This past weekend was the first race in the 2010 NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase, and it definitely proved to be a very up and down day for many of the 12 competitors.
As he did in 2007, Bowyer came into New Hampshire Motor Speedway as an underdog in the Chase and came out in top form. The driver of the No. 33 Cheerio’s Chevrolet led 177 of the 300 laps run on Sunday, breaking his 88 race winless streak, his last win coming at Richmond in 2008.
"Everybody has worked really hard and put their selves in a position to get the cars in the Chase, and I think we are as prepared as we ever have been," team owner Richard Childress said. "I felt in 2001 we were as prepared as ever, and I think we are as prepared now as we've ever been."
But will Bowyer be able to carry this momentum into the next nine weeks, or will his win in Loudon turn out to be nothing but a fluke?
Chase standing before race: 12th
Chase standing after race: 2nd (+10)
Coming off his sixth win of the season, Hamlin entered Loudon this past weekend intent of keeping the points lead he had inherited from Kevin Harvick after Richmond. Hamlin was battling in the top ten for the better part of the race when, on lap 214, he and Carl Edwards had contact, sending the No. 11 around
"They see me coming and they just panic. They don't know what to do!" Hamlin said over his radio. He and the No. 11 crew, who won this year’s Pit Crew Challenge, were able to rebound and get a second place finish. Going into Dover, where Hamlin has an average finish of 22.8, Hamlin has a 35 point lead over Bowyer.
“It gives me somewhat of a buffer at Dover, that’s our goal,” said Hamlin, who was behind the wheel of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota. “If we can get past Dover, we’ve got a lot of good tracks for us.”
Chase standing before race: First
Chase standing after race: First
Continuing his “where did he come from?!” routine, Harvick was having a disastrous day in Loudon… until the very end. The man who led the regular season points for 17 straight weeks spent most of the Sylvania 300 battling his pit crew on the team’s radio after a series of dismal pit stops. However, when all was said and done Happy Harvick came away with a fifth place finish, his 12th top five of the season.
“We will just keep fighting and if we keep doing that on our bad days, … we will be in good shape,” Harvick said.
Chase standing before race: Third
Chase standing after race: Third
Gordon has been winless for 57 races and hasn’t won a race at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway since 1998, and looked to end both of those streaks this past weekend to make a charge for his fifth Sprint Cup title.
And while he may not have won the race, the former champion collected his 14th top ten of the season.
“It wasn’t our best day, but I felt like we really brought the No. 24 car home in the best position we possibly could,” Gordon said.
Chase standing before race: 8th
Chase standing after race: 5th (+3)
After missing the Chase in 2009, Busch has returned to the ten race playoff with three wins under his belt and just four finishes out side the top twenty. Not only that, but on Sunday he had momentum on his side, winning the
Chase standing before race: Fourth
Chase standing after race: Fourth
Cousin Carl has been said to be Roush Fenway’s best shot at winning the 2010 Sprint Cup title. He was able to collect five bonus points during a series of green flag pit stops on lap 98, and ran in the top five for much of the middle of the race. He would finish just outside the top ten, and move up one spot in the Chase.
Chase standing before race: Ninth
Chase standing after race: Eighth (+1)
It wasn’t a spectacular day for the lone Penske representative in the Chase, but he managed to salvage a top 15 finish on the day. The elder Busch, who started the race 12th but ran in the top ten for the better part of the race, found himself in two separate incidents during the day. The first incident came on lap 221, when he and defending champ Jimmie Johnson got together, though Busch was able to drive away. Busch also contributed to the caution on lap 243 when he spun out the No. 20 of Joey Logano, sending the sophomore driver hard into the wall. Recovering from both occurrences, Busch came away with a top 15 and maintained his 10th place points position.
Chase standing before race: 10th
Chase standing after race: 10th
Biffle lined up seventh in the Chase thanks to his win at Pocono Raceway, just a week after team owner Jack Roush survived a horrific plane crash. But his day at New Hampshire was far from the ideal race for The Bif, who had a mediocre day overall. With his top 20 finish, Biffle fell two spots in the Chase.
Chase standing before race: Seventh
Chase standing after race: Ninth (-2)
Kenseth was among the Chasers who had a less than optimistic start to the Chase. On lap 233 Kenseth was spun by Brad Keselowski, who was in the middle of three wide racing with Kurt Busch and Carl Edwards, sending the 2004 champion hard into the wall. He was unable to recover, and with his poor showing in Loudon fell to last place in championship standings.
Chase standing before race: 11th
Chase standing after race: 12th (-1)
Well… that didn’t work out as planned.
Former two time Series champ Stewart led 100 laps during the race and his crew chief Darian Grubb remained mum on the fuel mileage status of his driver. With just two laps remaining, though, Stewart ran out of fuel, handing the lead to second place (and eventual winner) Clint Bowyer. With a nudge from former teammate Denny Hamlin, Smoke was able to coast to the start-finish line in 24th, the last car of the lead lap.
"It's a tough way to start the Chase, but I'm proud of my guys. Darian (Grubb) kept swinging at it all day and finally on that last set of tires we got it halfway decent."
Chasing standing before race: Sixth
Chase standing after race: 11th (-5)
Is there a chink in the armor? Has the kryptonite found Superman? Where is that golden horseshoe?
Okay, we’re just one race into the Chase but the man who had the worst finish of the 10 Chasers was the man every is trying to dethrone: Jimmie Johnson. Johnson and Kurt Busch spun on lap 221, and the resulting pit stop for the No. 48 left the four time series champ left him with a loose wheel, forcing him to pit under green.
It was Johnson’s tenth finish outside the top 20 this season.
But Johnson has had poor showings in the Chase before- he finished 28th in Texas last season- and still came back to dominate the competition. Will this year be any different, or will the likes of Hamlin, Harvick, and others be able to knock the king off his throne?
Chase standing before race: Second
Chase standing after race: Seventh (-5)
Biggest points winner: Clint Bowyer
Biggest points losers: Tony Stewart, Jimmie Johnson
Next race: AAA 400 at the Dover International Speedway. Coverage begins at one p.m. Sunday, September 26th on ESPN.
Thanks to NASCAR.com, Racing Reference, Sporting News, Boston Herald, Miami Herald, Scene Daily, the Associated Press, and Motorsport.com for the information, quotes and statistics used in this piece. Photo credit to Getty Images.