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Stewart-Haas Racing: 1st, 2nd
There is no questioning which team had the strongest run Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart were fast in the weekend's practice sessions, swept the front row in qualifying and finished Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 with the team's first ever one-two finish.
The solid run was much-needed for the two-car team. Going into Sunday's race, Stewart was on the outside of the Chase looking to race his way in and Newman was one of only two Chase eligible drivers without a win. That all changed Sunday after the SHR duo took the top spots in New Hampshire.
Stewart said it was "no secret" the team had struggled throughout the year, suffering from poor luck and untimely cautions that often followed strategic pit calls. Yet throughout the disappointing results, the team kept their heads together and remained focused.
"Our guys at our shop just keep plugging away, they keep working, they keep their chins up," Stewart said. "That's probably what I'm most proud of. It's easy when things are going right. But when times are tough and you have a day like today, you see how your organization battles. That's to me what shows the character of what Stewart‑Haas Racing is about, what our people are like."
"We've been really good and we've been really good for three‑quarters of the race, then we'll come home fourth, fifth, tenth, not maybe make the right call, strategy, whatever it is to put ourself in the box of top five to close out the race," Newman said. "There have been times where we had failures, bad pit stops. All those things add up.
"Today it all came together for us. We proved what we were capable of."
Hendrick Motorsports: 5th, 11th, 15th, 22nd
While Stewart-Haas Racing thanked Hendrick Motorsports for their support following Sunday's race, their Hendrick counterparts were left wanting more at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Jimmie Johnson was able to rally back from a spin initiated by Juan Pablo Montoya to finish fifth, but his day was not without its trials. After struggling throughout the weekend, Johnson qualified 28th and was forced to deal with a poor pit stall and lack of track position early in the event. Making matters worse, the No. 48 pit crew continued to have trouble, making the five-time champions day even more challenging.
Teammate Jeff Gordon also had a strong car throughout Sunday's race, yet faced multiple electrical issues. The team was forced to change both batteries in the No. 24 Chevrolet, but he was able to make his way back to the front of the field. That is until a blown tire on the last lap dropped him to 11th. Despite the multiple issues, Gordon remained pleased with the performance.
Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s tumble down the point standings continued Sunday in New Hampshire, as he finished 15th and dropped to ninth in the points.
Mark Martin was able to use pit strategy to take the lead early in the race, but was caught up in a spin on Lap 184 of the race. Martin finished 22nd at the end of the day and dropped to 20th in the standings, down six spots in just four races.
Red Bull Racing: 6th, 34th
A promising run for both Red Bull Racing machines was cut short when the pair tangled with Dave Blaney off the exit of Turn 4 on Lap 225. With Kasey Kahne on the outside of Blaney, the No. 4 Toyota caught the No. 83 of Brian Vickers and sent him into the outside frontstretch wall.
"Kasey and I have always raced well together in the past as teammates, so I don't think anything was intentional," Vickers said. "Once again, we had a really good car. Just another case of wrong place at the same time."
The damage ended Vickers' day, but Kahne was able to continue on to a sixth-place finish.
"It's a teammate so I wouldn't usually stay there with Brian because we race each other really clean," Kahne said. "But it was Blaney, and he was going backwards because they were just a little bit off the pace, which is perfectly fine and they do a great job. He's going to let me go as we're going down the straightaway - I know that from racing with him all the time.
"Then it would have been two-wide for me and Brian back at the start-finish so I thought we would just stay there. Brian must not have known that I stayed there. He probably thought that I was going to back out. I wish that wouldn't have happened for sure, but I was there."
Joe Gibbs Racing: 3rd, 4th, 36th
Richard Petty Motorsports: 9th, 12th
Michael Waltrip Racing: 8th, 19th
Penske Racing: 10th, 35th
Roush Fenway Racing: 13th, 14th, 18th, 20th
Richard Childress Racing: 16th, 17th, 21st, 24th
Earnhardt Ganassi Racing: 30th, 31st
The Chase bubble is got even tighter at New Hampshire on Sunday, with just seven races remaining before the cutoff for NASCAR's postseason – and with Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart fighting for only two available spots.
The wild card is available for the odd man out among those three – but only for now. If another driver aside from David Ragan were to win a race – or if Brad Keselowski were to get back into the top 20 – Earnhardt Jr., Hamlin or Stewart could miss the Chase.
