Twice in his five-year reign, Johnson has gone to Race No. 2 of the Chase in a deeper hole than both Gordon and Busch find themselves in now. In 2006, Johnson finished 39th in the Chase opener. Calibrated into today's points system, he was 39 points back of the leader. Last season, Johnson went to Dover trailing by 26 points.
"It's a long Chase – there's still nine more races to go," Busch said Friday. "There's been periods of time this year where we come into the race as the points leader, have a bad week and fall back to fifth in points – 20-something points behind the leader. In three or four races we make it back up."
Four different times this season Busch has taken and given up the points lead. It's taken him anywhere between three and 11 races to get back into the lead. Notably, he made up a 27-point deficit in just three weeks. What's notable about that rebound is it happened just five races into the season when the point gaps were tight at the top, just as they are now.
Busch can take solace that he wasn't beat on speed Monday at Chicagoland, but rather fuel mileage. He ran out of fuel in the closing laps, knocking him from the top 10 to 22nd.
To some degree, the same can be said of Gordon. Though he and his team missed the setup at Chicagoland, they did race their way back into the top 10 before they ran out of fuel.
Gordon revealed Friday that he would have been better off not coming down pit road at Chicagoland. With his engine cut off, he had no idea how fast he was going and, as a result, got dinged for speeding. For that, he was penalized, which cost him three or four spots and, by extension, points.
"We've got some work to do," Gordon said Friday. "[But] we are by no means out of this thing by Chicago not being a good race."
Other goings on at New Hampshire Motor Speedway:
In the wake of Monday's fuel-mileage race at Chicagoland, there was lots of talk about how to conserve fuel and what, if anything, NASCAR could do to ensure races aren't decided by who has enough gas to make it to the end.
"The first trick is to drive a Ford," Carl Edwards said. "Everybody knows they get better fuel mileage than the other brands."
Monday's race provided ample evidence to support the idea that technique trumps equipment. Stewart, using a Hendrick engine, didn't run out of gas; Gordon, Ryan Newman and Jimmie Johnson, using the same engine, did. Kevin Harvick, in full-on race mode, roared by Kenseth to finish second under full power, while Kenseth, in full conservation mode, ran out with a lap to go.
As for what NASCAR could do to eliminate fuel-mileage races, Gordon said it best: "HereÃ¢ï¿½ï¿½s the thing, it all just comes down to cautions. It's just when the caution falls. If NASCAR doesnÃ¢ï¿½ï¿½t want to see it come down to fuel mileage then let us run a little longer under caution before they open up the pits. That will solve that."
Drivers aren't sure if the rule changes NASCAR will implement for next month's race at Talladega will completely eliminate the two-by-two racing, but they do believe the changes will mean they can't push as long.
"I don't think we are going to be able to stay connected as long," Johnson said. "Any time you put a bigger plate on the cars it allows for a larger closing rate with more opportunities to pass with more power. With that said, I don't think the changes are large enough to have us not push. That threshold for pushing, the grip level is still so high at the race track that I don't think it's going to separate us yet but it should make for more passing."
Tony Stewart will fly from New Hampshire to Eldora Speedway in Ohio to race Friday night. When asked if the risk of racing in another series bothers him, he replied, "I had to drive a rental car from the airport to here and that's probably just as dangerous as going and driving a race car somewhere. So what do you do? Do you just ride in the transporter to the race track every weekend? You have got to live life. No, I'm not worried about it at all."