NASCAR at New Hampshire: Denny Hamlin dominates second Chase race

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NASCAR Standings 2012: Chase Gets New Points Leader

NASCAR's new points leader is an old familiar face.

Jimmie Johnson leapfrogged Brad Keselowski to take the Sprint Cup Series lead after finishing second at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday – albeit just by one point – and moved into the top spot for the first time since Watkins Glen.

Johnson has two second-place finishes to start the Chase, while Keselowski had a sixth-place result on Sunday to pair with his Chicagoland win.

After just two races, the top six drivers are already separating themselves from the bottom half of the playoff field. While there are five drivers within 15 points of Johnson, seventh-place Dale Earnhardt Jr. is 26 points back.

Here's a look at the NASCAR Chase standings after New Hampshire:

  1. Jimmie Johnson
  2. Brad Keselowski -1
  3. Denny Hamlin -7
  4. Tony Stewart -10
  5. Kasey Kahne -15
  6. Clint Bowyer -15
  7. Dale Earnhardt Jr. -26
  8. Kevin Harvick -31
  9. Greg Biffle -33
  10. Martin Truex Jr. -34
  11. Matt Kenseth -35
  12. Jeff Gordon -45

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NASCAR New Hampshire Results 2012: Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle Struggle

Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth were atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings for a combined 21 of the 26 weeks during the regular season. And understandably, the Roush Fenway Racing duo entered the Chase harboring realistic hopes they would be contenders.

But following back-to-back weeks where neither driver finished in the top 10 – including Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway where Kenseth finished 14th and Biffle 18th – it's apparent after just two races the Roush cars are not up to the task of winning this year's title.

Kenseth's struggles can sort of be explained considering his lame-duck status – he's leaving at the end of the year for Joe Gibbs Racing – as drivers in his situation historically don't do well as the season winds down.

However, Biffle's lack of competitiveness is head-scratching. Chicagoland – a 1.5-mile oval – is the style of track the Roush cars typically excel on, while New Hampshire is a place where he's won at previously and finished third in this race a year ago.

"We were doing really well in the middle part of the race and I thought, ‘Man, we've got something. We're going,'" Biffle said, trying to explain his afternoon. "We got up to 10th and then just went straight backwards. I don't know what happened."

But if this any hope in salvaging their sagging fortunes, it's that next week's race at Dover happens to be one of both Biffle and Kenseth's better tracks, as each has won there twice.

And with Biffle eighth in points, 33 markers behind leader Jimmie Johnson, and Kenseth 11th, 35 points in arrears, a good run next Sunday is desperately needed.

"Everybody wants to be leading, but last week was last week and this week we got everything we could get out of our car," Kenseth said. "It wasn't much better than that."

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NASCAR New Hampshire Results: Brad Keselowski Gets Top-10

For the first time in his career, Brad Keselowski entered a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race as the points leader. That lead, however, was short-lived as a sixth-place finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Sunday dropped him to second overall (one point behind Jimmie Johnson).

The result left the Penske Racing driver "happy" but not "thrilled."

"You're still in the opening weeks of the Chase," Keselowski said. "Like Tony (Stewart) won the first race last year and didn't even have the points lead, so you just have to keep it in perspective."

That perspective includes being able to see the big picture, knowing fully there is still a lot of racing left to do.

"We'd like to be just a little bit faster than where we were today, but this is what a championship team does," Keselowski said. "They take weekends where they're not the best and they make something out of it."

Keselowski also understands that by starting the Chase off with a victory and a sixth-place finish, he's in great shape to win car owner Roger Penske's first Cup title, saying he's "pretty happy with that" referring to the last two weeks.

On Sunday, like most of the field, Keselowski and his team struggled with track position. But a two-tire stop while most of the competition went with four, allowed the No. 2 car to finally move up the running order. And when everything shook out at the end, Keselowski was in line for a respectable finish that allowed him to leave Loudon just a point out of the lead.

"One point doesn't seem too bad," Keselowski said. "We'll go to Dover and give ‘em hell."

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NASCAR New Hampshire Results: Jimmie Johnson Takes Chase Points Lead

When asked about the upcoming race at Dover – one of Jimmie Johnson's best tracks – the five-time NASCAR champion said this prior to racing at New Hampshire: "I want to come out of here with the points lead."

Mission accomplished.