Earnhardt Jr. sits just seven points ahead of the 10th-place tie between Hamlin and Stewart with the Brickyard 400 up next on the schedule.
Carl Edwards took over the points lead following the New Hampshire race, with former points leader Kyle Busch tumbling four spots.
Kasey Kahne was the biggest gainer, moving up three positions to 14th.
Here's a look at the updated NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings after New Hampshire:
Ryan Newman (on his fuel situation at the end of the race):
I kind of got the hunch that they didn't get as much (fuel) in as they'd hoped to. But I was saving quite a big, or just as much as I could. Luckily we had that lead and luckily it stayed green or it would have been a green-white-checkered position or situation and we wouldn't have been able to make it. But I'm just really proud of the guys. Tony Gibson (crew chief) made a gutsy call and it paid off. It's a big win for us and for our team at this point in the season and I'm just really proud of their efforts.
Tony Stewart (on what the win means for Stewart-Haas Racing):
It's huge. It's no secret we've been struggling this year. But it really shows me the depth of the people we got in our organization. It's been one of the weirdest years as far as just weird things and bad luck happening to both of us.
Our guys at our shop just keep plugging away, they keep working, they keep their chins up. That's probably what I'm most proud of. It's easy when things are going right. But when times are tough and you have a day like today, you see how your organization battles. That's to me what shows the character of what Stewart Haas Racing is about, what our people are like.
That's probably what I'm most proud of in the last two and a half years, is how we've come from the first half of the season to a weekend like this weekend.
Tony Stewart (on what he told Ryan Newman in Victory Lane):
I just told him I was proud of him. I told him I was proud of him and it was a great day for our organization, great day for the Army. Colonel (Derik) Crotts was here. He's retiring after 31 years of serving our country. Couldn't think of a more perfect day for him to be at the racetrack. We don't get him at the races every weekend. To have Colonel Crotts here, get the U.S. Army Chevy in Victory Lane, that's an awesome weekend. You don't want him to go into retirement, but knowing he's going, it was a perfect way to send him off.
Denny Hamlin (on if he had enough fuel at the end):
Well, I don't know. We won't know until here after the race, we fill the car back up and figure out how much I had left.
Obviously, I was running the 39 down. The crew chief is screaming that we got to back off. At that point you have to think about the risk versus reward. If we go out there and try to win the race, we get about 10 more points than what we get if we coast and get a third place finish, or if we go for it and miss, run out of fuel, we end up with minus 20, 30 points.
It's just risk versus reward racing with these fuel mileage things. As bad as I wanted to go up there and race those guys, I had to make the smart move and finish the race.
Carl Edwards (on how physically demanding the race was):
We don't sit down, come on. I thought that was a 400 lap race. They called it short I guess. I think Jimmie (Johnson) was sitting down on the pit wall because he is intimidated by our points lead right now. No, we had fun. That was a very fun race. It is fitting we have Aflac for a sponsor because I feel like I was buying insurance at the end. I was letting those guys go by one point at a time thinking that if we had a green-white-checkered we could win this thing. I knew we could lose more than we could gain there. It is hard to back up like that but it worked out.
Kasey Kahne (on his incident with teammate Brian Vickers):
It's a teammate so I wouldn't usually stay there with Brian (Vickers) because we raced each other really clean. But it was (Dave) Blaney and he was going backwards because they were just a little bit off the pace, which is perfectly fine and they doa great job. He's going to let me go as we're going down the straightaway - I know that from racing with him all the time. Then it would have been two-wide for me and Brian back at the start-finish so I thought we would just stay there and be two-wide at the start-finish. Brian must not have known that I stayed there. He probably thought that I was going to back out. I wish that wouldn't have happened for sure, but I was there.
Kyle Busch (on why he hit the wall):
Blew a bead. Fastest car here - getting through the field pretty good and kind of the only guy passing guys I guess there. We made some big changes there on that pit stop. We came back and got four (tires) just to make sure that we got all the changes we wanted to. Working our way up through there with the Interstate Batteries Camry. Just blew a bead I guess. Transferring too much brake heat through the wheel. Couldn't tell you anything else besides that. Kind of knew things weren't going to go our way today. This morning, woke up and everything went wrong that could go wrong. Pretty much seemed right.
