Race Weekend Central

Thinkin’ Out Loud: 2015 5-hour Energy 301 at New Hampshire

Who’s in the headline – The latest iteration of the Chase is designed to be all about winning. NASCAR told Kyle Busch that he would be eligible for the Chase if he was able to win and get himself into the top 30 in points after Richmond in the fall. Busch has taken that decision to heart, winning three of the last four races and cutting the points deficit to 30th-place down to 58 points with seven races to go before the playoff field is set. Quick math would indicate he now only has to gain nine points per race to clear 30th and qualify for the Chase.

What happenedCarl Edwards won the pole and led the first 19 laps before fading into the background and ultimately finishing seventh. Busch passed Edwards on track to take the lead for the first time and led the next 47 laps. Brad Keselowski took the lead from Busch to lead his first of 100 laps on lap 67. Jeff Gordon, AJ Allmendinger and Joey Logano all managed to get credit for leading laps during green-flag stops to interrupt Keselowski’s string of laps led. Kevin Harvick passed Keselowski after a restart on lap 194 and was leading when the penultimate caution flag flew for oil on the track. Busch had pitted after hitting the oil, thinking he had a flat tire five laps before the caution flew. He made a move to thread the needle between Harvick and Keselowski to get back on the lead lap two laps before the caution to ultimately assume the lead as the rest of the lead-lap cars pitted on that caution. Busch pulled away from the field on the restart and led all of the way until the caution flew on the final lap for Alex Bowman bouncing off of the wall.

Why you should care – The only real impact of the events at New Hampshire is Busch moving closer to qualifying for the Chase. Busch gained another 29 points on the 30th-place position in the standings thanks to his second consecutive win. He has gained 70 points on 30th over the past two weekends. Busch will have to receive a major setback over the next seven races to fail to qualify for the Chase. The five drivers who were positioned to make the Chase on points last week are the same five after this week’s race.

What your friends are talking about – Thankfully, the folks at NBC were able to show the cause for some of the debris cautions. The fact that one was for a water bottle on the apron of turn 3 and another was a brake duct well above the groove might point out why we don’t always get to see the debris. Neither of those items were in any danger of impacting the racing. If someone made contact with either one of the items they would have a far greater problem than the damage caused by the debris. The sanctioning body continues to throw cautions that are simply unnecessary. One hope is that the NBC folks showing all of the ridiculous debris items will put pressure on NASCAR to keep the yellow flag in their pocket unless truly necessary.

Heading to Indianapolis this week there are some people crossing their fingers that the move to another new aero package isn’t a mistake. The Brickyard is a huge race for the sport and going into it blind with a new package could be a very touchy situation. Most fans remember the tire debacle from 2008. The last thing we need is another race that does not live up to expectations, no matter how low they are for Indy already. This high-drag package could put a strain on the tires, and we know what happened last time we went to 16th and Georgetown with an untested package.

Speaking of tires, Goodyear is laying down their best CYA spin about the Chase. Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s Director of Racing said this week that they have not heard anything from the sanctioning body about a change to the low downforce package for the Chase. He stated that the company would need 90 days notice to produce enough tires to supply the series with the necessary tires to accommodate the new package. The teams did test a low downforce package and softer tire at Chicago this week but until NASCAR makes the call Goodyear is not going to act. Let’s hope the suits in Daytona, if they are going to make the change for the Chase, let Goodyear know in time so we don’t have a drawn out tire discussion throughout the Chase.

Harvick won the ESPY for driver of the year this week. The broadcasting behemoth showed again that they’ve distanced themselves from the grass roots level sports that they originally were known for. Harvick bested a field that represented NASCAR, IndyCar, NHRA and Formula 1. The driver of the year should have been Donny Schatz, who set an all-time record for points in a season in the Outlaws. For a network who laid their foundation covering Australian Rules Football and NASCAR before the vast majority of sports fans knew about them, they should be ashamed that Schatz wasn’t even listed among the nominees, let alone the winner.

Who is mad Jamie McMurray started the race in 11th position. He bounced around just in and out of the top 10 for most of the race until his engine soured with around 25 laps to go. McMurray is the highest driver in points without a win, but his misfortune cost him two spots in the standings and dropped him much closer to those pursuing him. While a win can cure the ills that face McMurray, right now he’s looking to get his cars in contention for victories rather than battling to score points, then he can start talking about qualifying for the Chase and being a legitimate title contender.

