Stewart-Haas shines, Junior's fall continues and more N.H. lessons
It was the kind of weekend that lightens moods and quickens the pace on a Monday morning. The Stewart-Haas Racing shop figures to be to a happy workplace after Ryan Newman milked enough fuel mileage at New Hampshire Motor Speedway to win in the No. 39 Chevrolet for the first time this season and team owner/teammate Tony Stewart chased in just behind, just like they started the race.
Newman, who gained one spot to a slightly-more-secure eighth in the Sprint Cup driver standings, said he was never concerned watching Stewart attempting to catch him.
"I wasn't nervous," he said. "I'd rather have Stewart behind me than anybody else. I have a lot of respect for him. I know the way he races. If we were side by side coming to the checkered, we'd have smoke coming off the fenders, because that's the kind of guys we are. We're not going to crash each other, but that's the kind of guys we are."
Stewart, still winless in 2011, but entering his most historically fruitful portion of the schedule, remained in the 11th points position with his second runner-up finish of the season.
"I was happy, period," he said. "I mean, you know when you're in that situation as an organization, it can't get any better than that. I can promise you, I didn't leave anything out there. That was as hard as I could run till the end. I couldn't get the rest of the way. I couldn't get any further than that."
Five things we learned at Loudon, N.H.:
"Yeah, that's pretty tight," Earnhardt Jr. conceded, "so we'll have to keep an eye on that."
Johnson led 19 laps early in the race by eschewing a pit sequence under caution, but a long green-flag run forced him to refuel under green, dropping him to 35th and a lap down. Johnson had recouped to seventh on Lap 207 of 301 but was stung by recurrent pit crew problems again on Lap 218 as he was penalized for a missing lug nut. Johnson surrendered a ninth restart position and fell into the field, then spun on Lap 240 when he claimed Juan Pablo Montoya cut down on him. Johnson restarted 30th, made contact with Bobby Labonte with 35 laps left but inched through the field to close out fifth finish of seven or better in his last seven races.
"I was just driving my guts out, man. Anything that could have gone wrong today did," he said. "It started out with a bad qualifying effort on Friday and we paid the price for that on pit road and track position at the start; and then we had some issues on pit road. And then [Montoya], I don't think of the three times he's wrecked me it's been intentional, but he's out of Mulligans and I've had enough of 'Oh, I'm sorry,' and you're spun out. It's happened way too often to the No. 48. Hopefully we can get that corrected moving forward and still among all that stuff going on, we rallied back to fifth. And we did it the hard way, by passing cars."