new hampshire motor speedway

Was the Chase Elliott spin on Denny Hamlin’s mind at New Hampshire?

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The specter of spinning Chase Elliott in the 2017 playoffs at Martinsville Speedway had no impact on Denny Hamlin’s last-lap tactics Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

But the championship ramifications of that move indirectly did factor into how Hamlin raced winner Kevin Harvick, who had opened the door for a bump and run-style maneuver that Hamlin improperly executed on Elliott at Martinsville.

Hamlin declined to rough up Harvick, but it was as much about future considerations as past and current circumstances.

“I think not all people and not all drivers understand when you do have give and take, when you do get the respect of your competitors, you do get return,” the Joe Gibbs Racing driver told NBCSports.com in a phone interview Friday morning. “It’s deposits and withdrawals. Last week I put in a deposit. One of these days I’m going to need to take out a withdrawal.”

When it came to payback two years ago, Elliott exacted revenge two weeks later at ISM Raceway, which set the field for the title-deciding race. After Hamlin’s move effectively ensured the Hendrick Motorsports driver would miss the championship round at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Elliott banged into Hamlin, who suffered a flat tire from their contact and hit the wall in a title-ending crash.

Hamlin has no such history with Harvick and seems to be expecting more leeway if he needs to race hard against the Stewart-Haas Racing driver.

“I would think in Kevin’s mind, I’ve raced him pretty fairly,” Hamlin said during one of several interviews to promote FedEx Cares’ new campaign about distracted driving. “If anything when it comes to me and Kevin, the scales are not really tipped that evenly. I’ve gotten taken out by him quite a few times. I don’t know when I’ve ever taken him out.

“I think one time at Bristol, we got all pissed off at each other, but I had a blown tire which had nothing to do with him. He recognizes that he’s paid me favors here and there on the racetrack. In the 2016 Daytona 500 instead of trying to pass me, he just pushed me down the backstretch. I go on to win the race.”

It was Harvick who benefited Sunday with the victory that clinched a playoff berth. Hamlin already was in the playoffs by virtue of his two wins in 2019 (including the Daytona 500).

“Let’s put it all out there: It’s about winning a championship for me,” said Hamlin, who still is seeking his first championship in his 14th season in Cup. “I mean, I want to win the race. I want the five points, but I also want to win a championship. I didn’t necessarily lose the race, or lose an opportunity to win a championship last weekend.

“There’s a bigger picture to my goals. Things I need to accomplish. We’re going to put ourselves in that position again, and we’ll be a little bit more aggressive. I certainly believe that we’re running well enough we’re going to have more instances like that as the season moves on.”

Hamlin laughed about whether the incident with Elliott could have been a factor Sunday.

“Trust me when I’m running (Harvick) down, and I’m coming to the white there’s no way I’m thinking back to two years ago into Turn 1,” Hamlin said. “I’ve gotten asked, ‘What if (Harvick) had a win, would you be more aggressive?’ I never thought of any of that stuff. Sure, I think about it now that it’s over with, but when you’re in the race car, you’re not thinking about anything but what can I do right now.”

Friday 5: The plan that helped Matt Tifft convince his parents to let him race

Photo by Lawrence Iles/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
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Think back to when you really wanted something but had to convince a parent, sibling or someone else, to help you get what you prized.

Maybe you cajoled. Or begged. Or if that didn’t work, maybe you pleaded.

Matt Tifft wrote a business proposal.

That’s how he convinced his parents to give him a cell phone. And how he persuaded them at age 11 to go racing, leading him on a path to Cup and his rookie campaign this season for Front Row Motorsports.

Tifft’s passion in cars was always there, his mom, Vicki Tifft said. But she wanted him to understand more. As an entrepreneur, she wanted him to look at the business side of his decisions.

Tifft’s desire to race increased after he drove a go-kart at a local track on his 11th birthday and was told he had the best time of a newcomer there.

“So, I went to my mom and said, ‘Hey did you hear that? We need to go get a go-kart and go racing here,’ ” Tifft told NBC Sports.

Not so fast, she said. He needed a plan.

“With anything that you want to pursue, there has to be an end goal in mind, so we talked about that even at a young age,” Vicki Tifft told NBC Sports. “What’s the difference between doing this as a hobby vs. doing this as a living? Can you make a career out of this? If the goal is to be racing with the intent of having a career, then there had to be certain goals and strategies in mind.

