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Race results for the Lenox Industrial Tools 301:
Jimmie Johnson returned to North Carolina with a smile on his face, but several big-name drivers did not.
Here are some post-race quotes from a few of the unhappy drivers.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA, 34th (who had contact with Jeff Gordon and Clint Bowyer):
(Gordon) just didn't give me any room, and he never does. He has it coming one day. ... (Bowyer) just got me loose and I just got him loose, too. You can run me, but don't try to wreck me. That was it."
CLINT BOWYER, 7th (on the contact with Montoya):
Last week it was Jeff Gordon, now it was the 42. I'm glad he finally got what he deserved. Just beating and banging, kind of uncalled for. But that's the nature of the beast; that's the sandbox we have to play in.
KYLE BUSCH, 11th (on contact with Jeff Burton):
We all saw it – I got wrecked. ... A guy on no tires trying to make it with what he's got and we screwed up. ... In the previous corner Kurt got by me. Went down into Turn 3 and Burton got loose underneath me and we wrecked. That's all there is to it.
JEFF BURTON, 12th (on contact with Kyle Busch):
I hate that Kyle and I got together there at the end. I know we had a little history together and honestly that had nothing to do with that, although nobody will ever believe that. I just screwed up. He didn't do a thing wrong and that is 100 percent on me. ... He is probably not going to want to talk about it, and I don't blame him. I would be mad if I was him.
DENNY HAMLIN, 14th (on his day of struggles):
We just ran terrible. None of the words are going to be able to describe our weekend. We tried some different stuff to try to get better for September (the first Chase race) because we finished second here last fall and probably had a top-five car, not a race-winning car. We experimented with some stuff, but it just didn't work here.
For a moment, Dale Earnhardt Jr. thought he had returned to the top 12 in points.
And he knew what that meant: The required interview with reporters for all drivers in the top 12.
"We get to talk in Daytona, right? Media av-ail-a-bil-i-ty," he said, stopping to enunciate each syllable.
But alas, it turned out Earnhardt Jr.'s eighth-place run at New Hampshire wasn't quite enough to get him back into a Chase berth with nine races until the cutoff. Instead, he's a mere three points away.
"That's what I thought," he said. "I was doing the math those last 10 laps, and it just didn't add up."
Really? He was adding up the points inside the car?
"Nah," he said, flashing a mischievous smile.
Earnhardt Jr.'s recent and unexpected resurgence has been akin to a cartoon character who was dogged by a dark rain cloud over his head that has been replaced with blue sky. Now that it seems to have been chased away, the sport's most popular driver is smiling much more often.
After six consecutive top-15 finishes early in the season, the 88 team plummeted in the standings with five straight races outside the top 15.
And now? Three finishes in a row of 11th or better, including a solid finish at the Sonoma road course where Earnhardt Jr. traditionally stinks.
"I think it's a good start to a turning point," he said, still cautiously choosing his words about the future. "I like running here and I traditionally feel like I'm a top 10 here every time we show up."
The car was solid throughout the race but had a flash of brilliance shortly before the halfway point. Unfortunately for Earnhardt Jr., it didn't quite last.
"I swear, we were really fast at one point in the race, but whatever we had, I gave to Jimmie (Johnson)," he said. "I wasn't as fast as I was before that (pit stop). Still happy. I like racing around the good guys, racing up there around Kurt (Busch) and Jimmie and all those guys that are right there with us. That's where I want to run every week."
The biggest difference lately, Earnhardt Jr. said, is that the car has been fast straight off the hauler at the start of the weekend. That means the team doesn't have to spend valuable time trying to search for something that would simply make it competitive; it can instead work to make the car even better.
For a guy whose team appeared to be on life support only a month ago – with fans calling for crew chief Lance McGrew's head – not many people expected this type of turnaround.
Did Earnhardt Jr.?
"I didn't expect it, but I'm really pleasantly surprised that it's happening," he said. "We've been working very hard, and sometimes it just bears fruit. I guess that's what's been happening for us. Lance has just been working really, really hard."
