The Rundown: Commentary on every Loudon driver
July 14, 2014, RJ Kraft, NASCAR.com
1. Brad Keselowski, No. 2 Ford, Team Penske. Brad Keselowski was on another level this weekend. He topped both of Saturday's Sprint Cup practices, won the Nationwide Series pole and race, then was unbeatable in the Sprint Cup Series race. Keselowski led 138 laps en route to his second Sprint Cup victory in the past three weeks. The 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion spent the whole race in the top 15 and locked up his spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoff. He also became the 13th different winner at Loudon in the past 13 races. Upon winning the race, Keselowski's crew chief had some fun with him over the radio as he recalled the champagne bottle incident that led to stitches at Kentucky. Wolfe told Keselowski, "Make sure you wear gloves in Victory Lane!" See his race highights.
2. Kyle Busch, No. 18 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. The Coors Light Pole Award-winner was strong early, leading the first 62 circuits, but after which seemed to trail off a little. After losing the lead, Busch reported several issues over the radio: "Maybe I'm too high on air" and "too tight into (Turn) 3." On Lap 169, Busch commented that "Turn 2 is killing me all weekend." Busch battled through, but couldn't get to Keselowski on the green-white-checkered finish. The No. 18 car was fortunate in one way, though, as it ran dry just at the finish. In the end, it was his second runner-up finish to Brad Keselowski in as many days, his second runner-up finish in the Sprint Cup Series to Brad Keselowski in the past three races and his third consecutive second-place Sprint Cup finish at Loudon. See what Busch said after the race.
3. Kyle Larson, No. 42 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing. The rookie sensation entered New Hampshire with three finishes of 28th or worse. He rebounded in a major way on Sunday thanks to an early gamble by crew chief Chris Heroy during the caution that came at Lap 113. The team stayed out in a gamble for track position and even took the lead for a bit. That decision paid off as Larson spent most of the afternoon up in the top 10 from that point on. The Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender led more laps at Loudon (14) then he had all season long before this race (9). After the race, Larson climbed three spots in the points standings and just snuck into the final spot in the Chase standings. After the race, Larson told his team over the radio, "I think we know what lucky is." See his race highlights.
4. Matt Kenseth, No. 20 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Kenseth won at Loudon in the fall of 2013 and looked to be in good shape to do so again, if it wasn't for Brad Keselowski. Kenseth led 12 laps and was in the top 15 for 299 laps. He also had 49 quality passes, the most in the race. The move to JGR has certainly benefitted Kenseth at Loudon as he has a win, two top-fives and three top-10 finishes in three races with the team at the venue. See his race highlights.
5. Ryan Newman, No. 31 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Newman slowly and steadily worked his way up from his 24th-place starting position for his second top-five finish in the past three races. Newman continues to maintain his strong position in the points standings (seventh) as the series will head to Indianapolis, site of his last victory, in two weeks. After the race, Newman said of his finish, "not the end that we wanted, but we ended in the best position we were all day and you can't argue a whole lot with that." See his post-race interview here.
6. Clint Bowyer, No. 15 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing. A two-time winner at Loudon, Sunday's race looked to be Bowyer's best shot at a win before the Chase field is set at Richmond. He led 36 laps and, for a while, looked to be Brad Keselowski's strongest challenger, but it was not to be. Overall, it was a strong performance for Bowyer, who has really gone hot this summer with five top-10 finishes in his last seven races, while also rising to 10th in the point standings. See his race highlights.
7. Tony Stewart, No. 14 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. "Smoke" ended up carrying the flag for SHR on Sunday, despite spending most of the latter half of the race outside the top 10. The finish was Stewart's first top-10 result since a seventh-place finish at Dover. The winless driver hopes to have a victorious homecoming at Indianapolis in two weeks.
8. Denny Hamlin, No. 11 Toyota, Joe Gibbs Racing. Loudon is one of Hamlin's best tracks, and it showed. He led 20 laps and was consistently in the top 10. The two-time Loudon winner had the fastest car late in a run and laid down the fastest lap of day at 132.485 mph. If not for the late caution and a green-white-checkered finish, Hamlin would have had a top five, but he had to come in, last pitting for fuel at Lap 213. See his race highlights.
9. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., No. 17 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. One week after being part of an early wreck that led to a 41st-place finish at Daytona, Stenhouse bounced back in a big way. The No. 17 car executed a patient effort as he worked through the field from his 22nd-place starting spot. The end result was the second-year driver's first top-10 finish since Talladega in May.
Ricky Stenhouse Jr. scored his seventh career top-10 finish in his 60th Sprint Cup Series start.
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr., No. 88 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. For Junior, you would think a top-10 finish after starting the race 28th would be a moral victory, right? Not so fast. The driver, who remains winless at Loudon, was hanging around, peaking in second place on Lap 225. And while he closed the gap on points leader and teammate Jeff Gordon, a weary-looking Dale Jr. was left a bit frustrated. "That was the hardest I've ever worked for a tenth-place finish." On the bright side for Junior, his spot in the Chase playoff is officially secure, finishing over 337 points ahead of 31st place with two wins. See what his said after the race.
11. Kasey Kahne, No. 5 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. The winless Kahne keeps enjoying solid runs, as evidenced by his fourth top-11 finish in five races. The Hendrick driver registered 41 quality passes (green-flag passes while running in the top 15), the fourth-most by a driver in the race. Despite the recent consistency, his 17th-place spot in the points standings means he needs a victory to find himself in the postseason picture.
12. Martin Truex Jr., No. 78 Chevrolet, Furniture Row Racing. Truex posted his sixth top-20 finish in seven weeks. The day had its bumps, leading to Truex saying on Lap 193 that he "can't pass anybody." However, Truex closed plenty of spots over final 31 laps, jumping from 23rd to his finishing position of 12th. For more in-car audio, subscribe to RaceView today.
13. Carl Edwards, No. 99 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. Despite spending little time in the top 10, Edwards managed to score his third straight top-15 result at Loudon. The No. 99 car spent 54 laps in the top 15 on the way to its 13th-place finish, second-best for Roush Fenway Racing.
14. Austin Dillon, No. 3 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. It wasn't a spectacular run for the rookie, but it was a steady one -- especially after his top-five finish at Daytona last weekend. While he just slipped out of the provisional Chase standings, Dillon is in position to jump back into the 16-driver grid with some strong runs in the next few weeks.
15. Greg Biffle, No. 16 Ford, Roush Fenway Racing. "The Biff" had some early trouble with reports of a tire rub and spent most of the first half of the race in the back half of the field. Some sound strategy got Biffle up to fourth place on Lap 255, before he ultimately dropped back a bit. The result was his third top-15 finish in four weeks.
16. Jamie McMurray, No. 1 Chevrolet, Chip Ganassi Racing. McMurray spent nearly three-fourths of the race in the top 10, but did not recover from a stop under caution on Lap 250. The lost track position left McMurray in the back of the top 20 and led to a tough result, given the fact that he spent 277 of 305 laps in the top 15.
17. Kurt Busch, No. 41 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. The elder Busch looked to have turned a corner in recent weeks. While a 17th-place showing isn't bad, its not what the three-time winner at Loudon was hoping for. The day could have been much worse though. Busch and Denny Hamlin nearly collided on pit road at Lap 114, leading to Busch missing his pit stall and forcing him to come back around for service. Upon being told that Hamlin's crew apologized for the near-miss, Busch said "wasn't their fault it was mine. That's embarrassing." For more in-car audio, subscribe to RaceView today.
18. AJ Allmendinger, No. 47 Chevrolet, JTG Daugherty Racing. With only one top-10 finish in 10 starts at Loudon entering Sunday's race, Allmendinger knew the challenge ahead of him and turned in a solid showing. But he dropped two spots in the points standings to 26th.
19. Paul Menard, No. 27 Chevrolet, Richard Childress Racing. Menard spent most of the race running in the top 20, which is quite good for him, considering Loudon is one of his worst tracks. Despite finishing last out of three RCR drivers, Menard is good shape to make the Chase just as the series returns to the site of his lone Cup victory at Indianapolis.
20. Jeff Burton, No. 66 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing. This race may have been the final Sprint Cup event for "The Mayor." If it is, he chose a good place to go out before he heads to the broadcast booth with NBC in 2015. The four-time New Hampshire winner has two top-20 finishes in just two starts this season. On this day, he also had 79 green flag passes, which was the third-most by a driver in the race.