Johnson used his second consecutive runner-up result to take over the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points lead with eight races to go in the Chase. He leads by one point over Chicagoland race winner Brad Keselowski and is seven points ahead of New Hampshire race winner Denny Hamlin.

But with Dover a traditional stumbling point for both Keselowski and Hamlin – each driver counts it among his worst tracks – Johnson is primed to start pulling away next weekend.

"When you get to the Chase, you need to execute on your great tracks and get the results you should there, and then on your tracks that aren't your best, you still have to have good days," Johnson said. "This track's been hit or miss for us over the years, so to come out of here in second, I'm real happy with today."

Unfortunately for those who would prefer not to see Johnson win again, everything so far this season is making it seem like he's the one to beat. Johnson responded to a question about his title hopes by giving a thumbs up and saying, "I feel really good."

"We have tracks that have been great to the 48 for a lot of years; tracks that we were very successful at in the spring events," he said. "The one hanging out there that has me concerned, is the same as everybody else, is Talladega. ... But outside of 'Dega and the unknown there, there's a lot of tracks for this 48 team that I'm very optimistic."

Jeff Gordon said from what he's seen from Johnson so far in the Chase, the 48 team looks to be back in championship form. And that's bad news for everyone else.

"We have seen others make a run at them, but when they are in this kind of zone, they have not been beat," Gordon said. "You know, I think what the 11 did was pretty big today, but he's going to have to do that for eight more weeks."

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NASCAR New Hampshire Results 2012: Denny Hamlin Picks Up Dominating Win

Denny Hamlin won Sunday's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway – and it was no contest in the second race of NASCAR's Chase.

Though he started deep in the field, Hamlin drove his vastly superior car to a 2.675-second victory over runner-up Jimmie Johnson. The victory was Hamlin's fifth of the season and the 22nd of his Cup career.

Pole-sitter Jeff Gordon ran third to keep his faint championship hopes alive. Clint Bowyer, Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski and Tony Stewart ran fourth through seventh, as Chase drivers swept the top seven spots.

Hamlin started 32nd because of a mistake with tire pressures during Friday's time trials, but before the race had reached Lap 100, the driver of the No. 11 Toyota had the lead. Hamlin passed Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch on Lap 94 and proceeded to dust the field the rest of the way.

Hamlin held a lead of more than seven seconds over Johnson when NASCAR called the third debris caution of the race, and fourth overall, on Lap 272. The yellow bunched the field, but it didn't matter, as Hamlin sped away after a restart on Lap 278 and easily held off Johnson, who finished second for the second straight race and took the Chase lead by one point over Keselowski.

Here are the NASCAR results today from New Hampshire:

  1. Denny Hamlin
  2. Jimmie Johnson
  3. Jeff Gordon
  4. Clint Bowyer
  5. Kasey Kahne
  6. Brad Keselowski
  7. Tony Stewart
  8. Joey Logano
  9. Brian Vickers
  10. Ryan Newman
  11. Kevin Harvick
  12. Paul Menard
  13. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  14. Matt Kenseth
  15. Jeff Burton
  16. Regan Smith
  17. Martin Truex Jr.
  18. Greg Biffle
  19. Carl Edwards
  20. Bobby Labonte
  21. Sam Hornish Jr.
  22. Juan Pablo Montoya
  23. Aric Almirola
  24. Marcos Ambrose
  25. Kurt Busch
  26. Jamie McMurray
  27. Landon Cassill
  28. Kyle Busch
  29. David Ragan
  30. David Reutimann
  31. Travis Kvapil
  32. David Gilliland
  33. Mike Olsen
  34. Stephen Leicht
  35. David Stremme
  36. Casey Mears
  37. Michael McDowell
  38. Scott Speed
  39. Joe Nemechek
  40. Tony Raines
  41. JJ Yeley
  42. Reed Sorenson
  43. Kelly Bires

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NASCAR At New Hampshire: Viewer's Guide For Today's Race

Here are some storylines, notes and drivers to watch for during today's NASCAR race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway:

Storylines

Denny Hamlin is fast, but is his team up to the challenge?

After topping every round of practice along with having the dominant car here in July, Denny Hamlin is the clear-cut favorite this afternoon. However, it's going to be a challenge for Hamlin to win thanks to a miscue in qualifying where the No. 11 team set the wrong air pressures and Hamlin could qualify no better than 32nd.