After Dover, Earnhardt Jr. said he was "lost" and seemed to question the ability of the team to provide him with good cars. But the key mistake of that race was Earnhardt Jr. pitting when he thought the car was broken.
It wasn't. Though emotion flowed at the time, he later took responsibility and the team moved on from there.
And a couple weeks later, things started to improve.
"Dover was a tough one, but that was my screw-up completely," he said. "There wasn't nobody to blame but me. The boys never had to question themselves in that incident, it was all my fault.
"Once I got my head screwed back on straight, we've been better."
Now he heads to the comfort of Daytona. Restrictor-plate races practically feel like a mini-vacation for Earnhardt Jr., because his confidence soars there and he feels little pressure to run well.
So the fact that he had a good race at New Hampshire left him grinning.
"Any time you're gonna race before 'Dega or Daytona or an off-weekend, you want to have a good run," he said. "Just so you're not miserable, cause I carry that shit with me for days and days."
Now, he said, "I can just enjoy the weekend."
It's an overcast day at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but the rain is expected to stay away (unlike last year) and allow fans to see all 301 laps in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301.
Who will win? Will anyone get payback from Sonoma (watch out, Jeff Gordon)? Will Joey Logano win again in front of his home fans?
Follow all the latest developments here as you chat with other fans. Make sure you have the auto-refresh box checked so you can see the newest comments as they come in.
There were actually a few bright spots about Danica Patrick's fourth NASCAR race, so let's start with those:
So those count for something. As for the rest? It was ugly, embarrassing and even a bit shocking.
Most observers didn't expect Danica to run much better than she did (despite her stated goal of a top-15 finish), so that wasn't the surprising part. What was stunning was listening to her radio chatter and beginning to understand just how little she knows about NASCAR.
For example: When she was mired at the back of the field in 34th place, Danica grew frustrated at not being able to pass backmarker Mark Green and the unknown Charles Lewandoski, who only made the race when another driver was disqualified for illegal fuel.
"Got any tips on how to get this car to turn?" she radioed to crew chief Tony Eury Jr.
"Just gotta search around," replied Eury, who then tried to give her tips on how to beat another car through the corner.
"How do I set him up?" Danica asked a few laps later. "...Every time I try to drive past somebody, I just lose time! I don't know how to do it."
Later, when a driver tapped her rear corner to get her loose and make a pass, Danica seemed surprised at the contact.
"Did I do something?" she said. "I mean, why would he hit my corner?"
Eury Jr. explained that NASCAR drivers often loosen other cars in order to make them drift up the track and open the door for a pass.
"So that's like a technique?" she asked.
And toward the end of the race, she radioed her team to make an observation that sounds basic to any fan, but was new for Danica.
"There's more grip like down on the bottom than up high," she said.
Those type of comments are what a rookie driver would say in ARCA or maybe a Late Model series; they aren't typical radio chatter in the second-highest level of stock-car racing in the world.
And frankly, that's embarrassing. It's embarrassing for the entire sport when talented drivers can't get an opportunity to race in the Nationwide Series but a driver who has hardly any idea what she's doing in these type of cars can get a ride with one of the best teams on the circuit.
After the race, it was obvious Danica didn't feel good about her day. Seeming somewhere between disappointed and discouraged, she sat on a pit road wall, closed her eyes and said, "It's part of the process, it's part of learning. I know these things are going to happen. There's a lot of really good drivers out here. I was learning how to set people up and pass and how much track to use."
"Everything's very new for me," she said. "It's been a lot of learning. I thank all those people out there who want to keep watching me, because it can't be very fun to watch the driver you're cheering for go laps down and get passed, but I'm learning and it'll help me be better."
Early contact with veteran Morgan Shepherd – the driver of the "Racing With Jesus" car – left Danica asking her team if Shepherd would be penalized for what she perceived to be a blatant hit.
But while Shepherd acknowledged he slid up the track into the No. 7 car, he said Danica had yet to realize the importance of leaving racing room for faster cars.
"I was going down to the inside of her and she kind of squeezed me a little bit and I did slide up into her when I cut the car down," Shepherd said calmly after the race. "Just one of those things. I don't like to hit people and you don't see me run into nobody, neither. I don't know when's the last time I got into someone. I went over to apologize her, but she done gone.
