Carpentier with 17 laps remaining. Johnson took the restart as the leader but was soon passed by Biffle with just 12 laps to go.
Biffle had been saving his race car, sitting back in second just waiting to make his move on Johnson. Biffle would lead the final 12 laps of the race en route to his first win of the season. Biffle begins the Chase by moving from ninth in the points standing to third after his victory.
The top ten finishers were Biffle, Johnson, Edwards, Jeff Burton, Earnhardt Jr., Kurt Busch, Martin Truex Jr., Stewart, Denny Hamlin, and Kevin Harvick.
Some notable finishes included Kasey Kahne in 11th, Clint Bowyer in 12th, Bobby Labonte in 13th, Jeff Gordon in 14th, David Reutimann in 15th, and Kyle Busch in 34th position.
The point standings after the race look like this:
- Carl Edwards
- Jimmie Johnson
- Greg Biffle
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Jeff Burton
- Denny Hamlin
- Tony Stewart
- Kyle Busch
- Clint Bowyer
- Kevin Harvick
- Jeff Gordon
- Matt Kenseth
New Hampshire is now in the history books, and we can all look forward to next week when the Sprint Cup series head to Dover, Del., for the second race of the Chase for the Championship.