But New Hampshire is an oval where passing is always a challenge and single-file racing is the norm and not the exception, it's going to take more than a fast Toyota for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver to work his way to the front. What Hamlin needs is his pit crew to be flawless. And this is something they haven't been lately, as noted by their mistake in qualifying Friday along with their refueling issue during last week's race which cost Hamlin a top-10 finish.

Jeff Gordon is out of mulligans

To win the championship a driver can have only one bad race. Last Sunday, Jeff Gordon used his mulligan when a stuck throttle put him in the wall and placed him 35th in the final rundown. And although it's going to be an uphill climb and require him to be lights out in the remaining nine races, it's possible that Gordon can still get back in title contention.

But that comeback needs to begin to this afternoon. And thanks to a pole-winning effort on Friday, along with the previous success Gordon has had here lately - in his last seven starts he has five finishes of sixth or better - the opportunity is certainly there for the four-time Cup champion.

Sound pit strategy is key

Because of how difficult it is to navigate the flat one-mile track and the difficulty drivers have racing side-by-side, track position is everything at New Hampshire. Knowing this and the lack of tire wear, look for crew chiefs to call for two tires instead of four as often as possible.

Remember, it was that very strategy in July which led to Denny Hamlin's demise. On that day coming in for his final pit stop, miscommunication between himself and crew chief Darian Grubb resulted in Hamlin getting four tires and not two and dropped him far back in the running order.

Worth Noting
  • Both Brian Vickers and Sam Hornish Jr. will have to forfeit their starting positions and drop to the rear of the field. Vickers will have to do so after his team made an unapproved engine change, while Hornish Jr. had to have Dave Blaney qualify his Dodge as Hornish Jr. was in Kentucky competing in the Nationwide Series event.
  • Holding the top five spots, Toyota drivers dominated final practice. However, historically it is Chevy who has excelled in Loudon, as the manufacturer has won seven of the previous 10 races.
  • Four drivers in today's field - Joe Nemechek (1999), Ryan Newman (2002), Clint Bowyer (2007) and Joey Logano (2009) - all scored their first Sprint Cup Series victories at New Hampshire.
Favorites

1. Denny Hamlin

Ignore where Denny Hamlin is starting (32nd) and instead focus on how fast he was in practice and the dominance he exhibited in July leading 150 of 300 laps. Barring any mistakes in the pits, Hamlin should be in Victory Lane celebrating his fifth win of 2012.

2. Tony Stewart

If Hamlin doesn't win today, Tony Stewart likely could be the reason. In his last five New Hampshire starts, the man who won this race last year has a win and two runner-ups and will start third.

3. Clint Bowyer

This may come as a bit of a surprise, but Clint Bowyer was consistently fast in practice, not to mention this is a track where he has twice been victorious. And Bowyer will have the same chassis underneath him today that he drove to a third-place finish here in July and a win two weeks ago at Richmond.

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NASCAR At New Hampshire 2012: Start Time, Starting Lineup, TV/Radio Schedule, Live Streaming Info And More

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 today's Sylvania 300 for you below.

What time does the race start today? Most Sunday races in the Chase will begin at 2 p.m., and this weekend is no exception. In today's race, a Sylvania executive will tell the drivers to start their engines at 2:09 p.m. Eastern. After a few pace laps, the green flag will wave at 2:17 p.m. ET.

Race name/distance: Today's race is the Sylvania 300, but it's actually 317.4 miles, not 300. New Hampshire Motor Speedway is slightly more than 1 mile in length, so the 300 laps make for a longer race than you might think.

TV, radio and live streaming: Today's race can be seen on ESPN. Every race for the rest of the year will be on ESPN except for Charlotte (which is on ABC). There IS live streaming of the race today, which can be found at NASCAR.com's "RaceBuddy" site and on the "Watch ESPN" app. If you'll be away from your computer and TV, check the Performance Racing Network's web site for a list of affiliate radio stations in your area.

*** NOTE: If you're out and about today and can't watch the race, make sure to follow me (@jeff_gluck) on Twitter. I'll be tweeting updates about the event. ***

National anthem: The 40th Infantry Band from neighboring Vermont will play the national anthem before the race today. Gotta love when a military group performs the anthem instead of a singer who tries to make their own version.

Tickets: According to one report, all grandstand seats are sold out for today's race at New Hampshire. There still may be hillside seating available if you want to take a chance on a last-minute trip to the track, though.