David Ragan went into Sunday’s race with high hopes. His car was fast in practice and qualified third for the race. From the drop of the green he slowly slid backwards in the field. Before lap 100 went on the board, Ragan was back in the teens. At one point he was in the high 20s before scratching and clawing his way back to an 18th-place finish. Michael Waltrip Racing had another subpar weekend, and Ragan’s struggles were indicative of the teams challenges all season. Ragan has had flashes of brilliance this season, but putting a whole race together has proven quite difficult.

Jimmie Johnson is going to have to hit the elliptical for an extra hour on Monday, because he was out to lunch for the entire race at New Hampshire. Johnson started the race in seventh, but was back to the mid-teens by the time lap 50 was on the board. Johnson continued to slide backwards and, while bouncing back into the high-teens briefly around the midpoint of the race he dropped back into the 20s and ultimately came home in the 22nd position. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen the No. 48 team establish themselves as title contenders before experimenting in the middle of the summer, but that still doesn’t make it easy for a six-time champion to accept running middle of the pack.

Who is happyAustin Dillon left the track in a foul mood on Saturday after having a dust-up with Denny Hamlin late in the Xfinity race. At the start of the Cup race he didn’t feel much better. He started the event in 24th and his car was ill-handling. The No. 3 team threw everything but the kitchen sink at Dillon’s ride and, when the checkered flag flew, he crossed the line in eighth place. The run was Dillon’s second top 10 in three weeks.

Dale Earnhardt Jr. was the best of the four Hendrick Motorsports cars on Sunday, bringing home a fifth-place run. Greg Ives made a late-race call to repair some nose damage on Earnhardt’s car, which put him at the back of the pack. Earnhardt battled all of the way back through the field to secure a fifth-place finish for his eighth career top five at New Hampshire. Earnhardt was far from pleased with missing another chance to win in Loudon, but he does feel like he’ll be a contender when the series comes back during the Chase.

Aric Almirola was a Chase contender in 2014. While he hasn’t been contending for wins he has been solidly finishing most every weekend. Sunday was no different as he started the race in the 29th position. Patiently and methodically, Almirola plodded forward to ultimately come home with a 15th-place finish. The run is Almirola’s 11th top-15 outing of the year. At this point Almirola is in the Chase on points, but once Busch qualifies he’ll be on the outside looking in. Don’t count the No. 43 out of the Chase mix yet, with seven races to go before the cut off for the playoffs.

When the checkered flag flew

Busch won his 32nd career Cup race in 373 career starts. 32 wins ties Busch with Dale Jarrett and Matt Kenseth for 21st on the all-time list. One more victory will tie him with Fireball Roberts for 20th. Busch’s winning percentage is 8.58%, 25th on the all-time list. The only active drivers ahead of him on the list are Johnson and Gordon. The triumph was Busch’s second career win at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. This is Busch’s third victory of 2015 and third in the last four races.

Brad Keselowski finished second at NHMS for his third top-two run of the season. The second-place finish is Keselowski’s third top-two at Loudon in 12 career starts. This was Keselowski’s 12th career second-place run. He is tied with Davey Allison and Neil Bonnett for 56th on the all-time list.

Harvick crossed the line in third for his 11th top-three of the season in 19 races. It is his first third-place finisher, with the remainder top-two finishes. This was Harvick’s fourth career podium at Loudon. Harvick has 90 career podium finishes in the Cup series. He’s tied with Jim Paschal for 24th on the all-time list.

Brett Moffitt came home in 33rd position to claim the Rookie of the Race honors.

Harvick, Logano, Keselowski, Johnson, Hamlin, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Edwards, Martin Truex Jr. and Kyle Busch all have wins in 2015. Harvick, Johnson, Earnhardt and Kurt Busch are locked into the Chase assuming they attempt the rest of the races or receive an exemption should they miss any events thanks to multiple wins. Kyle Busch will be locked in assuming he can make it into the top 30 in points, which would mean down to 14th in points would make it in.

The drivers who are currently eligible for the Chase after 19 races without wins and their standing in points:

9) Jamie McMurray

10) Jeff Gordon

12) Kasey Kahne

13) Ryan Newman

14) Paul Menard

15) Aric Almirola

Takin’ it to the Bank

Cup winners this year have pocketed $6,802,912, while the last-place finisher has taken home $1,539,762 in 19 races.

