Simply no room for error in '09 Chase

Updated: September 28, 2009, 3:13 PM ET

AP Photo/Jim Cole

Kasey Kahne limps to the garage after the engine in his No. 9 Dodge blew up on Lap 67.

Excluding Kasey Kahne's blown engine, the average finish of the other 11 Chase drivers Sunday was 8.1.

What does that mean, you ask? It means the driver who wins the 2009 playoff probably needs to finish in the top five almost every race.

The Chasers dominated things on the 1-mile oval at New Hampshire, sweeping the top four spots and claiming six of the top seven.

"You could have thrown a blanket over the five [Chasers] that finished up front," Kurt Busch told reporters after finishing sixth. "It just was a matter of which sequence you came through."

The worst finisher of the 11 Chase drivers who completed the race was Carl Edwards in 17th, which normally isn't a terrible day, but it left Edwards 11th in the Chase standings, 113 points behind Mark Martin.

"We worked hard all day and my guys did a great job on pit road, but it just wasn't fast," Edwards said of his No. 99 Ford after the race. "In racing, it's really important to be fast."

The need for speed goes without saying, but it isn't just a fast car. All the playoff drivers have fast cars. Sunday's results came down to pit strategy, making good decisions on dangerous restarts and knowing when to race aggressively.

Juan Pablo Montoya, who raced conservatively all season as part of his team's strategy for making the Chase, went for it Sunday in the Chase opener, finishing third. He angered Jeff Burton with a bumping incident late in the race and was upset with winning driver Martin for slowing down to cut him off on the final restart.

Denny Hamlin, who edged by Montoya at the end for second place, said no one is going to give an inch now.

"I think everyone panics,'' Hamlin said in a postrace interview. "When you see that the top 10 are all Chase guys, you think, 'Man, I have to fight for every position.' Track position means so much, so every hole you see on the track, you immediately go for. Everyone is jumping to every opportunity he can."

One tiny mistake can bring major negative consequences. A loose axle cap on Tony Stewart's car transformed his day from a possible victory to a 14th-place finish.

Stewart had a 237-point lead entering Richmond 10 days ago. With the points reset for the playoff and one mediocre race, he goes to Dover in sixth place, 74 points back.

Stewart wasn't in a mood to talk after the race Sunday, but crew chief Darian Grubb didn't need to talk to his boss to know how he felt.

"I'm sure he is upset, just as much as I am," Grubb said immediately after the race. "He should be. We let him down. We have to assemble that car to the utmost of our abilities and we missed it."

Everything is magnified in the 10-race playoff. Finishing in the top 15 consistently was good enough to make the Chase. It won't be anywhere near good enough to win the Chase.

Jimmie Johnson's average finish was 5.7 in the Chase races last year when he won his third consecutive title, by 69 points over Edwards.

With eight Chase drivers finishing in the top 11 at New Hampshire, it's clear the 2009 champion will need a similar effort to win the title this year.

Nationwide Series: Busch takes points lead to Dover

The Nationwide Series was off last weekend. The series races Saturday at Dover International Speedway, with eight events remaining in the 2009 season.

Kyle Busch is trying to win his first Nationwide title and become the fourth consecutive Cup regular to win the feeder league crown. He has a commanding 201-point lead over Carl Edwards in the season standings.

Brad Keselowski is the top driver who isn't a full-time Cup racer. He ranks third in the season standings, 96 points behind Edwards

Camping World Truck Series: Hornaday vs. Harvick clash aids Busch

Kyle Busch won his fifth Camping World Truck Series race of the season Saturday at New Hampshire, but he might have fallen short if not for some team disharmony at Kevin Harvick Inc.

Harvick, the team owner who also was competing in the event, and employee Ron Hornaday Jr. have some issues to work through.

Hornaday finished second and Harvick was third. But Harvick felt he had the fastest truck, so Hornaday should have let him by so he could try to run down Busch, who was low of fuel.

This is a problem of Cup drivers racing in feeder leagues. Hornaday is leading the standings and trying to win a championship for KHI. Harvick is racing for fun and just trying to win the event.