Weather: The unofficial NASCAR weatherman, Brian Neudorff, says today's weather in Loudon should be dry enough to race after some overnight rain moves through the area. Let's hope he's right on the timing and that the race gets in as scheduled.

Last time: Kasey Kahne won the July New Hampshire race after Denny Hamlin's team made the wrong call on pit strategy despite having a dominant car. And one year ago, Tony Stewart made it 2-for-2 by winning consecutive races to open the 2011 Chase.

Here's the starting lineup for today's NASCAR race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (Chase drivers in bold):

  1. Jeff Gordon
  2. Kyle Busch
  3. Tony Stewart
  4. Brian Vickers
  5. Carl Edwards
  6. Kasey Kahne
  7. Paul Menard
  8. Ryan Newman
  9. Martin Truex Jr.
  10. Dave Blaney (qualified for Sam Hornish Jr.)
  11. Jeff Burton
  12. Clint Bowyer
  13. Greg Biffle
  14. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  15. Brad Keselowski
  16. Kevin Harvick
  17. Bobby Labonte
  18. Joey Logano
  19. Aric Almirola
  20. Jimmie Johnson
  21. Marcos Ambrose
  22. Regan Smith
  23. Kurt Busch
  24. Juan Pablo Montoya
  25. Matt Kenseth
  26. David Ragan
  27. Scott Speed
  28. Landon Cassill
  29. Jamie McMurray
  30. Casey Mears
  31. Michael McDowell
  32. Denny Hamlin
  33. Travis Kvapil
  34. David Reutimann
  35. Reed Sorenson
  36. Joe Nemechek
  37. David Gilliland
  38. Kelly Bires
  39. Stephen Leicht
  40. Tony Raines
  41. Mike Olsen
  42. JJ Yeley
  43. David Stremme

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NASCAR At New Hampshire: Brad Keselowski Reaps Rewards Of Hard Work

In his third full season of NASCAR Sprint Cup Series racing, and his second on the Cup side with crew chief Paul Wolfe, Brad Keselowski is the leader of the Chase standings after one event this year.

Keselowski, 28, a third-generation racer from Michigan, has been described as relentless in his pursuit of excellence. To be any less committed, Keselowski believes, wouldn't be fair to his No. 2 Penske Racing team.

"Am I relentless?" Keselowski asked rhetorically during a question-and-answer session after Cup qualifying at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. "When you want something, you go out there and get it, you get the job done. I've just always believed if something's worth doing, it's worth doing well.

"I've never been afraid to put the effort in, and I've had great teachers in my life to showcase what that effort means, whether it's my dad or guys like Paul Wolfe or guys on the team. I know there's a group of people around me right now at Penske Racing that work their butts off and make sacrifices to their own lives for me to be successful. It sure would be a shame to not give the same."

Keselowski enters Sunday's Sylvania 300, the second race in the Chase, with a three-point lead over second-place Jimmie Johnson and an eight-point advantage over third-place Tony Stewart, the defending series champion.

Though Keselowski has just six starts at New Hampshire -- compared with 21 for Johnson and 27 Stewart -- he feels his recent history at the track bodes well for Sunday.

"By today's standards, you could say I have limited experience, because there's really not that many young drivers or drivers that have less experience than me in the series," Keselowski said. "But I feel that I have the appropriate amount of experience to be successful.

"I feel like we've showcased that over the last two weekends here where we finished fifth (in July) and second (in last year's Chase race), and we won the Nationwide race the last time here. So I feel like we have a pretty good track record and as good a shot as anyone else."

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Denny Hamlin Backs Off New Hampshire Guarantee, Team Screws Up Air Pressures In Qualifying

A refueling miscue during his final pit stop cost Denny Hamlin a top-10 finish in last week's NASCAR Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway. But despite the setback, the driver wasn't lacking for confidence after the race.

Shortly after the checkered flag, he posted a tweet seeming to guarantee a rebound this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

So Hamlin called his shot, right? Apparently not. On Friday, Hamlin backed off his bold proclamation and said he was merely expressing confidence in his team.

"Just confident that we could win," Hamlin said, explaining the reasoning for his initial tweet. "It's no different than the nine Chase tracks that we go to, other than Dover where I'm going to be realistic. I feel like I can go win each and every one of them.

