2011-09-29 / Sports

Stewart Is Smoking

By Gerald Hodges

LOUDON, N.H. – Tony Stewart got his second consecutive Sprint Cup win Sunday at New Hampshire Speedway after leader Clint Bowyer ran out of fuel with two laps to go in the 300-lap race.

Stewart, who had remained close to Bowyer, was able to duck under Bowyer’s gasless car to take the checkered flag for the second consecutive week.

“We felt like this would be a good weekend,” said Stewart. “We’ve had a lot of problems, but this win takes a lot, of weight off my shoulders.

“Clint had a good car and I hate to win a race this way, but being able to play the fuel-mileage game is part of the sport.”

Brad Keselowski finished second and moved up three positions in the Chase.

“We made some good adjustments on the car after about 110 laps, and I knew from then on we had a good car,” said Keselowski.

Greg Biffle finished fourth and Jeff Gordon, who led the most laps, was fifth.

“They told me I needed to save fuel,” said Gordon. “We’re not getting the fuel mileage we should. That’s why I had to pit under green. I’m happy with where we are in the Chase, but we’re not gaining on the leaders.”

Brian Vickers, Matt Kenseth, David Ragan, Carl Edwards and Juan Montoya were the remaining top-10 finishers.

Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch got into some rough, close racing late in the race. For three laps Johnson tried to pass Busch underneath, but he was unable to make the pass. Finally, there was contact between the two cars, and Johnson almost spun out, losing six positions.

Busch finished 11th, while Johnson was 18th.

Kurt Busch’s No. 22 Dodge did not pass prerace inspection the first time through Sunday morning, and NASCAR did not release the car until 10 minutes before the engines were fired.

Although Busch appeared upset, the team didn’t appear panicked as the car sat in the inspection bay with Penske Racing competition director Travis Geisler and Busch crew chief Steve Addington looking on.

“NASCAR wasn’t 100 percent happy with what they saw on one of their gauges that kind of checks where the rear end is in the car, so we had to do a little work on it. … It’s a ‘go’ or ‘no-go’ type of gauge and it didn’t go,” Geisler said.

“We needed to make sure that it went. It wasn’t like there was any gray area that NASCAR was saying maybe we were or weren’t legal. We weren’t right yet.”

There is not expected to be any penalites from NASCAR.

Busch finished 22th.

Top-12 Chase leaders with 8 to go: 1. Stewart-2094, 2. Harvick-2087, 3. Keselowski 2083, 4. Edwards-2080, 5. J. Gordon-2071, 6. Kyle Busch- 2068, 7. Kenseth-2068, 8. Earnhardt- 2068, 9. Kurt Busch-2066, 10. Johnson- 2065, 11. Newman-2060, 12. Hamlin-2028

Kyle Busch started from the pole and dominated Saturday’s Truck Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, in which only six trucks finished on the lead lap.

Busch, who led 165 of 175 laps, crossed the finish line 3.816 seconds ahead of runner up Austin Dillon to post his sixth win in 14 starts this season and the 30th victory of his career. Kevin Harvick finished third, followed by Ron Hornaday Jr. and Johnny Sauter.

Busch led the first 130 laps and didn’t surrender the top spot until he came to pit road for tires and fuel on Lap 131. That handed the lead to Dillon, who didn’t pit until Lap 135.

By the time pit stops cycled through, Busch had opened his advantage over Dillon to nearly six seconds. Harvick was running third at that point, more than 12 seconds back.

Though Dillon closed the gap over the final 30 laps, Busch was able to cruise to the win, breaking a string of five straight Chevrolet victories in the series.

“I wish we could have come out a little closer to him off pit road,” Dillon said. “I lost a little time getting onto pit road, and that hurt us. But we came out leading the points with six (races) to go. We’ll focus on that, and we’re happy with this finish.”

Matt Crafton, James Buescher, Todd Bodine, Timothy Peters and Miguel Paludo were the remaining top-10 finishers.

Top-10 leaders after 18 of 24: 1. A. Dillon- 661, 2. Buescher-659, 3. Sauter-654, 4. Peters-636, 5. Hornaday- 614, 6. Crafton-610, 7. Coulter 603, 8. Whitt- 595, 9. Kligerman-593, 10. Bodine- 593

“ There’s no excuses now,” said Dale Earnhardt Jr. after his move to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008.

His first three seasons at Hendrick has been a struggle. He went through a pair of crew chiefs (including his cousin, Tony Eury Jr.), recorded just one victory in his first 108 starts, and qualified for just one Chase for the Championship.

He has not produced the kind of results that the millions of Earnhardt fans have hoped for.

Things appeared to be on the upswing for him, but a flat right front tire in Sunday’s New Hampshire race relegated him to a 17thplace finish

His fuel-strategy-aided, third-place finish two weeks ago in the opener of the 10- race Chase for the championship perked up the spirits of a lot of those fans, though it has yet to make believers out of a lot of observers.

Earnhardt himself is feeling a lot better about the situation these days.

A win is what he needs. He has not won since the 2008 race at Michigan, his first season with Hendrick.

His best career finish was third in 2003.

“These races are always real competitive and the racing always is kind of aggressive so you just kind of hope you can put together a full day, having the car run well and track position is real important. It’s difficult to pass here, but that’s no real difference than any other place,’ he continued.

“I think we are in a good spot,” he continued. “I think there are 11 other guys with nothing to lose either. They have the same attitude.”

“It’s time we put it all out there and see what happens.”

Two races into the Chase and Earnhardt is 8th, 26 points off the lead.

Weekend racing: It’s on to Dover’s Monster Mile for the Nationwide and Cup teams, while the Truck Series heads to Kentucky Speedway.

Sat., Oct. 1, Nationwide One Main 200, race 29 of 34; Start: 3:30 p.m.; TV: ESPN2.

Sat., Oct. 1, Camping World Trucks Kentucky 225, race 19 of 24; start: 8 p.m.; TV: SPEED.

Sun., Oct. 2, Sprint Cup AAA 400, race 29 of 36; start: 2 p.m.; TV: ESPN.

Racing trivia question: Where is Paul Menard’s hometown?

Last week’s question: How many Cup championships does Jeff Gordon have? Answer. Four.

Contact the Racing Reporter at hodges@race500.com.

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