Was that New Hampshire we witnessed on Sunday (Sept. 20)? Was that the same track that, at times, has lent itself to single-file boredom? Especially in the closing laps, Sunday’s Sylvania 300 was a barnburner, with Chasers Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin and Juan Pablo Montoya sparring against each other for the lead. And while Martin went to victory lane, seven other Chasers filled out the rest of the top 10, while all but Kasey Kahne finished in the top 20.
Meanwhile, a couple of other drivers also had surprising runs and Kyle Busch had a quiet but solid day, establishing himself as the likely Chase spoiler of those drivers on the outside looking in. So, as the Cup Series leaves the Granite State for the final time this year, let’s take a look at this week’s HOT, WARM and NOT drivers.
HOT: Martin – No surprises here. Not only did Martin stave off two faster cars (Hamlin and Montoya) on the final restarts to win the Chase opener, but he heads to Dover with an extra spring in his step. Kellogg’s, primary sponsor of the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevy for a decade-and-a-half, has been rumored to be on the outs from the team, as its contract is up at the end of this season.
The team owner then tried hopelessly to relay to Hornaday’s spotter that the championship contender should pull over and let him go, just so he could chase down Busch’s No. 51 Toyota. For his part, Hornaday thought he was giving Harvick the room needed to pass, but it was not enough. So while the two squabbled, that allowed Kyle Busch to skip away with the checkered flag for the event.
After the race, Harvick complained to both Hornaday and the TV cameras, calling a driver and crew meeting in his hauler to settle the matter. Hornaday said he had no idea of the team orders… after Harvick said something to him in private before the cameras got there.
Huh? In the heat of the moment, Harvick must have forgotten that Hornaday is running for a championship and, though he leads by a hefty margin, needs every point he can get. Remember, Hornaday lost the championship last season after teammate Ryan Newman passed him for the win at the fall Atlanta Motor Speedway race. Harvick the team owner should know more than anyone about big-picture points racing, and even fired now-foe Matt Crafton for not racing aggressively enough for wins. Hornaday held his position and did not hold up Harvick from passing him; but even if he did, Harvick had little right to demand that from his employee.
Plenty of drama is already playing out in the Chase as the Cup Series heads to Dover. Not only is the points title on the line, but many teams’ and drivers’ futures hold in the balance based on their season-ending performances. Turn here next week to see which teams keep hitting – or missing – their marks during the season’s final stretch run.
Listen to Doug this Saturday as he co-hosts The Lead Lap: North Georgia’s Racing Leader with co-host David Chandler, on ESPN 1240 The Ticket in Gainesville, Ga. and online at racefanradio.com.
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