“So we talked with him about what was his ultimate goal and how do you achieve that goal? Where are you today and where do you need to be? What kind of activities or milestones do you need to make it through? What’s the timeframe? What’s the cost of it?”

Just as important at that time, was how would Tifft manage being a student. That included his music. Each of Vicki and Quinten Tifft’s three children have been required to study music until they were 18. Tifft studied piano, taking part in competitions — “he’s an amazing pianist,” said Vicki Tifft, who studied piano for about 20 years— and played saxophone.

“There’s just so much research that goes into the connection of studying music and brain development,” Vicki Tifft said of the reason for the family’s music requirement. “We felt that was very important. It helps with mathematics and processing speed. It’s a good discipline. It’s good to be able to understand how to tackle something that you think is daunting, that you don’t think you can accomplish and take it into small bits and break it down and practice individual parts and put everything together, which is very similar to racing.”

Tifft sold his parents on the idea of racing and soon was competing in go karts. When it came time to look beyond go-karts, Tifft again put together a plan to move to Late Model racing and set a career timeline to NASCAR’s premier series.

He ran a partial Gander Outdoors Truck schedule in 2015 and saw his 2016 season in that series interrupted when he was found to have a brain tumor. He moved to the Xfinity Series in 2017, running the full season for Joe Gibbs Racing and went to Richard Childress Racing to run the full Xfinity schedule in 2018. Tifft then moved to Cup with Front Row Motorsports this year. He finished a season-best ninth at Daytona earlier this month.

“We looked at that (career outline) a couple months ago and it’s kind of scary, almost to the ‘T’ of how to get into the Cup series, how well we followed it,” Tifft said.

2. No funny business

NASCAR reminded teams this week that series officials want clean restarts with no cars laying back or playing games. Series officials are likely to remind competitors of this in drivers meetings this weekend at Pocono Raceway (Cup and Truck) and Iowa Speedway (Xfinity Series).

Steve O’Donnell, NASCAR’s chief racing development officer, said Monday on “The Morning Drive” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio that officials planned to further examine the issue this week after questions about Aric Almirola’s restart — he received a warning — last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

“I think you’ll see us address kind of restarts heading into Pocono and reminding the drivers what we expect as well,” O’Donnell said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio earlier this week.

There will be no rule changes to restarts.

3. Strategy play

With teams able to pit under green at Pocono Raceway — site of Sunday’s Cup race (3 p.m. ET on NBCSN) — and not lose a lap, strategy will play a key role.

The stage breaks are at Laps 50 and 100 in the 160-lap race. In four of the five Pocono races with stage breaks, the winner stopped before the stage break at Lap 100. Teams still had one more pit stop. Three of those four winners pitted between Laps 122-124. The other winner stopped at Lap 135.

They were able to move back up after the break because those needing to score points stayed out and then pitted when the stage ended. With several drivers battling for the final playoff spots, there’s a good chance many of those drivers will stay out to score stage points

In June, Kyle Busch stopped on Lap 94 and then made his last pit stop at Lap 124 with his four-stop strategy.

4. Another top five

Matt DiBenedetto‘s fifth-place finish last weekend at New Hampshire marked his second top-five finish of the season.

DiBenedetto continues to search for his first career Cup victory but his two top fives give him one more top five this year than five former Cup winners. Aric Almirola, Ryan Newman, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Austin Dillon and Paul Menard each have won in Cup and have only one top-five finish this season.

5. Nearly unstoppable

The Xfinity Series returns to Iowa Speedway for Saturday’s race (5 p.m. ET on NBCSN). Christopher Bell, who won there in June, looks to continue his domination on the shorter tracks.

In the last 12 Xfinity races on tracks 1 mile in length or less — Iowa, New Hampshire, Dover, Richmond, Bristol and ISM Raceway — Bell has won nine times. He’s led 37.2% of all the laps in those 12 races, dating back to last season.

At Iowa, Bell seeks his third consecutive victory. He has led 55.2% of the laps run there the past two races.

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Ryan: ‘Is no one one watching these races?’ Why N.H. strategy stunned

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LOUDON, N.H. – It was a track position race held at a notorious track position-dependent oval during a season that has been dominated by incessant discussions about track position.