Kevin Harvick (on his day):
I don't even need to say anything... Looking forward to a week off to regroup and take a break from the world.
Jimmie Johnson was not too pleased with Juan Pablo Montoya after the two had a racing incident in Sunday's NASCAR race at New Hampshire.
Here's what Johnson – who rallied to finish fifth after spinning out – said after the race:
Well, I was just driving my guts out, man. Anything that could have gone wrong today did.
It started out with a bad qualifying effort on Friday and we paid the price for that on pit road and track position at the start; and then we had some issues on pit road.
And then the 42 – I don't think of the three times he's wrecked me, it's been intentional, but he's out of mulligans. I've had enough of 'Oh, I'm sorry,' and you're spun out. It's happened way too often to the 48.
Hopefully we can get that corrected moving forward and still amongst all that stuff going on, we rallied back to fifth. And we did it the hard way, by passing cars.
Just when it looked like Jeff Gordon was going to pull off an amazing comeback from alternator issues that plagued him throughout the day, he melted a bead and blew out a tire on the last lap.
He hit the wall and, instead of a sure top-five finish, settled for 11th. It was just another twist in an up-and-down day at New Hampshire.
"Oh my goodness!" Gordon said afterward. "What didn't happen today?"
For much of the race, Gordon seemed to have one of the best cars on the track – in fact, it was probably the fastest overall. But he struggled to get track position in the early portion of the race until crew chief Alan Gustafson made a two-tire pit call to get him up front.
It seemed like Gordon had a shot to turn the race into a rout at that point, but his car suddenly developed alternator issues. He eventually had to switch out both of his batteries – he was fortunate the team chose to run two on this day – and had to turn off his air conditioning and brake fans for the rest of the race.
As he charged back up to the front after being a lap down – and even looked like he could rally for the win – Gordon realized he had a shot at Denny Hamlin, who was running third.
With Hamlin starting to back off in order to conserve gas, Gordon began to charge the corners a bit harder and perhaps put too much temperature on his tires. It blew out the right front, and he hit the wall.
"You have to survive these races in a lot of different ways, and we had a lot of obstacles thrown at us," he said. "...It was a challenging day in a lot of ways. But it was certainly something. We're excited about coming back here later in the year to this racetrack; our car was fast."
Indeed, Gordon will be one to watch at New Hampshire when NASCAR returns for its second Chase race in September. And he'll be a threat to take the whole thing if he can pick up his performance on a few other tracks.
"I think we've shown that we can put fast race cars out on these one-mile racetracks – especially the flatter tracks," he said. "We've got to back that up with effective performances on the 1.5-mile (tracks) as well – which we're closing in on, but we've got to get a little better."
If you're a card-carrying member of Junior Nation, you may want to cover your eyes.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. managed a 15th-place result on Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but the finish dropped him another spot in the standings – from eighth to ninth – and left him perilously close to the edge of the top 10.
Sitting just seven points ahead of 11th place and heading into an off-week before the stretch run to the Chase, Earnhardt Jr. has a new mantra: Remain calm.
"Fifteenth ain't awesome, but certainly better than what we've been putting on points-wise," Earnhardt Jr. said after the race. "I've just got to stay calm and take what the heck I can get instead of trying to make something happen and ruining the day like I did last week (at Kentucky).
"Today, I just tried not to go crazy, because I was really getting frustrated with the way the car drove. I tried not to flip out in there and just get what I can get."
Earnhardt Jr. was "cooking" inside the car on a hot day, he said. He addressed reporters while wearing a white undershirt that was completely soaked through with sweat.
But the heat wasn't his problem. What really bothered him was a change in the Goodyear tire from the one that NASCAR ran last year at New Hampshire, when he had two top-10s.
"Just gotta figure out the difference in this tire," he said. "Every frickin' damn week, they change the tire. We had a pretty good tire running here (the last few New Hampshire races); I guess the government is getting on 'em about how they build 'em or something, and they had to bring a new one here.
"I didn't like it, but we can figure the setup out and try to get it to where they drive good."
Despite not getting the setup right, Earnhardt Jr. actually had a shot at a decent finish. He was running in the top 10 on the final pit stop, but a tire violation on pit road forced him to restart 33rd.
"We got it to drive pretty good a couple times, but most of the time, we weren't very good," he said. "I think we'll definitely start from scratch when we come back here next time. We struggled all weekend."