In the Xfinity series, after 17 races, it has been $1,326,425 for the winners and $239,920 for last place.

After 10 Truck races the winner has $555,330 and the last loser has banked $101,595.

What is in the cooler

The new rules package looked like it was going to bring a new level of abuse on the brake packages at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Aside from Alex Bowman, who went full on Atomic Fireball thanks to a blown tire from a melted bead, the brakes didn’t really present a big problem. The race’s seven leaders exchanged the lead nine times over the 301 laps. Keselowski led 100 laps while Kyle Busch led 96. They were the only two drivers to lead more than one time. Three of the lead changes were actually on-track passes under green. The racing was typical Loudon, and the seven cautions were primarily for weak debris cautions or unnecessary spin/wreck yellows. As a result, we’ll give it three Granite Ledge Stouts from Canterbury Ale Works for being remarkably average.

Where do you point your DVR for next week – After a flat mile track, the traveling circus heads to the Racing Capitol of the World. NASCAR heads to the hallowed grounds of Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Crown Royal presents Jeff Kyle 400 at the Brickyard. The 22nd visit by the NASCAR Cup Series can be seen on NBC Sports Network at 3:30 p.m. ET. You can also hear the action on your local Indianapolis Motor Speedway Radio Network affiliate or SiriusXM NASCAR Channel 90.

About the author

What is it that Mike Neff doesn’t do? The writer, radio contributor and racetrack announcer coordinates the site’s local short track coverage, hitting up Saturday Night Specials across the country while tracking the sport’s future racing stars. The writer for our signature Cup post-race column, Thinkin’ Out Loud (Mondays) also sits down with Cup crew chiefs to talk shop every Friday with Tech Talk. Mike announces several shows each year for the Good Guys Rod and Custom Association. He also pops up everywhere from PRN Pit Reporters and the Press Box with Alan Smothers to SIRIUS XM Radio. He has announced at tracks all over the Southeast, starting at Millbridge Speedway. He's also announced at East Lincoln Speedway, Concord Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, Caraway Speedway, and Charlotte Motor Speedway.

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Bill B

Yes, NASCAR continues to throw cautions that don’t need to be thrown. I’m tired of it.

I agree with Jeff Burton, water bottles should not be thrown on the track. In fact, unless something is on fire or there is a snake in the car, NOTHING should ever be thrown out the window. NASCAR should penalize any driver that throws anything out their window 2 laps if they get caught.

Once again, NBC refused to update us on who took wave arounds. I am starting to think that NASCAR knows that a sizeable percentage of fans can’t stand that entitlement program and have told their broadcasting partners not to shine a light on it and downplay it. I was glad to see the race go green at the end to burn all those that took the gamble. It’s like watching 10 “hail Marys” fail at once when those lapped down cars take the gamble and then have to pit an end up even worse.

Love him or hate him no one can deny that Kyle Busch is on a roll right now.


i wonder what the radio chatter was between chad and jimmie all race long. you know when johnson gets mired back in the pack he whines with the best of them.

not a fan of kyle busch but he still looked like he was aching when he climbed from the car.

now what rules package and qualifying format do we have for this coming weekend?

i have a feeling it will be a ho-hum race and hopefully that old broad mother nature will cooperate.


I was amazed that drivers still throw water bottles out onto the track. I always figure that is someone who needs a caution even though if the tv cameras can see it is a water bottle there is no need to throw a caution other than NASCAR wanting to bunch up the field and get a restart.

I had wondered if I was just missing that information from NBC, Bill, since I don’t watch if they are in commercial and thought maybe I had just gotten back late. I was really surprised to see the race go green at the end, but I was glad it did, too. I prefer to see things play out w/o artificial interference from the sanctioning body.

for a flat track, it wasn’t a bad race. I was really surprised to see them able to race 3 wide at some points.


While we, rightly, complain about Nascar manipulating the events, aren’t the teams doing the same thing? This has been going on for quite a while, and seems to have become an accepted practice. IMHO no set of rules or package can be effective if it can be so easily manipulated.


yes, the teams manipulate the events, too. NASCAR is so busy trying to make sure no one is a 1/16th of an inch too high they miss the bigger picture.


