Denny Hamlin

Smokin' Start to the Chase

Tony Stewart wins first Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway

by Matt Taliaferro

Just days ago, Tony Stewart called himself an underdog in the Chase for the Championship. Two weeks prior, he wondered aloud whether his No. 14 team even deserved a spot in NASCAR’s playoffs. On Monday, Stewart proved he’s no underdog — and he surely belongs in the company of title contenders — as the two-time Cup champion kicked off the Sprint Cup Series’ Chase by saving enough fuel to outlast the field in the GEICO 400 from Chicagoland Speedway.

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<p> Tony Stewart captured his first win of the 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season in the sport's first Chase race at Chicagoland Speedway.</p>

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Richmond International Raceway

Previewing the NASCAR Wonderful Pistachios 400

by Matt Taliaferro and Nathan Rush

Race: Wonderful Pistachios 400
Location: Richmond, Va.
When: Saturday, Sept. 10
TV: ABC (7:30 p.m. EST)
2010 Winners: Kyle Busch (May); Denny Hamlin (Sept.)
May 2011 Winner: Kyle Busch

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<p> Previewing the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' final regular season race, the Wonderful Pistachios 400 from Richmond International Raceway.</p>

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Michigan International Speedway

Previewing the Pure Michigan 400

by Matt Taliaferro and Nathan Rush

Race: Pure Michigan 400
Location: Brooklyn, Mich.
When: Sunday, Aug. 21
TV: ESPN (1:00 p.m. EST)

2010 Winners: Denny Hamlin (June), Kevin Harvick (Aug.)
June 2011 Winner: Denny Hamlin

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<p> Athlon Sports previews this Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan International Speedway.</p>

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Rocketing Past the Competition

Stewart-Haas Racing smokes the field in Loudon

by Matt Taliaferro

A typical fuel-mileage race on the NASCAR Sprint Cup circuit finds a surprise winner in Victory Lane — a driver and team running mid-pack that have nothing to lose by rolling the proverbial dice and stretching a tank of gas to the max.

Sunday’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301 was not your typical fuel mileage race.

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<p> Teammates Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart qualified and finished 1-2 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series' Lenox Industrial Tools 301 from New Hampshire Motor Speedway.</p>

“It’s no secret we’ve been struggling this year,” Stewart said. “But it really shows me the depth of the people we got in our organization.

“Our guys at our shop just keep plugging away, they keep working, they keep their chins up. That’s probably what I’m most proud of. It’s easy when things are going right. But when times are tough and you have a day like today, you see how your organization battles. That, to me, shows the character of what Stewart-Haas Racing is about, what our people are like.”

Newman’s win could pay big dividends for his playoff hopes. He had been teetering on the Chase bubble for weeks, but the New Hampshire victory falls just one week after a strong fourth-place showing at Kentucky. He now finds himself eighth in the championship standings and with insurance via the win that, were he to fall out of the top 10, could qualify his team based on the two wild card entries awarded to race-winners.

Stewart’s standing is a bit more precipitous. Normally a driver who comes alive in the hot summer months, Stewart is winless in 2011. Still, he is tied with Hamlin for 10th in the standings, although Hamlin’s win at Michigan serves as the tiebreaker. But with one of Stewart’s favorite tracks on tap — the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway — it could be the start of an SHR surge.

Kyle Busch entered New Hampshire with the points lead but blew a tire on lap 61 a limped to a 36th-place finish. That handed the points lead back to Carl Edwards, whose 13th-place run finds him seven points ahead of Johnson in the race to the Chase.

Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s slide continued on Sunday. A top-10 car for much of the afternoon, Earnhardt’s No. 88 was the victim of a pit road violation. Having to make up lost ground, he drove to a 15th-place finish but fell to ninth in the standings, with only a seven-point cushion over Stewart, after being a fixture in the top 5 for the first half of the season.
 

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New Hampshire Motor Speedway

Previewing the Lenox Industrial Tools 301

by Matt Taliaferro and Nathan Rush

Race: Lenox Industrial Tools 301
Location: Loudon, N.H.
Specs: 1.058-mile oval; Banking/Turns: 12°; Banking/Straightaways: 2°
Race Length: 317.4 miles/300 laps
TV: TNT (1:00 p.m. EST)
2010 Winners: Jimmie Johnson (June); Clint Bowyer (Sept.)

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<p> Athlon Sports previews Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 from New Hampshire Motor Speedway.</p>

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NASCAR 2011 Preview

Athlon Sports previews the upcoming NASCAR season
<p> The engines fell silent only two months ago, but as February approaches, the high-octane roar of 850 horsepower hot rods is set to pierce the serene beachfront in Daytona Beach, Fla., once again.&nbsp; And with Speedweeks 2011 near, we present our preview of the upcoming NASCAR season, its drivers and its storylines.</p>

Drive for Five Complete, Now It’s Time for a Six Pack

Jimmie Johnson’s run of five straight NASCAR Sprint Cup titles will one day be appreciated for the historical feat that it is. While some wonder if Johnson’s domination of NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship is actually good for the sport, it can’t be disputed that it stands as the most significant NASCAR achievement of the last 20 years.

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