"She hasn't learned yet when somebody comes up faster than her to give them room and go on. She's just got to learn that part of it. I wasn't the only one she was holding up, she was holding up other cars too. But she'll learn it."
Danica was asked why she seemed so surprised about the contact between drivers, as if no one had ever bothered to warn her. Either way, it was clear she hasn't watched much NASCAR.
Her explanation? She said she had been told about the physical nature of stock-car racing on a short track, but said she didn't fully grasp the concept until the final quarter of the race.
At that point, she said she began to slide up the track and simply take the spot instead of trying to "respect the lane."
"In IndyCars, you respect the lane because you can't touch," she said. "You'll either crash or flip or have something really bad happen. It's breaking that mentality of holding your lane that I'm learning."
Danica pointed out that she raced other drivers as cleanly as she could, moving out of the way for lead-lap cars time and time again.
"I didn't put up any fight," she said. "I'd much rather look like a fair driver who's going to give them room when it's not my day out there, and I think those kind of things come around."
It may seem harsh, but you have to wonder if Danica will ever be in the position to get that respect back. It's quite difficult to imagine her ever running up front at this point, because the other drivers have years and years of experience on her.
And the idea of Danica running in Sprint Cup? It seems impossible.
On the other hand, she did improve throughout the race. But her explanation for how she did it shows just how far she has to go.
"It sounds silly, but hitting your marks, that's important," she said. "You know, braking at the exact spot and picking up the throttle not too early.
"Those things all feel slow because you're not sliding or pushing or hustling. But those are the things that work in these cars. It's all just a tremendous learning process."
Jeff Gordon's overly aggressive driving at Sonoma was a hot topic at New Hampshire on Friday, as many drivers were asked about what they thought of Gordon's actions and the apparent lack of respect among all drivers this season.
As for Gordon? Here's what the four-time Cup champ had to say for himself:
"(For drivers who want to pay me back), I think you're going to have to get in line. We left the racetrack with quite a few guys upset at us for good reason. It was intense racing and some mistakes on my part and hey, when you make those kinds of decisions and those things happen, then you've got to deal with them. It might be this weekend, it might be for the next several weeks, it might be years down the road. Who knows? You've just got to go with it and that's what we'll do.
"The thing with Martin (Truex Jr.), I don't have any excuses. Yeah, I was racing with Juan Pablo (Montoya) hard, but I just made a mistake there. But the other instances were just really hard racing and just because of that intensity you have to push, push, push and when you push like that and you're three-wide and guys are sliding off the track and pushing you off the track and going three-wide on a road course, a lot is going to happen. There wasn't a corner of my car left that didn't have damage.
"There are different reasons for everybody to choose when to be aggressive and when not to be aggressive. ... I go through every race in my mind when it's all over and go through every lap and every decision and look at the good ones as well as the bad ones. And I try not to make the same mistakes twice. That's something that I pride myself in and work very hard at.
"I think when you intentionally run into some guy for no reason, then that's one thing. My incident with Martin had nothing to do with Martin. I wasn't even racing Martin, really. I was racing Juan Pablo at the time. And so that's what caused me to make the mistake that got me into Martin, but it still was uncalled for. I saw a lot of stuff going on.
"Those restarts, they're intense. I know there was one time with Boris Said was up there and he just didn't have the grip, you know? He just wasn't able to get up and get going. And it started stacking everybody up behind him. And when that happened, guys were just shoving people off the track and going in there three-wide and just doing crazy things.
"To me, I've just come to realize that's Sonoma in the closing laps. Especially now with double-file restarts it just make it even that much more intense. And that's just the acceptance that you have to have now on short tracks and most tracks and these road courses.
"None of us, as competitors, go into it going, 'Boy, yeah, wouldn't it be great to have double-file restarts and three green-white-checkereds at Sonoma?' That's for the fans. That's for the excitement. We accept it because we want what's best for the sport. If that's what's going to bring the most excitement in this sport, great. We'll deal with it. But it's not always something that you wish for. But it's just something you have to deal with and accept.