So Harvick, Johnson, Earnhardt, and Kurt Busch are now locked into the farce, I mean, the Chase. Interesting, considering that Kurt missed the first three races of the year. And with the other Busch brother winning races, he too will most likely be locked in by Michigan. This with missing 11 races due to him inflating his ego, and being injured in a lower series race. Given that, if I was Harvick, Johnson, and Earnhardt, I’d skip the next three or four races and work toward getting set up for the chase. Why not! Kurt missed races, and he is in, and his brother missed a whole lot of races, and most likely, he will be in. Obviously, you won’t need to compete in all 26 races to make the chase, so why not take a break and pick and choose what races you need to run between now and Richmond. That’s just like the old days when drivers picked and chose which races they ran. In 1969, Pearson won the Championship by “only” running in 48 of the 49 races held that year.


one of the writers – Jeff Gluck maybe – asked that question on twitter — should you have to run all the races to be eligible for the Chase? Obviously NASCAR doesn’t think so, so your idea certainly has merit.

Kevin in SoCal

There’s a difference between picking and choosing your races, and getting injured or suspended thru no fault of your own. That’s why Kurt and Kyle still get to race for the championship.


Kevin, you missed my point. Yes, Kurt was suspended, causing him to miss three races. Yes, Kyle was injured running in a lower series race, causing him to miss eleven races. The point I tried to make was that those missed races won’t affect the Busch brothers from not making the farce, I mean, the chase. And Kyle will make it in, believe it. So, why shouldn’t the others who are locked in already (Harvick, Johnson, Earnhardt) not take advantage of the situation and take a week or two off between now and September, to work on their chase program? None of the tracks coming up are chase tracks. So, why waste a weekend there, when the time can be better put to use solidifying your program for the last 10 races.

Kevin in SoCal

Their sponsors and their fans will not let them take a week off just for the heck of it. Not to mention their egos missing out on a chance for a win.

Denny Hamlin missed a few races a few years ago due to a back injury, and still made the Chase. I don’t remember this much criticism towards him. I think this is just a Kyle Busch thing.

Bill B

Once drivers make the chase they should drive one lap to start the race and then turn the car over to a development driver. Chase Elliot could use the experience and since points don’t matter to the cup driver they can take the rest of the day off. The development driver could practice and qualify the car. The “star” could show up, drive one lap and then turn it over to the rookie.

I would love to see that happen because it would point out the stupidity of Brian’s chase. Although the sponsors might not like it.

Kevin in SoCal

Why would they do that? Like I said, their egos and passion for winning wouldn’t allow them to do that.

In Week 17 of the NFL, for the playoff bound teams, the starters usually play the first quarter and then the 2nd stringers come in and finish the game. Do people complain about that?

But once the playoffs start, the starters play all 4 quarters.

Bill B

LOL.. I have to admit you only see things through your own glasses messengerfm. You make no effort to take a step back and look at the bigger picture.

“Gordon and Stewart are doing nothing but taking up space on the course.”
I assume you are basing that on lack of wins. However Gordon is 10th in points. So, explain to me how all the drivers without a win that are lower in points aren’t also “taking up space on the track”. By your logic any driver who hasn’t won falls into that category.

So please, enlighten the rest of us, on what do you base your “taking up space on the track” criteria?

Pamm in MI

Hey Bill-looks like messengerfm is no longer allowed to post. I remember sometime back there was another troll on here too. Can’t remember the name tho.

Bill B

Good. When someone’s only goal is to annoy everyone…..

chris e

“Busch’s winning percentage is 85.8%, 25th on the all-time list. The only active drivers ahead of him on the list are Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon.”

Seems a little high…….maybe 8.58%


Decent race by New Hampshire standards. I don’t think that place will ever be easy to pass at. Shout out to the 24 team for getting a 10-ten on weekend where it seemed everything was going wrong. NASCAR can be too quick to the debris caution, but the death of Jules Bianchi this week makes prefer that to F-1’s stubborn refusal to put out safety cars. It looks like Kyle will make the Chase and will be a favorite for the title.


Just a note safety cars aren’t typically used in road racing. Although you do see them more now then you used to. Instead they have historically used to different type of yellow caution flags at the scene of an incident. The type of flag shown indicates the severity of the incident. In neither case are you allowed to pass before you pass the incident, and you should be prepared to stop.
Nascars use of a safety car on road courses is just their way of artificially creating excitement. In most cases not really necessary.