Stewart-Haas Racing teammates Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart started Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on the front row and the pair ended the day with a 1-2 finish.
Leading 119 of the 301 laps, Newman had a strong car throughout the day and enough fuel to last as he was able to hold off Stewart in the closing laps. Denny Hamlin, Joey Logano and Jimmie Johnson rounded out the top five.
Sunday's race saw 10 cautions for a total of 44 laps and featured 21 lead changes among 14 different drivers.
Here are the NASCAR New Hampshire results:
Who will find that special something today at the "Magic Mile?" Find out along with the rest of us as the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 is about to take the green flag at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Chat with other fans and SB Nation's Jeff Gluck – who is live at the track for today's race. Make sure you have the auto-refresh button checked in order to see the latest comments from your peers.
Enjoy the race!
It's NASCAR race day at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, and we've got the actual race start time, the starting lineup and some other facts about the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 for you below.
Start time: The command to start engines will be given by the Joseph family of Monson, Mass. – victims of the June tornado in New England – at 1:08 p.m. Eastern time. After a few pace laps, honorary starter Darrell Bates (billed as a friend of the Lenox company) will wave the green flag at 1:16 p.m. Eastern. So if you want to skip the pre-race show and just tune in for the race, flip on your TV set at 1:16.
Race name/distance: The Lenox Industrial Tools 301 was once billed as the "extra mile" – but in reality, the race is 318.46 miles. That's 301 laps around the "Magic Mile," which is actually 1.058 miles.
TV and radio: Today marks the final race of TNT's six-race NASCAR broadcasting stint, but we also recommend you take advantage of TNT's "RaceBuddy" application over at NASCAR.com. You can watch the race on your computer and pick which camera angle you want to watch for free. If you aren't near a TV, the radio broadcast can be found on your local Performance Racing Network (PRN) affiliate. Click here to see a list of PRN stations where you can listen.
After an off-week next week, the Sprint Cup Series returns at Indianapolis, where ESPN takes over the coverage for the last half of the season.
National anthem: Country music group Eden's Edge is singing the anthem today. New Hampshire also has a performance of the Canadian national anthem, but that part is not televised.
Tickets: As of Saturday morning, there were still 2,000 tickets available for the New Hampshire race. If you're thinking of coming out to the race today, there are no guarantees it won't be a sellout by the time you arrive – but it might be worth a shot.
Weather: According to the unofficial NASCAR weatherman, the temperature at race time is expected to be around 88 degrees with sunny skies.
Last time: One year ago, Jimmie Johnson held off Tony Stewart to take the Lenox Industrial Tools 301. Then, in September, Clint Bowyer won the race to kick off the Chase but was infamously penalized when his car was found to be illegal.
Starting lineup for today's NASCAR race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway:
Perhaps more than any other driver, Denny Hamlin understands the frustrations of fans mired in traffic last weekend at Kentucky Speedway. Driving to the track, Hamlin was stuck in the traffic and nearly missed the mandatory drivers meeting prior to the race.
This weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Hamlin was critical of the speedway, but also saw a silver lining in the problem.
"They had a lot of work that needed to be done in a year and a half and they just didn't get to it all. I think in time they'll get it figured out," Hamlin said. "Obviously, (Kentucky Speedway) has an owner in it that is not afraid to spend money and politic with the state. I think that the state is going to be willing to make some changes and obviously, above and beyond that they've got to have a better traffic strategy because I think that kind of failed."
While the traffic strategy may have failed, Hamlin pointed out having a large amount of people trying to attend a NASCAR race is not necessarily a bad thing.
"Well to me, I view it as a good thing that there was that much demand to get into a race track," he said. "You hear stories and we hear stories of 10 years ago or so, how hard it was to get into race tracks and everything. Now you hear two hours before a race starts that we just drove right in. That's not a good thing. You want there to be a little bit of traffic that means people are going to be filing into the race track and watching the race. I don't -- when I left the race track, I saw this huge swarm of people coming from every which direction. I kind of look at it and smile that the demand for NASCAR is back."
Taking an optimistic outlook on the situation, Hamlin does not believe offering an autograph session for fans will help rectify the situation, but he is willing to help if necessary.