"I've been dealing with it with (Matt) Kenseth for a long time. Like I said when I get in here, get in line! I've been racing a long time; there are a lot of them out there. I've said this before, I'm not out there to make friends, but I'm also not out there to make enemies. I felt like I've been pretty good about that over the years, at not having any enemies. It's because I race clean; I do.
"Has intensity gone up for me? Yeah, it has. It's just because that's what the sport demands today. It demands more than that. You can tell back in the day, with Earnhardt, well he did it that way, but I didn't. I didn't. I did it different in those days and it's because you had to be consistent over the full season to win the championship. In the new format with the double-file restarts especially and all, you just have to be more aggressive. When you're more aggressive, people are going to get upset."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. sounded Friday as if he'd rather not make the Chase if his No. 88 team isn't going to contend for the Sprint Cup championship.
Earnhardt Jr. has had some solid runs over the last few weeks, but he said at New Hampshire that his results aren't good enough to run for a title.
"I'll admit we're not there; we need to get there," he said after qualifying. "We can run like we've run the last couple weeks and make the Chase, but that doesn't win a championship, either."
Because of all the obligations that NASCAR requires of drivers who make the Chase, Earnhardt Jr. hinted he'd just as soon stay out of the postseason if his team isn't going to contend.
"We need to step it up because we could make the Chase, but then it just becomes a pain in the ass because we're in the Chase but we're not contenders and we gotta do all the horseshit you've gotta do as a Chase member – going to New York and all that stuff," he said. "It ends up being more work than anything else.
"If I'm going to make this Chase, I want to make it and feel like I've got a chance to contend and battle in the top five and be around in the last couple races with a shot still at winning the championship. And we are a long, long way from that as a team. But we're really positive at the same time. We've just got to admit that we've got to get better and keep working toward that."
Earnhardt Jr. was following a school of thought often mentioned by Matt Kenseth, who has said repeatedly in the past that making the Chase means little if a team can't contend for the title.
Currently, Earnhardt Jr. sits 13th in points.
"We don't have a lot of (problems) – like this piece and this piece that we need to improve on – we just need to find more speed as a team," he said. "We've got another notch to get to, and we ain't there yet."
In the meantime, he's got other things to worry about. His car experienced a problem with the fuel pump cable in practice, which somehow broke twice.
The car was "hooked up" when it came off the truck, Earnhardt Jr. said, but the broken cable was a concern.
"Cables shouldn't break two times in a row like that," he said. "Sometimes the cables do break, but if it breaks twice, something else is binding it up."
The team changed the fuel pump, and if there are no further issues tomorrow, Earnhardt Jr. said he feels confident about a good run on Sunday.
A fired-up Martin Truex Jr. said he was still angry about being wrecked by Jeff Gordon in the Sonoma race last week and promised to change his ways in the future as a result.
Truex said the Sonoma incident with Gordon was his breaking point and that he was "tired of being the nice guy."
"(I'm) tired of getting pushed around," he said. "I'm not going to stand here and say, ‘Well, I'm just going to go out and wreck Jeff,' because that's not me, that's not how I do things. But some things are gonna change.
"I'm not going to take it anymore. I'm going to race him the way he races me, I'm going to race everyone else on the track the way they race me. If they don't respect me, they're not going to get anything back."
Truex said he didn't feel any differently about what happened a week later, even after Gordon called and left an apology voicemail (Truex didn't call back).
"I accept his apology, yeah, but things are going to change between me and him," Truex said. "That's just the bottom line.
"I know Jeff understands that. He told me when he apologized he understands I'm mad, he knows he's got one coming. You know? I'm sure he's been in this position before, too."
Truex said he's especially upset because he's always tried to race respectfully. Like Mark Martin, Truex views himself as the kind of driver who will move over for a faster car in the middle of the race and provide plenty of racing room.
But Gordon isn't that kind of driver, Truex said. Gordon races like it's for the win during the middle of the race and for those who don't get out of his way in time, Truex said, "He's the first guy to hang his middle finger out window when he goes by you."
"Things are going to change," Truex promised again.