Yet when the outcome of Sunday’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway essentially was decided when the yellow flag flew for the last time, only three of 18 lead-lap cars made the ultimate track position move – skipping a pit stop to gain positions or at least avoid losing them.

It put Kevin Harvick in the lead for good. It put Erik Jones in second.

And it stunned their crew chiefs, who both were borderline incredulous about their brilliant calls.

“Is no one watching these races and seeing how this is going?” Chris Gayle, crew chief for Jones, asked rhetorically after the No. 20 Toyota driver hung on for a third place that solidified his playoff bid. “That’s what I’m thinking (while watching the last pit stops). Everybody’s scared to make that mistake it seems like.

“And I’m sure being aggressive, we can make a mistake, so I don’t want to be too cocky about it because it can bite you at any time. Because a lot of the strategy works or doesn’t work depending on how many guys do it with you.”

Rodney Childers, crew chief for Harvick, figured his call would fall in line with several lead-lap cars. He was astonished when the No. 4 Ford inherited the lead when Denny Hamlin, Ryan Blaney and Brad Keselowski all pitted with 35 laps remaining (and with roughly a maximum of 30 that could have been run under green).

“When we went green with 80 to go, we had already decided if there’s another caution we’re not going to pit unless we get shuffled back to eighth or ninth,” Childers said. “When I told him to stay out, I honestly thought we would restart somewhere in the first two rows, and then everybody pulled in and we’re sitting there the leader when he comes into sight, and I’m like, ‘What in the world?’

“But anyway, you just don’t ever know when that’s going to work out.”

In this case, though, there were 265 laps of evidence to support the call by Childers and Gayle.

To the chagrin of drivers who fell back with strong cars such as Kyle Busch (watch this video) and Hamlin (“Track position, holy cow. It’s just amazing how much we’re talking about track position on short tracks”), passing was as much at a premium as ever on New Hampshire’s flat 1.058-mile oval, whose slick surface already had put five drivers in backup cars before the race.

While staying on track might have been less of a gamble with a car as fast as Harvick’s, strategy calls for track position had been working throughout the race – starting with Gayle’s decision to vault Jones into the lead with two tires on his first pit stop under yellow on Lap 48.

Only one other driver (Ricky Stenhouse Jr.) opted for two tires. That again surprised Gayle, who had studied how well two right-side tires had worked in the race last season (when passing arguably had been easier).

“I expected to see 10 guys come take right sides with me,” Gayle said. “At the end, I was on the fence with the last call. I had in my mind, less than 20 (laps) to go, I’m definitely staying out. I was in that middle zone where tires might matter, but in the end, I kind of left it up to Jones. We were talking for a little bit on the radio. I’m 50-50, but if we get in the front row, I’ll stay.”

The third driver to stay on track was Martin Truex Jr., who vaulted from 10th to third and hung on for sixth.

Why weren’t there more takers when conventional wisdom suggests doing the opposite of the leader on pit strategy during a yellow flag with a late short run on a shorter track such as NHMS?

It seems as if there is a trend toward conservatism among the current group of crew chiefs, perhaps driven by the fact that more than half of them have engineering degrees and largely empirical worldviews. New Hampshire was reminiscent of the April 16, 2018 race at Richmond Raceway, where all 16 lead-lap cars pitted during a yellow with 10 laps remaining.

Tire wear factored heavily into those decisions, which is what made Sunday in Loudon even more perplexing. Hamlin alluded to wishing “tires actually meant something. They don’t right now.”

But that apparently doesn’t make the strategy much easier because it causes greater divergence on pit sequences.

“These races are the hardest to call of any of my career,” said Childers, a 15-year veteran of Cup. “The tires don’t seem to wear as much. They don’t seem to fall off as much.  It gives everybody a lot of opportunity to do different things.

“So even when you think that you’ve got it right and you put four tires on, you think you’re in the right spot and then a caution comes out and somebody else can put two on or somebody can stay out, it just keeps shuffling.”


Two days before Harvick delivered the first victory of 2018 to Stewart-Haas Racing, teammate Clint Bowyer offered an intriguing analogy for why the organization had struggled with adapting to the lower-horsepower, high-downforce rules after enjoying its best season yet with the 2018 debut of the Mustang (all four SHR drivers won last year).