"Autograph sessions and things like that, I'm not sure that's going to bring in new fans or anything like that," he said. "The stuff that we do to help promote races goes really above and beyond anything that we've ever done in the past to promote races. People just don't have enough money to do it, they're not going to do it. An autograph is not going to make a difference in my opinion whether someone shows up or not."
Great looking weather is expected for New England this weekend as high pressure dominates the region. Temperatures will be warm and in some cases even hot. Highs Saturday should be in the upper 80s to near 90 and into the 90s on Sunday. With the exception of some morning valley fog there will be plenty of sunshine.
9:30 a.m EDT
Sprint Practice– Sunny Skies, Patchy Fog - temp: 70
10:30 a.m EDT
Nationwide Qualifying – Sunny Skies - temp: 75
11:45 a.m EDT
Sprint Cup Final Practice – Sunny Skies - temp: 80
3:30 p.m EDT
Nationwide Race – Sunny Skies - temp: 85
See my personal site for Truck Series Forecast in Iowa.
1:00 p.m EDT
Sprint Cup Race – Sunny Skies - temp: 88
Speedway Motorsports Inc. chairman and founder Bruton Smith held court with the media on Friday afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to discuss last week's Kentucky Speedway traffic debacle.
Below are some selected comments from Smith.
On Interstate 71:
I'm sincerely sorry everybody did not get in. I'm sorry we had the traffic – although I had continuously warned people about that Interstate 71. I told everybody that would listen that that Interstate 71 sucked. I mean, it's terrible. It's the lousiest piece of interstate that I've ever driven on. And I was hoping that would get some attention. That's what we were dealing with. I think when we go back there, I think you'll find maybe somebody will have done something about it.
On his company, Speedway Motorsports Inc.:
We have a history of doing things better than anybody else, and we will continue to fix it. We know how to fix things, we know how to build things. I think we are guilty of building the finest speedways in this country.
We have a $3 billion investment in this sport. I'm all about promoting this sport. I do it all the time. It's very important to my company because this is what I do and this is what I like doing. Since I purchased that place, we've spent over $100 million. We've done a lot of things over there, and we'll do a lot more things.
On the people who parked the cars:
We had a company employed to do the parking. I think they had a lot of inexperienced people; I did not think they did a very good job on parking. I think they did a lousy job.
Our general manager had worked with a lot of the adjoining property owners that were parking (cars). We've studied these aerial (pictures), and our neighbors who were going to do all this parking, they didn't do a very good job, either.
On whether the track sold more tickets than there were available parking spaces:
No, we didn't sell too many. We still had room remaining in the infield. We could have taken another 15,000 people in the infield.
On why Speedway Motorsports Inc. won't refund tickets:
We've offered the exchange of tickets. Are you talking about a cash refund? No, did not (offer that). And we will not. We don't want to. That's factual.
On why there wasn't better planning:
I don't think anybody could foresee what occurred. Maybe God knew, but I don't know of anybody else knew how many people would try to come see this event.
On who is responsible for the blame:
It was not all us. We don't control the highways. I wish we could sit here and tell you we do, but we don't control the highways.
On how many people were at the race:
If I were to guess, I've heard 150,000 people. I have no way of telling you there were 150,000 people there. I don't know. And we'll never know. ... We do know it was a very large crowd. I don't know what it was, I really don't. We stopped scanning, so we lost count on that.
On criticism from other tracks, including MIchigan International Speedway president Roger Curtis:
I don't know who in the heck he is, but I don't care to know. It would be like if one of my people responded to Daytona in a nasty way when the track broke up (in the Daytona 500) and they had to stop the race for two hours. That is not what we're about.
It reminded me of something. I was born and raised on a farm. And we had a jackass that got away from us. He was young and frisky. I remember my dad saying, 'That's the sorriest jackass we've ever had.' But he got away and we never did recover him, but I understand he's popped up now in Michigan somewhere.
On whether he's being a hypocrite (since he criticizes other tracks at times):
I'm not saying it's different. I'm not upset by it. I'm just saying it's stupid. And you can't fix stupid! Right?
I'm for NASCAR all the way. I want to build this sport. I was watching something that was referred to as "dancing partners" in Daytona. If you want to be critical of something, I'm critical of that race. Did you see that race? Took two cars to win a race? Well, if you've got dancing partners, then we've got a different race.
To me, it's life if Major League Baseball changed the rules to where you've got to have two bats when you go up to bat. That don't make any sense. So I'm asking NASCAR, 'Let's go to work on this car and let's stop the foolishness of this car pushing another one.' That's not what we built this sport on. That is not good.
