By Jared Turner
5 Lessons Learned At New Hampshire
- Kevin Harvick’s Back Is Against The Wall
Kevin Harvick and crew chief Rodney Childers rolled the dice at New Hampshire by trying to stretch their final tank of fuel to the finish, knowing well that the strategy may not pay off. It didn’t. Harvick, who had the race’s dominant car and led 216 of 300 laps, ran out of gas with three laps to go and finished 21st. Instead of punching his ticket into the next round of the Chase, the defending Sprint Cup Series champion is ranked 15th among the 16 Chase drivers and needs to win at Dover this weekend to move on to the next Chase Round. That’s a lot of pressure, especially considering Harvick has never gone to Victory Lane in 29 starts at the Monster Mile.
2. Joe Gibbs Racing Can Do No Wrong
On a day when it appeared that someone – namely Kevin Harvick – seemed poised to bring Joe Gibbs Racing’s winning streak to a halt, it didn’t happen. When Harvick ran out of gas with three laps to go, a Joe Gibbs Racing driver – Matt Kenseth – was there to capitalize, taking the win and with it solidifying a berth in the next round of the Chase. Meanwhile, Denny Hamlin came home second and Carl Edwards took fifth to give JGR three cars in the top five. Kenseth’s win was the fourth in a row for the company, which went a perfect 4-for-4 in the month of September. While it’s obvious that JGR can be beat, it seems like it’s getting harder and harder for someone to actually do it.
3. Kyle Busch, Dale Jr. Are In Dangerous Spots
While the big loser coming out of Loudon was obviously Kevin Harvick, two other drivers expected to go far in the Chase are also on shaky ground. With a mid-race wreck and resulting 37th-place finish, Kyle Busch is 13th among the 16 Chase drivers – meaning he is one spot outside the cutoff for the 12 drivers who will advance into the next round. Meanwhile, the driver squarely on the bubble for advancing into the next round is fan-favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr., who after running out of gas and finishing 25th at New Hampshire sits 12th in the standings and just a single point ahead of Busch. If either driver is to advance into the Contender Round, he will need a nearly flawless race in this weekend’s Challenger Round finale at Dover.
4. Jimmie Johnson Is Lucky
If there’s one Chase driver who was dealt a hand of good fortune at New Hampshire, it was six-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jimmie Johnson. After losing a lap and falling all the way to 30th just past the two-thirds mark of the race, Johnson used a “Lucky Dog” when the caution flag waved just a few laps later to get back on the lead lap. From there, he began a steady march forward, ultimately getting all the way up to sixth by the time the checkered flag waved after being helped in part by several drivers running out of gas in the closing laps. Now, instead of heading into the last race of the Challenger Round in a precarious position, Johnson is fifth in points – a pretty safe spot, relatively-speaking.
5. Gordon Became New ‘Iron Man’ In Style
Although his race was no thing of beauty, Jeff Gordon soldiered to a seventh-place finish at New Hampshire on a day when he became NASCAR’s new “Iron Man” with a record-breaking 789th consecutive start in the Sprint Cup Series. Gordon, who had spent the past week tied with Ricky Rudd at 788 consecutive starts, hasn’t missed a race since making his Sprint Cup debut at Atlanta Motor Speedway in the 1992 season finale. Although Sunday’s race was an uphill climb for the four-time champion, Gordon made the most out of it by scoring a solid top 10 after spending most of the race hovering around the 15th spot. All in all, it was a stout effort from one of the sport’s greatest drivers of all time.