So what's more important, Hornaday's getting five extra points for second place or Harvick's getting a victory for KHI?

Terry Blount covers motorsports for ESPN.com. His book, "The Blount Report: NASCAR's Most Overrated and Underrated Drivers, Cars, Teams, and Tracks," was published by Triumph Books and is available in bookstores. Click here to order a copy. Blount can be reached at terry@blountspeak.com.


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Racing Resources Says …

Sprint Cup Series

Mark Martin

Martin

  • Mark Martin won the Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. It was his 40th Cup victory in his 749th career start. Martin took sole possession of 16th on NASCAR's all-time win list. It was his fifth victory in 2009, leading all drivers.
  • Martin scored his first Cup win in 26 races at New Hampshire. His previous best New Hampshire finish was second, which he did three times. He became the 10th different winner in the past 10 races at New Hampshire.
  • Martin scored his fourth straight top-5 finish, extending a streak that began at Bristol.
  • Hendrick Motorsports scored its seventh victory at New Hampshire, tying Roush Fenway Racing for the most by any owner in the 30 Cup races at New Hampshire. Martin scored the ninth win for Hendrick Motorsports this season.
  • Martin led two times for 68 laps.
  • Chevrolet has scored 13 wins in 2009, leading all manufacturers. Toyota has nine, Dodge has three and Ford has two.
  • Denny Hamlin (second) has scored seven straight top-10 finishes in a streak that began at the second Pocono race.
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (third) posted his first top-10 finish in six races at New Hampshire. He led the most laps (105). This marked Montoya's 100th career start.
  • Jimmie Johnson (fourth) has led in 38 of the 51 Chase races. Johnson earned the most bonus points (130) in the first 26 races. Johnson is the only driver who has led in all 17 superspeedway races this season (restrictor-plate races excluded).
  • Brian Vickers (11th) extended a 10-race streak of top-15 finishes that began at Daytona in July.
  • Michael Waltrip finished 27th in his 750th career start.
  • Tony Stewart (14th) has finished outside the top 10 in the past five races. He has scored 18 top-10 finishes in 27 races this season.
  • Jeff Burton (16th) has finished 16th or worse in the past 13 races, since Michigan in June.
  • This was Jeff Burton's 475th consecutive Cup race.
  • Joey Logano (21st) was the highest-finishing rookie of the year contender.
  • Dale Earnhardt Jr. finished 35th in his 350th consecutive Cup race.
  • Elliott Sadler (eighth) and Stewart each have been running at the finish in the past 50 races, the longest current streak. Sadler posted his best finish since posting a fifth in the 2009 Daytona 500.
  • The top 10 consisted of two Toyotas, five Chevrolets, one Ford and two Dodges.

Camping World Truck Series

Kyle

Busch

  • Kyle Busch won the Heluva Good! 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. It was Busch's 14th series win in his 65th start and his first Trucks win at New Hampshire in his fifth start.
  • Busch has now won in all three National Touring Series on six different tracks. He is the 12th different race winner at New Hampshire.
  • Busch won his fifth race of 2009. He has won his past three starts.
  • This is the third win for Toyota at New Hampshire and 11th of the season.
  • Billy Ballew Motorsports posted its 15th series victory.
  • Busch led four times for 75 laps, including the final 22.
  • Teammates Ron Hornaday Jr. (second) and Kevin Harvick (third) battled each other hard the last 20 laps, allowing Busch to pull away and win. Hornaday scored his eighth top-two finish in 2009. Harvick scored his third top-three finish in three starts in 2009.
  • Matt Crafton (fourth) scored his eighth top-5 finish of 2009.
  • Hornaday led 101 of the 200 laps, the most of all drivers. He has led 424 of the past 600 laps raced at New Hampshire.
  • Johnny Sauter (fifth) scored his fourth consecutive top-5. Sauter recovered after running out of gas with about 25 laps to go. Sauter was also the best-finishing rookie of the year contender.
  • The event featured a race-record three cautions.
  • The top 10 consisted of four Toyotas, two Ford and four Chevrolets.

-- Racing Resources