Hot/Not: Gordon, Johnson show Chase capabilities

301 laps at the Magic Mile produces one of the shorter oval track race distances of the Sprint Cup season. Also provided? A glimpse at what to expect for Round 2 of the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup. Oh, and a lobster, too.

HOT: There certainly was a more dominant duo at the end of Sunday's race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but the efforts turned in by five-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson and his teammate Jeff Gordon certainly couldn't have been too lost on the rest of the garage area. In fact, it may be quite the foreshadowing moment for how the two head into the Chase eight races from now.

Johnson (finished 5th) and Gordon (11th) battled issue after issue most of the day. For Johnson, it was a missing lugnut and later a spin, while Gordon suffered battery issues while leading before cutting a tire on the final lap. For their efforts, Johnson and Gordon showed up second and third, respectively, on NASCAR's statistical chart indicating total green-flag passes.

Johnson made 93 passes for position under green-flag conditions, while Gordon drove around a competitor for position 87 times. Comparatively, Ryan Newman faced less difficulty while leading the most laps and passing just 21 times. His teammate Tony Stewart — who finished second — made 51 passes for position.

Lastly of note from the green-flag passing statistic was Carl Edwards. The Roush Fenway driver talked post-race about how hard it was to pass Sunday in a manner that seemingly blamed external factors on the track and not his own race car's handling. Edwards, who finished 13th, made just 44 passes for position.

Why is this all good news for Gordon and Johnson? Because it's not going to be all roses during the Chase. To win, you have to be able to handle adversity. Gordon and Johnson showed Sunday they can do just that and still scratch out a decent finish.

NEUTRAL: Kyle Busch earned his 100th-career NASCAR victory in Saturday's Nationwide race at New Hampshire, a stat that's worthy of talking about merely for the number. Sunday, that success was washed away quickly when Busch made contact and later cut a tire en route to hitting the wall. {ysp:more}

Busch finished 36th, 77 laps down, and opened the door wide open for thoughts about how he'll fair once the Cup Series returns to New Hampshire for Round 2 of the Chase. Loudon is a very middle-of-the-road track for Busch, as he has one win and finishing average of 16.3 at the 1-mile oval.

HOT: Credit where credit is due certainly is the case with Stewart-Haas Racing. A team that seemed in quite the downward slide just weeks ago after firing competition director Bobby Hutchens turned that all around swiftly with a dominating performance Sunday.

Also dominating for SHR was the person in charge of the team's Twitter handle (@StewartHaasRcng). Following the race, the team's account laid on a pile of relevant statistics to how Newman and Stewart started and finished 1-2. The most interesting? It's been more than 54 years — the April 7, 1957 race at North Wilkesboro won by Fireball Roberts — since teammates started on the pole and finished in the same order.

The more you know? The more you know.

NOT: The euphemism "snatching defeat from the claws of victory" seems to be getting more and more representative of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Chase chances.

The combination of a mostly ill-handling race car plus a costly late pit-road violation (the No. 88 team was judged to leave a tire too far out in the pit box by officials) left Earnhardt with a meager 15th-place finish. Once appearing to be a lock for the Chase, Earnhardt is in full slide mode and now sits ninth in the championship standings, just seven points from being outside looking in.

NEUTRAL: TNT's six-race run is officially over for 2011 as a NASCAR broadcaster, and it sure was a roller coaster ride for the fan experience. A strong leadoff swing at Pocono seemed to quickly cure the ills fans faced with Fox's hyper-tight and pre-race storyline-driven coverage to start the year.

But TNT's faults soon showed with an incredible amount of commercials that led to an incredible amount of missed on-track moments. All of that, however, was at least edible enough if you had access to the RaceBuddy online component. It'd be nearly a crime if NASCAR hasn't renegotiated it's television package for next season to include an online feature for every single event.

Now, some hot laps to finish it off...

HOT: David Ragan, barring meltdown, is running well enough now to make the Chase. Purely for how nice of a guy he is, that's good for NASCAR. It should also help him from becoming the next NASCAR Sprint Cup has-been...

NOT: Bruton Smith responded to questions Friday about the Kentucky Speedway traffic debacle and probably made it worse. It's becoming quite clear that Smith is attempting to leverage the traffic issues into taxpayer-funded road improvements in the area. Last year? His company, Speedway Motorsports Inc., reported a $45 million profit and is forecasting the same this year...

HOT: I watched the Camping World Truck Series race at Iowa on DVR Sunday night and once again I fell in love with the racing at the track. It doesn't hurt that the trucks seem to drive better in traffic...

NOT: The weekly Jeff Burton update is still no good. Burton finished 16th Sunday, is now 25th in points and has to yet to post a Top-10 in 2011...

HOT: Bobby Labonte finished seventh Sunday for his best finish since the Daytona 500. I don't know anyone who could dislike that. You've got to wonder "what could have been" if Labonte had never left Joe Gibbs Racing...

Enjoy the final Sprint Cup off weekend of the year with a doubleshot of trucks and Nationwide sans Kyle Busch this weekend at Nashville.

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