Let's see who fixes what first. I am absolutely dedicated to fixing the problems at Kentucky before the dancing partners thing can be cured.
The Rocket Man is back.
Ryan Newman picked up yet another pole position on Friday, turning a lap of 135.232 mph to claim the top qualifying spot for Sunday's NASCAR race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Newman, who has 47 career poles but hadn't been in the No. 1 spot in more than a year, went out 44th of 46 cars and knocked David Reutimann from the pole with a new track record.
Stewart-Haas Racing teammate/owner Tony Stewart qualified on the outside pole position, which relegated Reutimann to third.
Kurt Busch will start fourth, followed by Penske Racing teammate Brad Keselowski.
Jeff Burton, Jeff Gordon, Juan Pablo Montoya, Paul Menard and Kasey Kahne rounded out the top 10.
Three cars – Dennis Setzer, Scott Ribbs and Tony Raines – failed to qualify for Sunday's race.
Here's the starting lineup for Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway:
Jimmie Johnson says Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Golden Tate's anti-NASCAR comments were made out of a lack of knowledge – but added they were nothing a trip to the racetrack wouldn't fix.
Tate tweeted during Wednesday's ESPY awards that Johnson – who was nominated for Best Male Athlete – shouldn't have been included because NASCAR drivers aren't athletes.
That set off a firestorm of back-and-forth comments between Tate and NASCAR fans, with Johnson even chiming in at one point via Twitter:
@JimmieJohnson: @showetimetate Ignorance is a state of being uninformed (lack of knowledge). Lucky 4 you, this can be fixed. Come to a race and be informed
Johnson expanded on that thought during his media availability at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Friday morning, saying he'd be happy to help Tate form a more educated opinion.
"I think it's easy to make a comment when you don't know," Johnson said. "In a lot of situations, people haven't been to a race or been close enough to our sport to understand what takes place here. There is also a misconception of what a race shop looks like – (like) when you take folks into Hendrick Motorsports and they thought we were working out behind a gas station working on our race cars."
Tate's tweets didn't offend Johnson that much, he said, because drivers have always had to deal with the "Are they athletes?" question.
"It wasn't anything new," he said. "...It's something we have fought for a long time."
Johnson's biggest problem wasn't with Tate's opinion, but with the lack of understanding Tate exhibited before bashing drivers.
"I don't like it when people express their opinion without knowing," Johnson said. "So if he comes (to a race) and finds that we're not athletes and has a different opinion (after he) was to attend a race, that's fine. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion."
NASCAR's five-time defending champion said he'd "like to show him around and see if we can show him what our sport is about and change his mind."
"There might be other athletes out there who think the same and they're all welcome to come out," Johnson said. "We'd all love to host them and show them around. I have no hard feelings."
While Johnson may have been put down from someone watching the ESPYs on TV, the Hendrick Motorsports driver said the reception at the awards couldn't have been more welcoming.
"Just from the applause when I was introduced for the red carpet, the interaction with all the media outlets," Johnson said, "across the board, throughout media and the athletes themselves and the executives that were there, the people at ESPN, there is no doubt that NASCAR is well-known and well-received throughout sports."
In light of Tate's comments, Johnson joked he was "impersonating an athlete" at the ESPYs and recalled chatting it up with NBA stars like Ray Allen and Dirk Nowitzki.
"I saw (Nowitzki) and went to introduce myself to him and didn't think he'd remember me and with his accent and his excitement he was like, ‘I vahz aht your rahce, doo you reemembah?'" Johnson said in an faux German accent. "I don't know if the accent is even close; I just feel like I was trying to sound like (Arnold) Schwarzenegger for some reason."
Though Johnson said he wasn't upset about Tate's tweets, the driver was proud of the fans for their efforts to stick up for NASCAR.
"I took great pride in seeing our NASCAR Nation kind of put him in place," Johnson said. "And as you watched his timeline, he quickly has changed his song and dance and is now saying he respects the NASCAR group. So good job, everyone."
The last two weeks have been a rough patch for Richard Childress Racing's Clint Bowyer. Two wrecks and two finishes outside the top-35 have dropped Bowyer to 12th in the standings and putting a Chase spot in doubt.
