Sunday, September 25, 2011

2011 NASCAR: Tony Stewart wins in New Hampshire and goes 2 for 2 to kick off the chase while Denny Hamlin falls 66 points behind the leader.

(Photo by Jerry Markland/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Well ladies and gentlemen, here we are, NASCAR’s version of the playoffs, the 2011 NASCAR Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship and we are two races into the chase.

Last Monday in the rain delayed race at Chicagoland Speedway, fuel mileage played a big role in the outcome of the Geico 500 as Tony Stewart would roll the dice and come up with his first victory of 2011, followed by Kevin Harvick finishing 2nd and a strong Dale Earnhardt Jr. finishing 3rd, while others would run out of fuel including Jimmie Johnson who finished 8th and Matt Kenseth who received a push on the last lap, but penalized by NASCAR and had to settle for a 21st place finish.

Now fast forward to earlier today at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway that played host to the second chase race with the Sylvania 300 and wouldn’t you know it, the hype was actually right as this race would become very physical with contact early and often, but lacked in the caution department.

I was surprised to see that at New Hampshire, we really didn’t see that many caution flags for spins and flat tires as NASCAR would keep this one green for most of the 300 laps. I will say that at one point when just about every car pitted, but a few didn’t and a caution flag did come out. I was very happy with the fact that NASCAR does have the wave around rule with the Lucky Dog that would actually bring 25 cars back on the lead lap. Otherwise I would have hated to see 4-6 cars on the lead lap and all of those laps cars fighting it out for position in front of the leader on the restart. That would have been a caution for sure.

But in the end as so many of the 2011 NASCAR Cup Series races have gone this year, fuel mileage played a role in the outcome of the race as Clint Bowyer would run out of fuel with 2 laps to go, in turn Tony Stewart (who ran out of fuel here on year ago) would make the pass and go on to win the Sylvania 300 and go 2 for 2 to kick off the chase. And Tony Stewart now finds himself leading the points, 7 points over second place Kevin Harvick.

After New Hampshire, here are the unofficial points:

1. Tony Stewart, Leader
2. Kevin Harvick, -7
3. Brad Keselowski, -11
4. Carl Edwards, -14
5. Jeff Gordon, -23
6. Kyle Busch, -26
7. Matt Kenseth, -26
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr., -26 (Note: 3rd at Chicagoland, running in the top 10, but blow a tire late on, but ended up battling back to finish 17th at New Hampshire.)
9. Kurt Busch, -28
10. Jimmie Johnson, -29
11. Ryan Newman, -34
12. Denny Hamlin, -66

There are three key points to keep in mind heading into race 3 of the chase at Dover.

1. The top 11 are still well in the hunt for the Championship and yes that does include Jimmie Johnson who is sitting 10th, -29 points back. But I can’t say the same for 12th place Denny Hamlin, I just don’t see Hamlin making a late charge for the championship after seeing how his season has gone thus far.

2. Kurt Busch’s car failed pre-race inspection, the Penske Racing Dodge could receive a penalty on Tuesday from NASCAR and I have to wonder of it will be a points penalty of 6 or 25 points and/or a fine.

3. Dover is one of Jimmie Johnson’s best race tracks, if he is going to make a comeback like he has in season’s passed, this is the place for him to do it.

Next Dover.