By Reid Spencer, NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
LOUDON, N.H. -- Yes, what the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers say about New Hampshire Motor Speedway is the gospel truth--that track position is critical and passing can be next to impossible among cars that are close to each other in speed.
Jimmie Johnson proved that theorem in Sunday's Camping World RV Sales 301 at the Magic Mile. The five-time champion started 43rd for the first time in career after his time was disallowed for a ride height violation in Friday's time trials, and getting all the way to the front of the field was too big a mountain to climb, even for a driver with Johnson's credentials.
Nevertheless, the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet SS ran as high as third and ultimately settled for a sixth-place finish. Johnson said he had to make virtually all of his position gains on restarts.
"You didn't have any other opportunity," he said. "Once we got single file, you couldn't complete a pass or really get position on someone. So restarts were your one and only opportunity to make something happen and everybody was doing what they could."
"We made the best of a bad situation, and that's all you can do," echoed crew chief Chad Knaus. "We wanted to make today a non-issue, and I think that's exactly what we did. We didn't need to win today, but the important thing is we didn't need to lose.
"We came out of here with a solid run."
In fact, Johnson extended his series lead to 56 points over second-place Clint Bowyer, who finished 13th.
Danica Patrick and Ricky Stenhouse Jr. can't seem to stay away from each other, either on or off the race track.
On Lap 237 of 302, Patrick drove hard into Turn 1 at New Hampshire--too hard as it turned out. Patrick's Chevy slid sideways, igniting a wreck that severely damaged the cars of Travis Kvapil and Stenhouse, her boyfriend.
Patrick, who exited the race in 37th place, apologized for misjudging the corner.
"What it felt like was either I misjudged the braking, or everyone jammed up a little bit," Patrick said. "I got sideways trying to slow down so that I didn't drive up into the back of anyone.
"I just got sideways, and there's nothing you can do. The worst part is that, obviously, I didn't want to take anybody with me. I feel bad--what can I say? We were having a reasonable race and just didn't mean to do it."
ANOTHER KIND OF CHAMPION
For the first time since the Chase for the Sprint Cup format was introduced in 2004, there's a distinct possibility that there might be different players in the drivers' and owners' championships.
With Brian Vickers' win at Loudon, the No. 55 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota--driven by Mark Martin, team owner Michael Waltrip and Vickers this year--moved into the second provisional wild card spot for the owners Chase.
Since the three drivers all run part-time schedules, they're not a factor in the drivers' championship, but the car could win the owners' title since its active in every race.
MWR executive vice president Ty Norris said MWR and No. 55 crew chief Rodney Childers have had their eyes on the owners' prize for a long time.
"Rodney Childers deserves to run for a championship as a crew chief," Norris said. "About a year and a half ago, we told him that we were going to run Mark Martin in 24 races and Michael in the Speedway races and we were not even sure who was going to drive the other races at that point. And Rodney has everybody knocking on his door, always, and we respect that. But he made the choice to stay, and that was a big choice for our organization.
"One of the very first things we talked about was racing for an owner's championship; let's shake up the system. We'll have multiple drivers but if we can win some races and be in a situation where we can run for an owner's championship, that can be just as remarkable as running for a driver's championship."
During the first nine years of the Chase, no car has been eligible for the owners' title without a full-time Chase driver behind the wheel. That could change this year.