After the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series got through making the left and right turns at Infineon Raceway, it was time to make the first of two trips to New Hampshire International Speedway, which is nicknamed the “Magic Mile.” Unfortunately, the weather was not working its magic on the track as qualifying was rained out, yielding the pole position to points leader Tony Stewart.
On race day, weather was again a factor as rain was in the forecast, however officials and drivers were confident that the entire race would be run. So, under overcast skies, it was Stewart and Jeff Gordon leading the field to the green flag in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301.
Gordon immediately got the lead as he was able to maintain the high line around the track and keep his momentum. Stewart then began falling back as Kurt Busch, Carl Edwards and others began overtaking positions, eventually dropping him to seventh.
Meanwhile, Busch was able to run down Gordon and made the pass for the lead seven laps into the race. Busch then began to pull away from Gordon and Greg Biffle, who was battling for the second position.
The first caution flag of the afternoon came on lap 16 when Patrick Carpentier hit the fourth turn wall. Some cars elected to hit pit road, however no fuel was allowed to be placed in the cars at this point because NASCAR was planning to throw a competition caution at lap 35 due to rain at the track the night before.
The green flag came back out on lap 19, but it did not stay that way for very long as two laps later, Jamie McMurray and Kevin Harvick made contact in the fourth turn, sending McMurray into the wall.
The field once again was given the green flag on lap 25, but it was a recurring pattern as two laps later, the race’s third caution flag came out because of A.J. Allmendinger, who spun out. With the three quick caution flags, the competition caution was moved to lap 45.
Just prior to the third caution, Gordon was able to get the lead from Busch and was able to hold the lead until the competition caution, which would be the first opportunity to have the leaders hit pit road for service. A majority of the leaders decide to get two tires, while some went with four. The race off pit road still gave Gordon the lead, however on the restart it was Jimmie Johnson making the move around his teammate to get his first lead of the day.
Johnson held his position as the fifth caution flag came out on lap 60 when Elliott Sadler, Robby Gordon, Michael Waltrip and Scott Speed all got together, which led to Waltrip hitting the wall.
None of the leaders came to pit road for service, and the green flag came back out on lap 63. This would begin a long stretch of green-flag laps as Johnson was able to build up over a two-second lead on the field. What this also gave was the first chance for the crews to have green-flag pit stops.
This round of stops began on lap 117 as Martin Truex Jr. was the first to hit pit road. Johnson did not make his stop until lap 123, giving up the lead position. The lead would pass between Juan Pablo Montoya, Denny Hamlin, Robby Gordon and Reed Sorenson before the pit cycle was completed and Johnson retook the lead with his teammate Gordon running second.
The race’s sixth caution came out on lap 152 as debris was found on the racing surface. Pit stops shook things up a bit as it was Gordon leading off pit road and Kurt Busch coming off second. Johnson was shuffled back to third.
Gordon again was able to hold his position despite strong efforts from both Busch and Johnson, but the battle was halted once again as the caution was once again posted on lap 169. Paul Menard had his left front tire lock up on him, sending him head long into the third turn wall.
The race was restarted on lap 174, however the action got tight deep in the field as Kyle Busch made contact with Truex Jr, sending him spinning on the restart and collecting many cars. Some of the drivers involved in the incident included Harvick, Jeff Burton, McMurray and Casey Mears. NASCAR posted the red flag for a short period to assist with the clean up efforts, but the race got back underway on lap 180.
Unfortunately, the idea of “cautions breed cautions” came true once again as rookie Joey Logano had a tire go down, causing him to spin out two laps after the restart. The field restarted on lap 187, but again the field was slowed two laps later as Scott Speed hit the wall in turn one.
During the caution periods, Gordon, who was the leader, began telling his crew that it was beginning to rain at the track. Other drivers began saying the same thing, and now the idea that the race would not make it’s scheduled distance was a serious consideration.
The race was restarted on lap 195, and Gordon was quickly overtaken by Stewart for the lead. Stewart was able to pull out to a lead just over one second.
Green flag pit stops began on lap 233 as Kyle Busch made his stop for tires and fuel. Two laps later, many of the leaders came in for service, including Gordon, Johnson, Stewart and Montoya. Mark Martin at this point acquired the lead position.
Martin pitted two laps later, giving the lead to Greg Biffle. When Biffle pitted, it was Bobby Labonte taking the top spot, and then it was Ryan Newman getting the lead with Labonte making his stop for service. Newman and four others were left to pit, however Newman’s crew decided to gamble because they were getting reports that rain was coming to the area, and wanted to make it as far as possible on fuel, hoping the caution would come out for rain and that he would be in the lead.
This decision by the crew came on lap 250, but the cars who came in for service were closing up very fast with their fresh tires. Eventually, Newman had to succumb to an empty fuel tank on lap 263 and had to coast to pit road.