"It was really meant to be nothing more than just, ‘Hey, we'll get them next week. We'll win it next week.' People were just taking it a little further than that, but I'm racing – doing the best I can – and that's all I'm going to do."

Hamlin's confidence likely stems from the fact that in the July Loudon event, he easily had the most dominant car. On that afternoon, he led a race-high 150 laps before miscommunication on whether to take two tires or four cost him an almost surefire victory, as a spirited charge fell short and he finished a close second to Kasey Kahne.

"When we come back here, we know that we did have the best car here in July," Hamlin said. "We didn't finish it off, but those are mistakes that we all learn from. So as long as we don't have that flub again, there's no reason why we still won't be in contention with 50 laps to go again."

The speed Hamlin had in July was again present on Friday, as the No. 11 Toyota paced the opening round of practice. But just like last week, another mistake by his team proved costly as the wrong air pressures in the tires hampered Hamlin and he was only able to post the 32nd-fastest time in qualifying.

"I knew something was really, really wrong because the car was bobbing down real bad," he said. "Simple mistake. We'll rebound from it. We're quick enough. We'll get them, but that's frustrating. Holy cow...I knew something had to be wrong. If there was nothing wrong than I would really be shaking my head.

"At least we identified what the problem was."

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NASCAR At New Hampshire: Clint Bowyer Feeling The Pressure

For Clint Bowyer, expectations are high, and, accordingly, so is the pressure to perform well at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Bowyer enters Sunday's Sylvania 300 tied for fourth in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series standings, 15 points behind Chase leader Brad Keselowski. Though Bowyer finished 10th in last Sunday's Chase opener at Chicagoland, he lost ground to race winner Keselowski and runner-up Jimmie Johnson.

Then again, Bowyer hasn't posted a victory at an intermediate speedway -- ever. New Hampshire is another matter. Two of Bowyer's seven career victories have come at the Magic Mile, and he led 49 laps in last year's Chase race before running out of fuel in the closing circuits.

Consequently, Bowyer comes to Loudon expecting his No. 15 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota to run well -- and under pressure to make up ground on the Chase leaders.

"You definitely need to capitalize on your good race tracks, and I think this is one of my good race tracks, so it's definitely important to capitalize on that and get myself closer to the front," Bowyer told the NASCAR Wire Service on Friday at NHMS during a question-and-answer session behind the No. 15 transporter.

"This is a track where we can gain some ground, and we need to make sure we do that."

Bowyer feels confident he can live up to the expectations with a strong finish.

"There's a reason there's some pressure," Bowyer said. "It's because we've performed here, and we need to do it again. I feel like we can back that up, and I'm fairly confident in that. This is just one of those tracks where you just kind of go in, and usually things work out, you know?

"(But) you don't take that for granted. I did run out of gas leading here one time, and I think I finished like 25th (actually 26th in last year's Chase race), so that wasn't much fun."

If Bowyer is to win on Sunday, he'll have to beat Denny Hamlin, who earlier this week called his shot and promised to win the race. Hamlin was fastest in qualifying trim in Friday's opening practice, with Bowyer ninth.

"I guess he enjoys pressure, because that certainly places a lot of pressure on you," Bowyer said of Hamlin's promise. "Who knows? I'm going to call his bluff."

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NASCAR New Hampshire Starting Lineup 2012: Jeff Gordon Takes Top Qualifying Spot

After a disastrous run in last week's Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway left him 47 points out of the lead, Jeff Gordon needs a good showing in Sunday's NASCAR race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

He took the first step toward a comeback on Friday, winning the pole position for the Sylvania 300 – his first Loudon pole since 2001.

"The car got off the corner really strong, but as tight as these times are, you never know," Gordon told PRN after his lap. "To go out and get a pole on a non-restrictor (plate) track, we haven't done that in awhile. So this felt really good."

The pole was Gordon's first on an unrestricted track since 2010 (he won poles at Talladega in 2011 and earlier this year). It also marks the first time he's won multiple poles in a season since 2008.

To do it, Gordon knocked Kyle Busch from the top spot as the second-to-last car on the track. Denny Hamlin had been fastest in practice and went out after Gordon, but he only managed a 32nd-place effort.

Busch will start second, followed by Tony Stewart, Brian Vickers and Carl Edwards

Other Chase drivers included Kasey Kahne (sixth), Martin Truex Jr. (ninth) and the contingent of Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick (12th through 16th).

