Exciting restarts and a dangerous Tony Stewart at NHMS

My takeaway from the New Hampshire race is pretty much identical to what I said a few weeks ago following the Michigan event. Sunday at Loudon might not have been one of our better races for 2016, but at the same time, it definitely was one of the better races we’ve ever had up there in a while.

In a certain sense it was a typical Loudon race. In the first 218 laps we only had three cautions of which one was a competition caution by NASCAR at lap 35. In the final 37 laps we actually had four cautions.

The great thing about cautions is what happens after the cautions. Naturally I am talking about the restarts. Those restarts were pretty exciting which is normally the case no matter what track we are at.

Those restarts helped some drivers and conversely hurt some drivers. The most notable to me were Chase Elliott and Kurt Busch who had their day ruined due to tires getting cut down. To me this was also the second race in a row where the best car didn’t necessarily win the race. The Toyotas of Martin Truex Jr and Kyle Busch led 256 laps combined on Sunday, but neither were able to even get a top 5 finish out of it.

Tony Stewart: 'We're getting close' after runner-up finish at New Hampshire

The other storyline that came out of Sunday was Tony Stewart. I’m not too proud to admit I never saw this resurgence of Tony coming. They ran seventh at Michigan. They picked up the win at Sonoma and there he was Sunday finishing second. I’m just telling you now that Tony Stewart could be a dangerous individual once we get into the Chase.

I know the last handful of weeks there had been questions about Joe Gibbs Racing and had their dominance in 2016 evaporated. I think Sunday proved nothing is wrong over there. Sure, there was only one Toyota in the top five but that was Matt Kenseth who won the race for Joe Gibbs Racing. Not only did JGR dominate the race though, but there were periods where JGR and their alliance partner, the No. 78 Toyota were running first through fifth.

On the flip-side of that has to be Hendrick Motorsports. I realize of course there are circumstances beyond their control. A couple weeks ago at Daytona all four of their Chevrolets got caught up in the "Big One." Sunday marked the third consecutive race they haven’t had a single driver finish in the top 10.

Can anyone tell me the last time that happened?  I’ll even give you a hint. I was still a crew chief. Yes, it was 17 years ago in the year 2000 when Hendrick Motorsports went three races without a top 10 finish. So I have to believe there is cause for concern over there.

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We return to Loudon in 10 weeks as it is the second race in the Chase. If you left there Sunday evening after having a great race, you have to be pretty confident when you return. For those that didn’t have a good day, well they know they have a lot of work to get done before those 10 weeks are up.

So here we are with only seven races to go until the Chase begins. I think for a lot of drivers who still have an opportunity to make the Chase, that rubber band is getting tighter and tighter.

For drivers like Kyle Larson and A.J. Allmendinger it really isn’t how far out they are on points as it is how many drivers they would have to leap-frog to get up there to make it in on points. That incline is simply getting steeper each and every week for those drivers who still haven’t gotten a win and locked themselves into the Chase.