With Newman running out of fuel, it was Logano taking the lead, and his crew, led by crew chief Greg Zipadelli, decided to take the gamble as well. Luckily for them, reports of rain on the track were confirmed and NASCAR threw the caution on lap 266. The field stayed on track for a few laps, but the rain kept coming down harder, and the track was nearly considered “lost,” meaning that all rubber build up was washed away.
The cars were brought onto pit road on lap 273 and the red flag was posted, however officials believed that the rain would stop and the jet driers would get the track dry to race on again. However, at 5:30 p.m, the driers were taken off the track as it became too wet to attempt any drying efforts. Finally, at 5:42 p.m, NASCAR said that the track was completely lost and made the official call to end the race.
The gamble paid off as it was rookie Joey Logano getting his first Sprint Cup Series victory in the rain-shortened Lenox Industrial Tools 301. This is the second race this season to end due to rain and have a first-time winner, as David Reutimann won the Coca-Cola 600 after the race was stopped shortly after halfway.
Logano also becomes the youngest driver to win a race at NASCAR’s highest level – at only 19 years, 1 month, 4 days. This eclipses the old record set by Kyle Busch by over one year as he won his first race at 20 years, 4 months, 2 days. The win was also the first by a Joe Gibbs driver not named Busch since Tony Stewart won last fall at Talladega. Logano took over Stewart’s ride with the formation of Stewart-Haas Racing and Logano got the same crew that Stewart won his two titles with.
Stewart was quick to say that Zipadelli made a “gutsy call” in having Logano stay out.
“That’s as much a strategy as shocks and springs and everything else. They still had to work to get themselves in that position, so they did a good job,” Stewart said about his former team.
Logano as well gave credit to the crew for keeping him on the track.
“[Crew chief Greg Zipadelli] said to just stay out, rain’s in the area. So we just started saving a little bit of fuel,” Logano said. “It’s a dream come true, that’s for sure.”
This week, NASCAR marks the halfway point of the season with it’s return trip to Daytona, which means the restrictor plates will be back on the cars and the packs will be tight. Fireworks will be on the track and in the sky as the Coke Zero 400 will be run on Independence Day.
Automatically, this race is going to be about how well the car will work in the draft, so expect the multi-car teams to be the toughest on track. My favorites going into this race are any driver affiliated with Hendrick Motorsports, such as Stewart, Gordon, Earnhardt Jr. and Johnson, and the Joe Gibbs team of Logano, Hamlin and Kyle Busch. Kyle won this race last year, but his season has not been as dominant as it was in 2008.
I have two underdogs in this race, Matt Kenseth and Brad Keselowski. I consider Kenseth an underdog because when he won the Daytona 500, it was because rain halted the event, and I was not sure if he would have won the race if it went it’s scheduled distance.
Keselowski has proven he can run up front on the race track, but when he won at Talladega earlier this year, it took strategy and knowing the “out of bounds” rule to get him the win. It is right now unclear if the James Finch team will run at Daytona, however if they do, Keselowski will probably be in the car.
Coverage of the Coke Zero 400 Powered By Coca-Cola will begin at 7:30 p.m. Saturday on TNT.
RESULTS: 1-Logano (R) 2-J. Gordon 3-Kurt Busch 4-Reutimann 5-Stewart 6-Keselowski 7-Kyle Busch 8-Hornish Jr. 9-Johnson 10-Kahne
NOTABLE FINISHES: 13-Earnhardt Jr. 14-Martin 15-Hamlin 18-Biffle 19-Edwards 22-Kenseth 29-Newman 31-Burton 34-Harvick
CAUTIONS: 11 cautions for 54 laps. Lap 16-18, 21-24, 27-30, 46-48, 60-62, 152-157, 169-174, 175-179, 182-186, 189-195, 266-273.
LEADERS: J. Gordon 1-6, Kurt Busch 7-19, J. Gordon 20-31, Kurt Busch 32-46, Sadler 47, Gilliland 48, J. Gordon 49. Johnson 50-122, Montoya 123-129, Hamlin 130, Sorenson 131, R. Gordon 132, Johnson 133-152, J. Gordon 153-195, Stewart 196-234, Martin 235-236, Biffle 237, Labonte 238-246, Newman 247-262, Logano 263-273. 19 lead changes among 15 drivers.
POINTS (9 races until Chase): 1-Stewart, 2524 points 2-J. Gordon, -69 3-Johnson, -169 4-Kurt Busch, -270 5-Edwards, -367 6-Hamlin, -392 7-Newman, -397 8-Kyle Busch, -416 9-Biffle, -418 10-Kenseth, -470 11-Martin, -472 12-Montoya, -475