“The game’s changed – literally,” Bowyer said. “It would be like taking a baseball game and making the fence shorter and use a different bat and different ball size. The game has changed.

“You have to adjust to that game. When those rules change drastically the way they do, look at the timeframe of when it happened. You spend the better part of two years developing a Mustang for a certain game, and all of a sudden that game changes, and it’s, ‘Oh, we built that bat for that ball!’”

After Harvick’s win, SHR vice president of competition Greg Zipadelli said, “I don’t think anybody should think that we’re where we need to be.

“I think it’s been a humbling year for all of us, and I think it’s been a frustrating year, obviously after the Cinderella year that we had last year. Our stuff fired off really good the beginning of the year, and we honestly didn’t anticipate anything less than that this year. But you know, in sports that’s not always the case.”


Generational strife was a major theme of the weekend at New Hampshire, punctuated by the terse conversation between Paul Menard and Harrison Burton after Saturday’s Xfinity Series race.

But it also tied into Harvick’s notable quote that “if you drove like this 10 years ago, you’d have a fist in your mouth.” He meant the blocking and side-drafting necessitated by this season’s mostly full-throttle racing (which keeps cars more tightly bunched together).

A case could be made, though, that the shifting styles also have been borne of the new attitudes and philosophies from Millennial-age drivers and younger.

As Denny Hamlin told The Athletic’s Jeff Gluck, he sees the current era of aggressive driving beginning with Brad Keselowski, who drew the ire of many Cup veterans by refusing to yield during his first partial season in Cup 10 years ago and stayed true to being anti-establishment as the north star of his NASCAR career. When he won the championship in 2012, Keselowski was accused by Tony Stewart of “having a death wish” for racing Jimmie Johnson too hard at Texas Motor Speedway (which Keselowski recalled during this 2014 interview).

Between Keselowski and Joey Logano (see the 2015 playoffs and his 2018 win at Martinsville over Martin Truex Jr.), Team Penske’s longtime duo have done as much to reshape the mores of hard driving over the past decade – and it’s mostly been for the good.


Speaking of young drivers, kudos to the trio of early 20something Xfinity championship contenders who persistently field questions about their futures with a cheery attitude.

Christopher Bell, Cole Custer and Tyler Reddick still have no clarity on their rides for the 2020 season, and they will continue being asked about it (as they were last Friday at New Hampshire) until their plans are finalized.

It seems increasingly likely that all three of them will advance to Cup next season (“it would be a hell of a rookie battle,” Bell said). Based on the manner in which they have deftly handled speculation that can be annoying (at best) and distracting, Bell, Custer and Reddick seem ready for the leap.


Though he still might lack a Cup championship, Hamlin has his NASCAR peers beaten in another department: Candor.

It’s hard to imagine another modern-era driver second-guessing himself as much as Hamlin did while speaking to reporters for 10 minutes after New Hampshire in a richly detailed and insightful explanation of how he gave away the win to Harvick.

It was a fascinating window into the thought process of an elite driver, and it wasn’t the first time that Hamlin has been willing to be so forthright about a topic that another star might find too emotionally charged or personally humiliating to address (his breathtaking honesty about the No. 11 team giving the best pit stall to a teammate last year also comes to mind).

As much as the last-lap battle with Harvick was compelling, it also was Hamlin’s unflinching dissection that gave it major legs for Monday morning analysis – even if it came at his own expense.

With an inadvertent but legal deke, Erik Jones rallies for third

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LOUDON, N.H. – With critical points hanging in the balance for a playoff bid, Erik Jones thought he screwed up Sunday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Instead, he inadvertently might have stumbled across a new strategy for keeping opponents guessing on pit stops.

During the final caution with 35 laps remaining, Jones swerved to the right back on the racing surface at the last minute, driving over the pit lane commitment box.

Jones began fuming over the team radio, but he eventually was informed there would be no penalty from NASCAR, which changed its rule governing pit entry over the past two seasons. Drivers with four tires below the boundary must enter the pits; Jones had only his left-sides below.

Two tires below once would have committed a car to the pits at tracks such as New Hampshire and shorter, and that caused some confusion on Twitter (NASCAR senior vice president Steve O’Donnell clarified the call).

But it raises an interesting point: Should every driver who is committed to staying on track fake a move to the pits by rolling over the commitment box as Jones did?