Jeff Burton may have made his last Sprint Cup Series start and had a solid run.
21. Brian Vickers, No. 55 Toyota, Michael Waltrip Racing. Last year's summer winner at Loudon was hoping lightning would strike twice, but it didn't. Vickers spent some time in the top 10, but various issues kept him from making a lot of noise in his bid for a repeat at Loudon. Restarts in particular hurt the No. 55 team, as they were only 19th-fastest when going back to green. Vickers told his team over the radio at one point, "restarting on the inside is killing us." For more in-car audio, subscribe to RaceView today.
22. Danica Patrick, No. 10 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. The incremental improvements continue to come for Danica in her second full year in the Sprint Cup Series. Last year in this race, she finished 37th, improving to 27th in the fall. She moved up five more positions on Sunday.
23. Aric Almirola, No. 43 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. Almirola had to start at the rear for moving to a backup car following a practice wreck on Saturday. While last weekend's winner at Daytona didn't score another victory, he did score a loop-data win. Almirola had the most green-flag passes in the race with 92. See his wreck from practice.
24. David Gilliland, No. 38 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. For the second time in four weeks, Gilliland posted a top-25 finish. Even better for Gilliland, it was his second-best finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in his Sprint Cup career. Next Saturday, Gilliland will race father, Butch, and son, Todd, at Irwindale (California) Speedway. Read about the three generations of Gillilands.
25. David Ragan, No. 34 Ford, Front Row Motorsports. After three straight weeks of finishes 31st or worse, Ragan has put together two straight top-25 efforts between Daytona and Loudon. He also had 78 green-flag passes, which were the fourth-most by a driver in the race.
26. Jeff Gordon, No. 24 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. It was an up-and-down day for the points leader. Despite starting 11th, he had some early problems, telling his team over the radio, "Holy (expletive)! This thing is waaaay off!" Eventually, Gordon fell a lap down before but played the track position game to slowly work his way toward the front. By Lap 251, Gordon was leading and would do so for 19 laps. A top-five finish looked like a certainty, but a late caution led to the No. 24 team's fuel gamble not paying off as Gordon ran dry under yellow. See his race highlights.
27. Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 Ford, Richard Petty Motorsports. After seeing his teammate Aric Almirola win at Daytona to essentially earn a Chase spot, Ambrose was ready to follow suit. That was the case on this day for the No. 9 team, who will likely need top focus on Watkins Glen for its shot at the Chase. Ambrose's 6.8 average finish at the Glen is second-best among active drivers, trailing only Brad Keselowski (6.5).
28. Cole Whitt, No. 26 Toyota, BK Racing. The rookie was the top finisher for BK Racing at Loudon with his 28th-place result. The finish was his ninth top-30 finish in the past 10 races.
29. Josh Wise, No. 98 Chevrolet, Phil Parsons Racing. Wise was coming off the second-best finish of his season at Daytona, but couldn't carry that momentum with him at Loudon. His finishing spot was better than his starting spot for the third straight week and sixth time in seven races. Wise will run the No. 40 Nationwide car on Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway and then compete on Sunday in a 70.3-mile Ironman competition in Racine, Wisconsin.
30. Kevin Harvick, No. 4 Chevrolet, Stewart-Haas Racing. On Lap 178, the No. 4 team changed its strategy and took four tires, with crew chief Rodney Childers saying, "We weren't gonna win in that way. Let's do something different" and Harvick agreed, "Damn right, we weren't gonna win it that way." The team was in third place when the final caution came out at Lap 298. That was a bad break for Harvick, as he ran dry on the restart and dropped two spots in the point standings. For more in-car audio, subscribe to RaceView.
Kevin Harvick likely would have scored a top-five finish at Loudon, but a late caution led to extra laps with not enough fuel.
31. Alex Bowman, No. 23 Toyota, BK Racing. Fighting tire issues in the first half of the race, Bowman's crew chief, Dave Winston, told the rookie at Lap 114: "Alex go ahead and keep your fans off and see about getting that stuff to shake away." After Bowman thought he had a tire going down at Lap 149, Winston said at Lap 154, "If you turn those bead blowers off, it will build up some pressure and not make you so tight. Good news is we are past halfway." His Loudon finish moved him up a spot to 34th in the standings. For more in-car audio, subscribe to RaceView.