Brickyard will be a joke, single file, no passing Hendricks car wins again! As much as I dislike Gordon this will be his last hurrah with another win.

Bill B

Or maybe cautions every 14 laps for tire issues.


well I’m hoping so — for the win, I mean, not the tire failures.


surprised no comment about the amount of empty seats even with all the advertising banners.

guess attendance issues are no longer a concern for na$car.

oh that’s right they don’t care about the fans. duh! what was i thinking!


OK, Janice, I’ll comment. I watched yesterday’s race, AND the Indy Car race from Iowa on Saturday night. It might just be my imagination, but, the crowd at Iowa looked bigger than the crowd at New Hampshire. In fact, Iowa looked almost like a sell-out. There were a lot of empty seats at New Hampshire, especially in the stands in turns 3 and 4 and turn 1.


I know that the fans are not the $$ behind the sport, but it makes a pretty poor impression I would think seeing all those empty seats. I have friends who went to the race. They bought their tickets last week.

I had a phone call from NHIS but having been there and not been impressed enough with the racing, I didn’t see any reason to spend the $ and time to go.


Keep in mind folks. New Hampshire holds 100,000 people and Iowa only 60,000. I thought the crowd was healthy at NH (certainly better than alot of other places) considering turns 3 and 4 are the last sections they fill with tickets and that seemed to be the area with some gaps. While Iowa looked healthy too, I don’t think it had more people than NH.

Tim Brooks

Sure the four-letter network headquartered in Bristol, CT covered all types of motorsports. It’s come a long way (both good and bad – mostly bad, in my opinion) from airing Thursday Night Thunder from Indianapolis Raceway Park.


I hope NASCAR does things about the stupid cautions due to water bottles, that is manipulation. NASCAR does it and the teams do it..not good. And why isn’t anybody questioning the “back on the lead lap” and the cars slowing up for the now “on fire” Kyle? NASCAR is addicted to stories, and they think with Kyle they want a really good “feel good” story, after all it was “NASCARS FAULT”, he was injured on the lower series because of the lack of safety barriers in that area.


Sure, NASCAR can’t get what they need publicity wise from anything else they are doing, at least not GOOD publicity. We have Danica throwing fits at the MPD – had to laugh at the article I saw the other day about her “passion”. Oh is that what people call hissy fits these days?

From a personal point of view, I’d really like it if it was Gordon who was the “feel good” story this year but sadly that is most likely not going to happen.


I missed it, did the not right in the head troll get booted? He kept typing nasty stuff about the me other day, I viewed it as a sickness, even after I said I would not respond to any of “it’s” posts. Strange stuff.


I hope so, those posts were completely off. I felt the same as you, kb, and had decided that I wasn’t going to respond to him any longer.

Most of the time among the posters on the frontstretch, even when we disagree, it can be a civil discussion and I appreciate that very much. If I want abuse, I can post on Nascar.com’s chat rooms.


Thanks Mike Neff for calling out NASCAR’s caution abuse in bold face. Fans who do it are marginalized by the NASCAR cheerleaders as being black helicopter conspiracy nuts. I don’t think you’ll hear Dave Moody call you a nut job. I certainly won’t because I cancelled SIRUS over a year ago. I decided not to watch any NASCAR this weekend for the first time since the 80s mainly because of this caution abuse. I can take the manipulated championship race with a grain of salt but I am having trouble investing 2 hours watching a race that is so butchered up that after 500 miles comes down to a crap shoot. Reading your article made me glad I didn’t waste my time. I watched INDYCAR and MOTOCROSS to get my race fix. I will continue to watch some races, it’s hard to break a thirty year habit.
This water bottle crap has always been a pet peeve of mine. Not just the race manipulation involved but also the image of an entitled ass disrespectful litter bug throwing trash from their vehicle. It doesn’t matter to me that it’s a private track and not a public road. The image of Stewart right after he won the championship at Homestead throwing trash out of his window is burned into my slipping memory. There should be a penalty for littering on the track that includes helping the track crew to pick up all the garbage at the track after the race. Litter bugs suck.


Correct me if I’m wrong, but wasn’t New Hampshire one of the tracks where they WERE NOT using the new rules package?

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