Kasey Kahne was the big winner on Sunday, solidifying his Chase chances and taking over the top Wild Card position with his second victory of the year. He took advantage of a miscommunication on the No. 11 team of Denny Hamlin between Hamlin and crew chief Darian Grubb to take the lead on the final restart and hold it the rest of the way.
But Kahne wasn't the only Hendrick driver to do well on Sunday, as we shall see.
Up: Hendrick Motorsports
Kasey Kahne won the race, but all four HMS drivers ran well. Jimmie Johnson could easily have won if not for bad timing on the last caution. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon were strong all race, and all Hendrick drivers finished in the top seven and posted top-5 driver ratings for the race. A solid effort by the Hendrick organization to get its fifth win of the year. The odds of reaching double-digit victories are looking excellent!
Down: Kyle Busch
Another dominant car, another run ruined by disastrous mistakes. Rowdy can blame his team for lugnut issues, but he has only himself to thank for a pit road speeding penalty (actually three on the same stop) and sliding through his pit box on the last stop. The No. 18 looked to be the class of the field after winning the pole and leading over 60 laps early, but getting mired deep in the field doomed Busch to a 16th-place finish.
Up: Denny Hamlin
Hamlin drove an amazing race on Sunday, leading 150 laps and furiously slicing and dicing his way through the field to a second-place finish after a miscommunication with crew chief Darian Grubb on the final pit stop. The short-track master may have let this one get away, but Hamlin is looking like a serious title contender with a championship-winning crew chief at the helm.
Down: Sam Hornish Jr./A.J. Allmendinger
A.J. Allmendinger's loss is Sam Hornish Jr.'s gain. Problem is, Hornish isn't making much of his opportunity. After crashing at Daytona, he ran a lackluster race at Loudon, finishing off the lead lap with a driver rating of 65.5. Hornish seems more in his element in the Nationwide Series, where he is doing just fine this year. Think Joey Logano, but with not quite so much talent. I'm not giving up on him yet (he was rushed to the Cup Series in his first go-around, after all), but so far he's been less than spectacular.
For Allmendinger's part, every race missed due to his suspension after failing a drug test is bad on a multitude of fronts. He's losing seat time, the obviously negative story continues, and well, what does a Sprint Cup driver do on a Sunday afternoon if he's not at the track? I don't know, but I assume A.J. isn't happy about it.
Up: Brian Vickers
In just his fourth start of the year, Vickers ran another excellent race in his quest for redemption. Prior to the last caution, he was looking like a good bet to finish in the top-10, if not in the top-five. Even still, a solid 15th-place finish was another bit of evidence that the still-young Vickers deserves another shot at a full-time Sprint Cup ride.
Down: Regan Smith
Not very much has been written about the one-car operation from Denver, Colorado this year, primarily because Regan Smith & Co. haven't pulled off any shockers like they did last year at Darlington. A mediocre season continued at New Hampshire with a 26th-place run, three laps down to the leaders, the fifth straight finish outside the top 25 for Team 78. I like this team and hopefully they can put together some better runs before long.
Up: Good racing
Look, people! There can actually be good racing without wrecks, provided we're not at a restrictor-plate track. Passing that matters, real strategy, late-race drama, dominating performances spoiled by miscommunication and heartbreak. Yes, I know there were just three cautions for 15 laps and no crashes at all. But guess what, that's okay. The racing is what matters, and even at a track where passing is difficult, the world's finest stock car drivers put on a great show.
Down: Stewart-Haas Racing
Ryan Newman finished 10th and 12th on Sunday, respectively, which isn't terrible by any means. But the organization was hoping for much, much more at a track where both drivers won last year. Newman led a 1-2 finish for the team in this race last year, and Stewart won at Loudon in the Chase last year en route to his third Cup title. Stewart was lucky even to finish on the lead lap after being trapped a lap down for a good portion of the race, and it was all Newman could do to finish in the top-10.
Photo courtesy of NASCARmedia.com
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