"This is a crucial time for us," Bowyer said. "We've got them breathing down our necks and we're still within reaching distance of the cars in front of us, so this is a good time to get things pointed back in the right direction points-wise. But I tell you, with this crazy wild card thing, this is a good track for us to get a win and solidify ourselves in the Chase. So it's an important weekend for sure."
Bowyer has the potential to find Victory Lane at New Hampshire Motor Speedway as evidenced by his two career victories at the track, including last year's Chase opener. That win, however, was overshadowed by a mid-week penalty handed out by NASCAR that cost Bowyer the points lead and potentially a shot at the championship.
Returning to New Hampshire, Bowyer is still frustrated by the untimely penalty, but more so by the attention it continues to draw.
"The biggest thing that I don't understand about it is that it passed post-race inspection and it gets back to something that nobody understands or knows a lot about; which is fine," he said. "I was OK. A penalty is a penalty and if you're caught, you're caught; it doesn't matter what I think at the end of the day.
"Kyle Busch was low at Pocono; and I know the significance of what that does for a race car. And it was a lot more than 60 (thousandths of an inch out of tolerance). That's the way that I look at that and he got a slap on the wrist and we got pretty much a season-ending penalty."
Despite his comments, Bowyer said he has moved on from the penalty and is frustrated answering questions about it. Instead, Bowyer and his crew are focused on rebounding from two tough weeks.
While he admitted it would have been easy to become negative about their results at Daytona and Kentucky, he said the team has kept their focus since "there are so many positives" about their season so far.
"We've run well and that's what has put us in this situation," he said. "To have two bad weeks in a row and still be in the top 12 in points shows that our season has been pretty good. But we've got to put together a string of good runs and we've done that.
We had six straight top-10 runs there and two of them were top-two finishes and we almost won at Texas. We almost won at Talladega. We can do it. We've just got to get back after it and make it happen."
Dale Earnhardt Jr. isn't panicking despite a backslide through the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series point standings over the last four weeks.
If anything, he said, his confidence is as strong as ever.
"I think the best thing we can do is just stay positive," he said. "We run good at New Hampshire; we've been kind of eyeing this weekend and looking forward to it. We want to come in here with a lot of confidence. We belong in the Chase, we belong up front in the top five and the top 10.
"We're going to try to make that happen this weekend and run well."
Earnhardt Jr. said his four consecutive results outside the top 15 – a stretch that has dropped him from third to eighth in points – are frustrating, but not a setback that is too much to overcome. Last week, Earnhardt Jr. blew a tire to cap a disappointing night at Kentucky.
"You know, running poorly is not what you want to be doing," he said. "But we've just got to keep going to the racetrack. We've got good cars, we've got a really, really good team and we should be running better than we have been in the last couple weeks. And we know it."
The opportunity to stabilize his position within the top 10 in points and climb back to where he was earlier in the season "shouldn't be that difficult," he predicted. There's no need to put extra emphasis on trying to win a race to get a wild card berth, he said, because "If I could win a race, I'd win a race."
How much does he worry about trying to go for wins as opposed to points racing?
"I don't!" he said. "I don't worry about that. I just go race."
NASCAR president Mike Helton addressed the major traffic issues experienced by many fans last weekend at Kentucky Speedway in a Friday morning news conference at New Hampshire International Speedway, pledging to fix the problem.
Helton said the sanctioning body was "very pleased and excited about the overall support of the fans" at last weekend's race adding, "It was impressive. Don't want that to get overshadowed."
However the traffic issues have overshadowed the event throughout the week and NASCAR has been quick to meet with Kentucky Speedway and Speedway Motorsports Inc.
"The intent is to find out exactly what happened so that a cure or fix can be determined," Helton said. "We will not rest until we have figured that out."
"It was very unfortunate that it happened," he added. "We're sorry for the fans that were touched by that unfortunate episode. We will not let this fall to the wayside until we get resolution to it."
Here are some of the highlights of Helton's press conference Friday morning:
How involved in NASCAR in ensuring things run smoothly at a track?
NASCAR is unique to other sports in that the NASCAR model works by the independent relationships between NASCAR as a sanctioning body, the tracks as the hosts of the events, and the teams and drivers being the competitors. We all work together to put the events and the season on. There's responsibility in each group's world that needs to happen correctly to make the events go smoothly.