32. Michael Annett, No. 7 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. The rookie continues to inch a little closer to Justin Allgaier in the 29th spot in the point standings. Starting 39th, it was the 10th straight week that Annett has finished better than where he started.
33. Reed Sorenson, No. 36 Chevrolet, Tommy Baldwin Racing. Unfortunately for Sorenson, he lost a spot in the standings to drop to 35th. However, for the seventh in nine races, Sorenson finished in a higher spot than where he started. His Tommy Baldwin Racing team fielded a Nationwide car at Loudon for NASCAR Next driver Ryan Preece. The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour regular finished 14th, improving 10 positions over his series debut last July at New Hampshire.
34. Landon Cassill, No. 40 Chevrolet, Hillman Racing. It was a tough go of it at New Hampshire for Cassill, who had his ninth straight finish of 30th or worse on the circuit. He could not build off of a 15th-place run in Saturday's Nationwide Series race at the 1.058-mile track. Cassill will join Josh Wise in the Ironman 70.3 in Racine, Wisconsin, as he tweeted "nine hours" after running the EnjoyIllinois.com NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Chicagoland.
35. Eddie MacDonald, No. 32 Ford, FAS Lane Racing. The Massachusetts native and seven-time winner in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East was making his Sprint Cup debut this weekend. A 35th-place finish, just five laps back and still running at the finish, is not at all a bad showing for this touring series veteran.
36. Ryan Truex, No. 83 Toyota, BK Racing. For the fifth time in six weeks, Truex finished in a higher spot then where he started. However, he continues to fall off the lead lap, as he yet to run every lap of a race this season.
37. Justin Allgaier, No. 51 Chevrolet, HScott Motorsports. His late accident in Turn 4 on Lap 298 set up a green-white-checkered finish that wound up costing a few cars some top-five finishes as they ran dry. The end result led to the rookie's worse finish since another 37th at Charlotte.
38. Casey Mears, No. 13 Chevrolet, Germain Racing. Fresh off his first top-five finish in six years and his first top five with Germain Racing, it was a disappointing day for Mears. He had an issue with the upper control arm of the car that resulted in him finishing 13 laps down.
39. Morgan Shepherd, No. 33 Chevrolet, Circle Sport Racing. The oldest driver to compete in a Sprint Cup Series race extended his record in that regard. He did have some trouble, thanks to his contact and incident with Joey Logano. Despite finishing 27 laps down, the 39th-place finish was his best result since 2004 when he was 34th in the fall race at Dover. Read Shepherd's reaction to the wreck.
40. Joey Logano, No. 22 Ford, Team Penske. The two-time race winner in 2014 was running second teammate, Brad Keselowski. But then, the Penske driver and Shepherd made contact, sending him into the Turn 3 wall on Lap 211. A frustrated Logano said "the slowest car on the race track took us out." But he did see the silver lining of the big picture. "We've got our two wins. We're in the Chase. It's not the end of the world."
Joey Logano's afternoon came to an end after contact with Morgan Shepherd turned him into the wall.
41. Timmy Hill, No. 87 Toyota, NEMCO Motorsports. Making just his fifth Sprint Cup start of the 2014 season, an electrical issue left Hill 229 laps behind at the end of the day. The race marked the second start of the season for the No. 87 car and first for Jay Robinson. Morgan Shepherd ran the car for Joe Nemechek at Phoenix in March.
42. Jimmie Johnson, No. 48 Chevrolet, Hendrick Motorsports. Tire issues led to a short day for the six-time series champion, who started the race on the front row. A flat left tire on Lap 8 put Johnson a lap down, but the big blow came on Lap 14 when he hit the wall, again due to a left rear tire. Johnson radioed that the car was "pretty tore up" and his day with done. See what happened to Johnson.
43. Mike Bliss, No. 93 Toyota, BK Racing. Bliss was making his second Sprint Cup start of 2014 for Wayne Press after running two weeks ago at Kentucky. The day ended quickly for him due to electrical problems.