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NASCAR Cup Series

Rapid Reaction: C’mon Martin, Get a Grip

The New Hampshire 301 proved to be eventful Sunday afternoon. After a hard-fought race with a total of six different leaders, Matt Kenseth grabbed the checkered flag, securing his second victory of the season. But the jubilation was short-lived, as NASCAR found Kenseth’s car in violation of post-race inspection measurements. Fines and penalties are typically issued on Tuesday or Wednesday.

However, amidst the ranks, many other headlines sprung up – from Hendrick Motorsports’ under-performance to broken car parts. Here are five major points from Sunday’s event.

Can JGR Be Stopped?
From early on in the race, the Joe Gibbs Racing organization was up front. Kyle Busch led 133 laps — nearly half the 301-lap event – making him appear the one to beat. However, in the end, Kenseth, who remained in the top 10 consistently, leaped into action at the right time. It resulted in the organization’s eighth trip to victory lane in 2016. Busch placed eighth.

Additionally, teammate Denny Hamlin stayed solidly within the top 10 for the majority of the race, but after a bad restart with less than 25 laps to go, the driver had to make up for lost ground. He salvaged a ninth-place finish. On the other hand, Carl Edwards’ strong performance found trouble after being involved in a wreck on Lap 286, and he placed 20th.

There is no denying the organization is on fire right now. And with the Chase coming in two months, the Toyota-based team could be the championship front-runners. Timing is everything.

It was a Major Blowout
During the second half of the race, tire issues began to plague drivers. Both Alex Bowman, subbing for Dale Earnhardt Jr, and Chase Elliott brought out the caution for blown tires. A few laps later, Kurt Busch suffered the same issue, resulting in an accident involving both Penske Racing drivers, Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano.

This was unfortunate for each driver involved, as all of them were within the top 10 when the accidents occurred. The tire failures eliminated major contenders and has begun to change the complexion of the Race to the Chase.

The HMS Blues
The organization has struggled recently – Sunday was no exception. In fact, this event marked the third week in a row that Hendrick Motorsports has failed to post a top 10. Jimmie Johnson and company seemed to be stout heading into the weekend, scoring the pole. However, as soon as the green flag waved, Team 48 started moving backward. By Lap 45 he was outside of the top 10 and struggled to advance past the competition. In the end, Johnson collected a 12th-place finish.

Each of his teammates had a tougher day. Elliott and Bowman suffered aforementioned tire issues, while Kasey Kahne was collected in an accident towards the end of the event. With the playoffs looming, HMS needs a little, well, a lot of luck to get them back on track.

Perturbed on Pit Road
Kevin Harvick continued to suffer from pit road mistakes Sunday, something that has plagued the team this season. The extra time on pit road cost them several spots and placed them as far back as 12th. While Harvick was upset with his crew, his No. 4 Haas Automation Chevy was fast. He steadily climbed his way back into the top 10, scoring a solid fourth-place finish. Still, he proclaimed his feeling as being “disgusted.” And many thought he was holding back in the adjective department.

While the No. 4 team is a strong entry every week, they will need to fix their pit road struggles before the Chase begins. The playoffs are unforgiving, and extra time on pit road could cost them a seat in the Final Four.

Hey Martin, Get a Grip!
Martin Truex Jr. was a strong contender Sunday, leading 123 laps and consistently competing in the top five until the final 50 laps. The No. 78 Toyota Camry suffered a broken shifter just before the team came in for a pit stop. He was given vice grips to counter the hindrance, but it proved to be futile. The clutch broke as well, and the driver was stuck in fourth gear. He would ultimately go home with a 16th-place finish — hence leaving the redemption card on the table as he continued to lick his wounds this weekend, following a pit road penalty not of his making.

“It’s not tough; you’re just a sitting duck,” Truex told NBCSN after the race. “There’s nothing you can do to get going. Unfortunately, we got passed by a lot of cars. We pitted for tires on the last stop so we could get some momentum going … I think we passed 10 cars in the last 10 laps. We had a good car, just nothing to show for it today.”

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By Stephanie Adair

Stephanie Adair, a high-school student from St. John’s, Florida, is dual-enrolled in college working toward a degree in Converged Communications. As a contributor to POPULAR SPEED, she enjoys joining her love of writing with her passion for motorsports.