There was a lot of planning that was exhibited to us and to fans. I know on one trip up there myself, in the lobby of the office complex, there was material there that showed very well thought out, very nice, presentable piece, full color page of the traffic ingress, and then there was another page of traffic egress that was, according to the track folks, being mailed to the ticket buyers and was available to everybody to pick up.
I think part of what we want to know now is, was that plan followed correctly or what might have interfered with the preparation that went into the event that caused what happened.
Will Kentucky Speedway host a Sprint Cup race in 2012?
I don't want to speculate on that type of thing. I can't help but think, you look at the history of our sport, we've had issues that happen, and we generally figure out how to work through them.
I think what we're after right now is to figure out what happened in Sparta and figure out what the cure is for it. Outside of that, I don't have an opinion at this point. But we're working toward a resolution.
How involved is NASCAR in ensuring the fan experience at tracks?
I know that we all work on a common goal of making the experience for race fans and the appealing part of what we do for race fans paramount.
Along the way, we have hiccups. But then we need to collectively get together and figure it out so we can press on.
Did Kentucky Speedway's traffic issues hurt NASCAR's forward momentum?
Well, I'd like to think that we overcome the glitch in Kentucky and that what happened on the racetrack in Kentucky, the teams and the drivers delivered on their end, and they will this weekend. So we go on.
We certainly take what happened on the highways trying to get into Kentucky as a very serious issue that we intend to correct. But I think what's happening on the racetrack helps us maintain that momentum that you speak of.
Throughout the press conference, Helton also addressed the wild card spot in the chase and handling the off-track issues of NASCAR drivers.
Is NASCAR happy with the decision to add the wild card element to the Chase?
I think we like what we see. I think we like the energy or emphasis around what the wild card has placed on winning, and the caveat that winning races may apply when it gets closer to setting the Chase because of the wild card factor. I think that's all developing into an interesting story.
Will NASCAR get involved in off-track legal issues facing Kyle Busch and Michael Annett?
I would say that we'll have to watch and see how things unfold and see if it does translate into what we do.
But I'd also remind everybody, I think it's important for NASCAR to recognize its authority as a sports sanctioning body. We're not a local or state vehicular regulatory body. We're a sports league sanctioning body.
Now, I'm not saying that those two wouldn't ever overlap. But I think what we try to do is be very respectful of the fact that our realm is regulating ‑ our realm of responsibility ‑ NASCAR as a sport and letting the proper jurisdictions regulate everything outside the sport.
On occasion they overlap, but it's rare. On occasion they could overlap, and that's when we would have to consider what we have to do.
We're back to the "normal" NASCAR weekend schedule this week for the Sprint Cup Series: One practice and qualifying on Friday, two practices on Saturday and the race on Sunday afternoon.
There are some touring series events also at the track, and the Nationwide Series also runs a race on Saturday.
Here's a look at the NASCAR national series schedule from New Hampshire Motor Speedway (all times are Eastern):
10:30 a.m – Nationwide Series practice (50 min.)
11:30 a.m. – Sprint Cup Series practice (1 hour, 30 min.)
1:40 p.m. – Nationwide Series final practice (1 hour, 20 min.)
3:10 p.m. – Sprint Cup Series qualifying
9:30 a.m. – Sprint Cup Series practice (50 min.)
10:35 a.m. – Nationwide Series qualifying
11:45 a.m. – Sprint Cup Series practice (1 hour)
3:30 p.m. – Nationwide Series race (200 laps, 211.6 miles)
1 p.m. (approx) – Sprint Cup Series race (301 laps, 318.46 miles)
When NASCAR rolls into New Hampshire this weekend, its race teams will be looking at the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 as a crucial test.
What's so special about a 1-mile oval in the middle of July? Simple: Since the Sprint Cup Series returns to New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the Chase (it's the second Chase race this season), this is a chance to get a leg up on the competition for the postseason.
The New Hampshire track is most similar to Phoenix, where Jeff Gordon out-dueled Kyle Busch earlier this season. But Carl Edwards was strong at Phoenix as well before Busch triggered a multi-car wreck that claimed Edwards.
Who will tame the "Magic Mile" this time? Will drivers make any comments on the post-Kentucky fallout? Who will claim the momentum heading into a Sprint Cup off-weekend before the Brickyard 400?
Find out right here along with us, as we're live from New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
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