Watching Loudon on Sunday was a whole lot like watching Shawshank Redemption. I have seen bits and pieces of that movie, maybe, a couple of dozen times or more. The first half of the New Hampshire race had me watching nothing but our favorites of this year over and over and over.
It was a one lane track to start with. If you were on the outside, you moved. If not, you did not. The guys up front stayed up front. Martin Truex Jr. led the opening stage and was third after two. Chase Elliott was second in the first but claimed the second. Kurt Busch, the pole sitter, was fourth after one and second after two. You get the picture.
Everyone in the Top Ten for the first half of the contest was among our potential Chasers. Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Clint Bowyer, and Joey Logano had reserved spots, it seemed. So did Ryan Blaney, Aric Almirola, and Jimmie Johnson. Ten drivers for 10 positions, all among the Top Fifteen in the standings.
Then the second half of the race began. It started with Kurt chasing down, well, Chase. Brad Keselowski moved up to take Johnson’s place among our decuplers. Well, for a time he did, before his brakes started to fail and he went from 9th to 20th within a couple of laps. The inside groove opened up, but not by much.
Then a new face went to the front, as Almirola took over the lead to give the NBC rat pack of Dale, Jeff, and Steve something additional to chat about. Again, usually watching the action from Loudon allows me to fast-forward through the broadcast. Unfortunately, those boys were once again damned amusing and entertaining, so I could not.
Everybody else seemed destined to be denied entry into the Top Ten. With about 75 laps to go, a window opened. Kurt Busch was heading to the pits but braked when he thought Blaney was about to leave his, leaving both just sitting there for a few seconds. That cost some time and track position. However, the guy who burned his membership card was Bowyer. He got tagged for a pit violation, and simply sunk beneath the waves.
Later, Bowyer hit the fence with Almirola back in front. After the visitation for service, Kyle Busch was the leader, followed by Harvick, Almirola, and Truex. Something had to give in the end, and with seven laps left it proved to be the back end of Busch, with some assistance from Harvick. Someone was Happy as he went on to claim his sixth win of the season, the 44th of his career. Someone was not happy to finish second. Almirola thought he was the best, but he lost the lead in the pits and then lost traction on the re-start to end his hopes.
You already know the names of most of those who would claim a Top Ten. Bowyer wound up 35th out of 37 entries, with Ryan Newman replacing him among our race stars to take sixth. Nothing much changed in the standings, with the Top 16 remaining our Top 16. Three drivers; Harvick, Truex, and Elliott; had 51 point days. Each Busch brother had 45, with Almirola putting 41 into the bank. Among those with single digit outings were Bowyer, Keselowski and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., allowing Alex Bowman to extend his margin for that final Chase berth to 28 points.
Next Sunday marks the return to Pocono. Last month, it was Truex taking the June version. Last year, it was Kyle Busch in July. Harvick has not won there in 35 attempts. In comparison, Chris Buescher was the summertime winner just a couple of years ago. Now, another such performance would do wonders for a guy currently sitting 23rd in the standings.
That is one movie sequel I bet he would just love to produce.