Jimmie Johnson was a disappointing 20th, followed by Matt Kenseth (25th) and Hamlin (32nd).

David Stremme, Scott Riggs, Jason Leffler and Jeff Green 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 (Chase drivers in bold):

  1. Jeff Gordon
  2. Kyle Busch
  3. Tony Stewart
  4. Brian Vickers
  5. Carl Edwards
  6. Kasey Kahne
  7. Paul Menard
  8. Ryan Newman
  9. Martin Truex Jr.
  10. Dave Blaney (qualified for Sam Hornish Jr.)
  11. Jeff Burton
  12. Clint Bowyer
  13. Greg Biffle
  14. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
  15. Brad Keselowski
  16. Kevin Harvick
  17. Bobby Labonte
  18. Joey Logano
  19. Aric Almirola
  20. Jimmie Johnson
  21. Marcos Ambrose
  22. Regan Smith
  23. Kurt Busch
  24. Juan Pablo Montoya
  25. Matt Kenseth
  26. David Ragan
  27. Scott Speed
  28. Landon Cassill
  29. Jamie McMurray
  30. Casey Mears
  31. Michael McDowell
  32. Denny Hamlin
  33. Travis Kvapil
  34. David Reutimann
  35. Reed Sorenson
  36. Joe Nemechek
  37. David Gilliland
  38. Kelly Bires
  39. Stephen Leicht
  40. Tony Raines
  41. Mike Olsen
  42. JJ Yeley
  43. David Stremme
DNQ: Josh Wise (time disallowed), Scott Riggs, Jason Leffler, Jeff Green.
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Dale Earnhardt Jr. Says JR Motorsports Changes Won't Distract From NASCAR's Chase

Tony Eury Jr.'s departure from JR Motorsports was a "mutual" decision driven by a disagreement in the technical direction of the NASCAR Nationwide Series team, co-owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. said Friday.

Speaking to reporters at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Earnhardt Jr. vowed not to let the personnel changes in his family's business distract him from the Chase.

Eury Jr. (a co-owner in the team as well as Danica Patrick's crew chief) was released on Monday, just over a week after his father, competition director Tony Eury Sr. was shown the door. The Eurys are Earnhardt Jr.'s cousin and uncle, respectively.

"It has been difficult to see these changes and it was not easy at all to sever the working relationship with Pops (Eury Sr.) or Tony Jr.," Earnhardt Jr. said. "But we're a company that wants to improve over what we have been doing and we're making some changes to see if we can make that happen."

The move was prompted, Earnhardt Jr. said, because Eury Jr. was unhappy with the direction JRM was heading. Having not won a race in two years, the Nationwide team is working to become more in line with Hendrick Motorsports and take advantage of the resources the Sprint Cup Series organization can offer the struggling team.

Earnhardt Jr. also said the firing of Eury Sr. had no bearing on Eury Jr.'s decision to leave JRM. According to Earnhardt Jr., the hope was everyone involved could work past the personnel changes – which included bringing in Ryan Pemberton as competition director – and the shift in philosophies and continue on.

The plan for JRM is to again run two cars on a full-time basis next season, with Earnhardt Jr. running three-to-five races in a third car. All this is, however, is contingent on sponsorship, which the team is actively pursuing for 2013. One of those sponsors won't be Go Daddy, as the company will be leaving JRM at the end of the season to move up to Sprint Cup along with driver Danica Patrick.

Ultimately, what Earnhardt Jr. wants is for his team to be self-sufficient and not require him to be involved on a day-to-day basis (his sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, runs the team). And the upheaval within the organization comes at an unfortunate time for him, as he is attempting to win his first Cup championship.

"I do like to have heavy involvement within the company," Earnhardt Jr. said. "And I do have general concerns about the company even when things are going good. I like to be plugged in to what's going on and the direction we're going.

"At the same time, our Whiskey River businesses basically run themselves with the people we have in charge and doesn't require a lot of my attention. ... And the Nationwide program needs to do the same thing for me to be able to focus on my main priority, which is driving Cup cars, and be fluid and work as flawless as possible."

Earnhardt Jr. stressed he needs to keep his attention mainly on his Cup team and that will always have precedence over everything else.

"I am not in a position in my life to invest my focus with everything else I have going on," Earnhardt Jr. said. "Driving race cars are the priority. I won't ever overload myself – especially with the opportunity I have right now to win a championship. I won't let anything take away from that."

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