The Hot Pass: Martin hangs tough for win
Mark Martin was "speechless" after winning the first race of the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship and his first race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in his 26th career start.
Martin's victory — his fifth of the season — allowed him to assume a 35-point lead over three-time defending champion Jimmie Johnson, who finished fourth on Sunday.
Around the garage
"That was awesome right there," Martin said.
"You're unbelievable," crew chief Alan Gustafson said to his driver."It's unbelievable how good you are."
Gustafson called the race-winning decision to pit early from the lead on Lap 243. The gamble enabled Martin to regain the point 28 laps later. But the quest to Martin's 40th career Cup victory was delayed by three cautions in the final 23 laps, with the final restart earning the ire of Juan Pablo Montoya.
With three laps remaining on the final start, Montoya lined up on the inside with Hamlin behind. Martin maintained the lead and chose the outside line with Hendrick Motorsports teammate Johnson in tow.
When the race went green, Montoya refused to give Martin space and accused the No. 5 of slowing in the apex of the corner which bottled up traffic. That move enabled Martin to sail away.
"He always runs very clean, so I was kind of surprised when he did that," Montoya said. "I know it's the Chase and everything, but you just learn from it. I would have done the same thing. I think you've got to do it to somebody that you trust is not going to knock you out, because I think if I would have done — if the second place guy wasn't me — I think somebody else would have been a little bit more aggressive.
"Did I get screwed, yeah, because I got (Denny Hamlin) beside me the last three laps and he drove away."
Hamlin, who finished second followed by Montoya, Johnson and Kyle Busch, saw the move differently.
"(Montoya) was in a bad spot," Hamlin said. "Even though his car may have been quicker, it didn't matter because (Martin) had position on him and (Martin) used it to his advantage. He just kind of held the 42 low, and when he did that, there's just no gripping your race car."
Martin admits he "fought hard" for the win and maintains he battled with honor.
Mark Martin takes the checkered flag, but where did everybody finish behind him?
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"To be real honest, stopping is a strong word," Martin said. "I made sure that I didn't go in there and lose it once I got in front of him. But his car was probably really strong there.
"My car was not fast into the corner, so it probably felt, especially to him — we made all our time through the center and off the corner and kind of had to get into the corners easy, and once you got the lead, you need to make sure you don't drive it in there and turn it sideways, slide up to the top of the racetrack. I mean, how stupid would I look then?"
Prior to the race, Martin accused of Montoya of being the most dangerous contestant in the Chase. The driver of the No. 42 Chevrolet found the declaration ironic.
"He's the most dangerous guy," Montoya said of Martin. "He's the guy with the most experience here. He hasn't won a championship, and he wants one pretty bad. I mean, I know the 48 is going to be there every week and everything, same thing as always, but if somebody wants it really bad, it's (Martin)."
He could've been a contender ...
The Dale Earnhardt Jr. fans know and love appeared destined for a top-10 finish before David Reutimann nailed him in Turn 4 on Lap 283.
"(Reutimann) ain't got enough talent to run in the top five I guess. He run down into the side of me and spun me out late in the race," Earnhardt said. "I mean we're all running real hard but you've got to know how much race car you've got and you've got to know how much talent you've got before you go down in the corner.
"He never knows. It's disappointing. We had a good car. We run hard and worked hard all day long and we had the best car at certain times in the race. I felt like we had a top-three car. The AMP Energy/National Guard Chevrolet ain't got no finish. I hate it for my guys that worked real hard. We worked hard all day trying to get a good finish out of it."
Earnhardt was scored 35th. Reutimann continued on to a 12th-place finish.
Star studded box
Todd Parrott has been a regular fixture on the No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing pit box as a sounding board for crew chief Greg Erwin.
But on Sunday, team co-owner/Red Sox owner John Henry and his buddies — including New Hampshire Governor John Lynch — took over the VIP seats.
Blunder of the day
What was NASCAR thinking holding the yellow flag on the last lap after AJ Allmendinger spun on the frontstretch and was slow getting up to speed with the leaders coming out of Turn 4?
"That was absolutely stupid," said Darian Grubb, crew chief for the No. 14. "The No. 44 was sitting there the whole lap. (NASCAR) could have called it way earlier, they just wanted to let the race play out."
Clint Pittman, rear tire changer on the No. 07 Chevrolet, was clipped by Denny Hamlin during pit stops on Lap 69. Pittman injured his foot and was replaced by Shane Church, who practices with the backup crew at Richard Childress Racing.
Casey Mears restarted 27th following the accident and remained outside the top 25 until a call to stay out on Lap 193 by crew chief Todd Berrier. Mears restarted sixth and finished 13th, his third top 15 finish in the last six races.
Pittman will see an orthopedic doctor on Monday. Doctors at the track infield care center suspected a small fracture to the top of his foot, according to RCR pit crew coordinator Matt Clark.
Overheard in the garage
After David Ragan clipped Kurt Busch's nose during a fuel-only pit stop on Lap 162 and the spotter attempted to assess the damage, the driver said over the radio:
"I'm on the backstretch, (freakin') Einstein."