"I haven't seen much respect on the racetrack all year, to be honest with you," he said. "Guys take advantage of you every chance they get. The field is so close. The clean air situation, every spot means so much and there's so much pressure on us to get what we can get, I think guys just cross the line too much.
"I don't know what the answers are to fix that, I just know how I'm going to do it, and I'm going to do what everybody does to me every week."
Prior to the Gordon incident, Truex was getting closer to being back in a Chase spot again. But after the wreck ended his day, Truex fell 19th in points – and still seems disgusted over it.
"It doesn't matter how we got there, everybody looks at us and says you're still 19th," he said. "And that's very, very frustrating. Nobody understands how difficult that is to deal with. And that's what we deal with each week."
That's why Truex said he's done being Mr. Nice Guy.
"We have nothing to lose from this point," he said.
Bobby Labonte said Friday his ride at TRG Motorsports "just wasn't working out," which led him to look for another team.
Labonte is driving for Robby Gordon Motorsports this weekend and will then pilot the Phoenix Racing car at Daytona and Chicago.
As for Indianapolis and beyond? Labonte is rideless, for now.
It's an uncomfortable position for the former Cup champion, who said he start-and-parked several times at TRG but didn't want to continue.
"We'd already done it three times," Labonte said. "It's just unfortunate for them. They don't want to do it either, and they didn't want to do it, but that's just kind of how it turned out."
Labonte said he was "real excited" to help Gordon improve the No. 7 car and mentioned that he could potentially run a second RGM car at Indy, but those talks were preliminary.
It was highly unlikely Labonte would run his own team, he said, but he doesn't feel ready to quit anytime soon.
"I've done it for awhile, but I don't feel like I have," he said. "I'm excited to go to the races every weekend and have a passion to do what you do and get frustrated when you don't do good and excited when you do good. (My career is) a major blur going real fast and just keeps on going."
Labonte's weekend got off to a bad start in Friday's Cup practice, however, when he wrecked the No. 7 car coming off Turn 4. The team had to pull out its backup car.
Reed Sorenson knows his three-race deal with Red Bull Racing is a tryout to run more events. But that doesn't mean he's overwhelmed with pressure.
"I'll tell ya, I'm more excited than feeling the pressure, just because of the opportunity," Sorenson said Friday, his first day driving Red Bull's No. 83 car as a substitute for Brian Vickers. "I'm excited to get in the race and do the best we can, and hopefully this three-race deal will turn into something longer. That's kind of my goal."
Sorenson had driven three Cup events for Braun Racing this season (as well as 10 Nationwide races) after losing his ride at Richard Petty Motorsports at the end of last year. This is the first year since he came into the Cup Series that he's been without a full-time ride.
So though he sympathized with Vickers, who is out for the season with blood clots, Sorenson said he let Red Bull know he was available right away and was "ready to go" if the team ever needed him.
Casey Mears had a short stint with the team that didn't work out, which led to Sorenson getting his chance.
"I think we just gotta be smart," Sorenson said of his goals. "These guys are looking for consistency and to just be smart all weekend and to try to show a little spark and what they had last year. I think that's what they're looking for.
"I don't think we have to go lead half the race and win the race or anything like that. If we can finish good, then that's what we need to do and not do anything stupid."
Sorenson said from what he can tell in sharing driving duties of Braun's Nationwide car with Vickers, the two drivers have very similar driving styles. Plus, Sorenson worked with crew chief Jimmy Elledge when both were at Chip Ganassi Racing and has remained friends with Elledge through the years.
That means the team has "high expectations right off the bat," Sorenson said.
"We don't expect to use this as a mulligan race or anything like that, we expect to go out and run well," he said.
Sorenson has always been viewed as a laid-back driver, but he said that's "probably just because of my personality."
"I don't talk a lot or get too excited," he said.
In that case, perhaps his Red Bull ride could help both his on- and off-track image.
Ever since New Hampshire Motor Speedway introduced the "extra mile" for one of its 300-mile races, it hasn't really come into play.
Will that last lap at the "Magic Mile" result in some drama this time? Or will the green-white-checkered finishes provide the excitement?
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