If the rest of the Chase for the Sprint Cup is like Sunday’s opening round, there is going to be a mountain of wrecked race cars back at home at Charlotte race-shop central.
And fan interest should be boosted considerably.
Chase Race One presented barely controlled chaos Sunday in the Sylvania300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Ultimately, the survivor – and the guy with the best fuel mileage when it counted – was Clint Bowyer.
The caution flag flew eight times, and, by race’s end, seven of the 12 Chase drivers were involved in one or more accidents.
And the race was full of oddities:
--Bowyer, winless this year, had an obnoxiously dominant car but needed a lost gamble on fuel by Tony Stewart’s team to reach victory lane.
--Kevin Harvick, whose team has performed with solid consistency all season, got off to a miserable start Sunday with a couple of bad pit decisions but rallied for a fifth-place finish.
--Kyle Busch’s car was off the lead pace all day.
--Four-time champion Jimmie Johnson was on the back end of at least two incidents, had to pit late for a loose wheel and finished 25th, a lap down and the worst of the Chase drivers.
--Perhaps the oddest of the odd – Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran in the top 10 most of the day and finished an alarmingly high fourth.
Holy cow. Bring on Race Two.
Bowyer, considered a darkhorse, at best, in the Chase, led 177 of the race’s 300 laps but seemed destined to finish second to Stewart, who led 100, over the closing portion of the race. At one point during the afternoon, Bowyer had a seven-second lead, but minor carburetor problems produced trouble for him on restarts and opened the door for Stewart to move in front.
Stewart, Bowyer and Jeff Burton, among the leaders, were trying to stretch their final fuel load to the end. Stewart ran out – a few seconds after Burton’s tank ran dry – after crossing the start-finish line with two to go, and Bowyer swept into the lead.
“I don’t know what happened to our car halfway through the race,” Bowyer said. “The carburetor started missing. I couldn’t get going on restarts. I hate it for Tony. You hate to win races like that, but I’ve lost a few this year, too.
“This is momentum. That’s exactly what this team needed. I’m excited. Second in points. Let’s go get ’em.”
Stewart dropped from first to 24th in a heartbeat, a spread of 94 points.
“We went down swinging for sure,” Stewart said. “It’s hard to lose one that way.”
The day’s first major incident involving Chase contenders occurred on lap 214, two laps after a green-flag restart. Carl Edwards slipped up the racetrack and hit Hamlin, sending Hamlin into a slide and dropping him from fourth to 22nd.
Ten laps later, Kurt Busch and Burton made contact in turn two, and that incident resulted in Johnson slamming into the rear of Kyle Busch’s car, pushing Busch into a spin. As Busch slowed, Kasey Kahne slammed into the 18 car’s rear end.
On lap 233, Chase driver Matt Kenseth slid after contact and slapped the second-turn wall.
Nine laps later, Kurt Busch, who battled loose handling all day, slid into Joey Logano, forcing Logano into the second-turn wall.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 28 years. He has written several books on NASCAR, including "NASCAR: The Definitive History of America's Sport" and "Then Tony Said To Junior: The Best NASCAR Stories Ever Told". He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.