LOUDON, N.H. – Thoughts, observations and a few questions following Sunday's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Round 1 of 10 in the Chase for the Sprint Cup:
• Since coming into the Sprint Cup series, Greg Biffle has always been the epitome of dark horse. While everyone's attention had been on Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards heading into the opening round of the Chase, Biffle and crew chief Greg Erwin played it cool, delivering the kind of flawless performance that demanded attention and earned the respect of the other 11 teams in the Chase.
The Roush Fenway Racing team unloaded on Friday with a fast race car and remained fast throughout Saturday's practice. Then on Sunday, Biffle found himself with a car that got better as the day went on – which, according to him, is a turnaround from the usual pattern.
• Despite Biffle's impressive run, I must remind you that only once since the advent of the Chase has the driver who won the first race here at Loudon gone on to win the title (Kurt Busch in 2004).
• Race runner-up Johnson was thinking big picture – like a champion should – after the race.
"Second anytime is no fun, but when you look at the guys who had bad luck today …" said Johnson. "Victory Lane would have been great for this race team, but second is not a bad thing, either."
Johnson was much better on long runs and it was almost a sure thing that if Biffle got past him, it was all over for the Lowe's team.
• Much to the enjoyment of the large group of NASCAR fans across the country who spend far too much time in chat rooms talking about how much they hate him, Kyle Busch had one of his worst outings this season. The broken sway bar early in the race, coupled with time spent repairing it and a subsequent penalty for rules violations on pit road, kept the No. 1 seed in the Chase unusually quiet for much of the race.
I've always felt that as emotional a driver as Busch is, one bad race like this is about all he can stomach. Two bad races in a row and it could be lights out for this team, and we'll all be talking about the big choke. Busch has never had good luck in the Chase.
• Did Joe Gibbs Racing plan it so that young phenom Joey Logano would have such a stinker of a Cup debut? I mean, this kid wasn't just a backmarker, he was one of the worst in the field. Either it was a brilliant move to lower expectations about the 18-year-old, or the Hall of Fame Racing team needs to be shuttered immediately. They gave Logano a car that was complete junk.
Don't they get their stuff from JGR? What in the world did they do to screw it up so badly by the time it got on the track? What sounded like laughter and "I told you so" coming from off in the distance was from former HOF driver J.J. Yeley.
Note to HOF team owners Jeff Moorad and Tom Garfinkle: No one here cares about how good you guys are in baseball. It's time to get it right here or get out of racing.
• Hey Tony Stewart, nice pit work on Sunday by your new race team. First they let Johnny Sauter drive away with the jack stuck under his Chevy and then they force you to have another miscue in your JGR ride on pit road. I can just see you shaking your head now.
• Dale Earnhardt Jr. looked like a real contender for the win, leading 79 laps and at one point extending his lead over the field to well over four seconds. Then he met up with former teammate Michael Waltrip, who jacked him around for more than a dozen laps and subsequently took the steam out of Junior's charge.
Sure, Earnhardt complained about getting a bad set of tires before going on and on about how his car got worse as the race went on, but from where I sit, the battle with Waltrip got into his head and he was never the same the rest of the afternoon.
• Having raced against Robby Gordon for a number of years in Champ Cars, I would have figured that Patrick Carpentier was more than familiar with Gordon's style of racing – which, simply put, is "get out of my way or I'll wreck you." Gordon just flat-out ran over Carpentier late in the race, putting the Gillett Evernham rookie into the wall. The real story here is that both drivers are fighting for a spot in the top 35.
"I don't know what he doesn't understand in his brain there," Carpentier said. "He just took me out. That was it."
Gordon won this battle and remains in the top 35, while Carpentier's GEM Dodge is 38th.
However, keeping his team in the top 35 may mean nothing unless Gordon can keep his race team afloat amid the multiple lawsuits he faces and the absence of a deal with a manufacturer or sponsor for next season.
• The hottest rumor floating around the Cup garage this weekend is that Chip Ganassi still is trying to make a deal with another team to keep himself in NASCAR. This week it was supposedly an arrangement with Michael Waltrip Racing, which would expand to four cars and put Montoya in a Toyota.
• Late in the race, Michael McDowell and AJ Allmendinger collided on the front straight, knocking Allmendinger out of the race. It looked like Allmendinger's spotter cleared him prematurely, causing the Red Bull driver to drive into McDowell. However, McDowell's explanation of the incident left me shaking my head.
"You know, I hate it," McDowell said. "I don't want to run over AJ, he's a friend of mine, but I'm not going to roll out of the gas, too."
Sure, Michael. Try something like that with Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick or Tony Stewart and see where it gets you.
• Maybe I'm in the minority here, but I enjoy seeing Kurt Busch run well. Watching him help (soon to be former) teammate Ryan Newman win this year's Daytona 500 dramatically changed my opinion of the elder Busch brother. It would be nice to see Busch score a few more top-10s before the end of the season. Sunday's sixth-place run marked his second consecutive top-10.
So who had the better day, Johnson or Edwards? Both of their teams maintained the kind of consistency they displayed during the regular season, and now they are tied atop the standings.
And Kyle Busch may have had his one mulligan race – or not.
Consistency and victories win championships in NASCAR, and the Chase as it currently is formatted rewards teams that can accomplish both.
It's still early. Don't count anyone out yet, not even Matt Kenseth.
See you in Dover.
- Kyle Busch