“I don’t think NASCAR would appreciate that very much, and I’m glad we didn’t get a penalty,” Jones said with a smile. “But it’s definitely an interesting situation. I forgot (what) the rules actually said, and I think many people probably were surprised by that.

“So I think you might see some more faking out. I wouldn’t be surprised.”

Crew chief Chris Gayle was sure Jones would escape punishment after he watched the replay and saw the No. 20 Toyota had at least two wheels above the inside boundary.

“I was like, ‘Oh, we’re good,’ because you’ve got to have all four below the box, and he kind of split it,” Gayle said. “I think he didn’t think about it. They say it in the driver’s meeting all the time now, and you’ve got to pay attention, but most everywhere it’s all four below the orange box.”

After restarting in second behind race winner Kevin Harvick, Jones hung on for third behind Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Denny Hamlin and punctuated a race in which he overcame contact with two drivers and a speeding penalty.

He started fourth and catapulted into the lead with a two-tire call by Gayle on Lap 48. Jones finished second in the first stage and then made contact with Alex Bowman’s No. 88 Chevrolet while exiting his pit stall on Lap 111. That necessitated another stop dropping him to 28th as the last car on the lead lap.

“We had contact here on pit road (in the 2017 race), and it ended our day, blew a tire on the restart, so we couldn’t risk that,” Jones said. “We couldn’t have a DNF, so coming down to fix it was the right thing to do. We had to make that right and put ourselves back out there, but it was up and down.”

While battling through the field 20 laps later, Jones made contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr., who brought out a Lap 138 yellow by hitting the wall with a flat tire from the damage. Jones incurred a speeding penalty entering the pits during the caution.

But he restarted in 11th and steadily marched forward during the second half. He was in fifth when the yellow flew the last time, allowing Gayle to keep his car on track and restart beside Harvick.

“That was the good thing,” Jones said. “The (car) had enough speed to get back up there and get in contention. I think at the end with some clean air, we could be in (Harvick’s) spot, I think we were just as fast as him there the run before, so we have to keep putting ourselves up there, and eventually it’s going to work out, but a good testament to our team, just the way we came back today.”

With six races remaining in the regular season, he is ranked 14th and is 28 points above the cutoff line after entering New Hampshire in 16th with only a two-point cushion. But when other bubble drivers had trouble Sunday, it made Gayle’s strategy decisions simpler.

“It wasn’t as bad today because you start seeing other guys having problems that we were racing in the points,” Gayle said. “So when they all started having trouble, and we’re at the back, I’m like OK, this makes it a little bit easier. We can just do something and go for the win here at the end.”

Jones seems on the verge of a win after finishing third in four of the past nine starts.

With contract talks at JGR progressing well, the only cloud on the horizon might be Stenhouse, who vowed payback against Jones between and the playoffs.

“I guess go ahead,” Jones said when told of Stenhouse’s threat. “He was racing me really hard and for nothing. We were 200 laps to go in the race, and he had the choice of lifting and letting me go, and he didn’t do it for five laps, and that’s just how it is.

“If you’re going to race hard, you’re going to get raced hard. I didn’t want to have to do it, but sometimes it comes down to it. I like Ricky, but he races really hard. I expect it. If I’m going to race Kevin Harvick at the front of the field like that 10 laps in a row, I’m going to get wrecked. You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do to keep moving forward and keep giving yourself a good day.”

Bubble Trouble: New Hampshire tough on those trying to make playoffs

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Sunday was a day of trouble for many of the drivers seeking to make the playoffs, but when it ended, Ryan Newman solidified his spot with a top-10 finish despite mechanical issues.

Seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson did not share Newman’s luck. Johnson fell out of a playoff spot after mechanical woes left him with a 30th-place finish for the second week in a row.

Here’s a look at what drivers trying to earn a playoff spot endured Sunday:

Ryan Newman — With just under 100 laps left, Newman radioed his crew that he thought his engine had lost a cylinder (it proved to be a broken coil wire) and he was down on power. When the crew told him to stay out, he responded by saying: “I ain’t coming in.”

Newman, who entered the race in the first spot outside a playoff position and in a backup car after crashing Friday, was running 14th at the time of the trouble. It looked as if he would lose several points. Instead, he managed to finish seventh to score his fifth top 10 in the last six races.

“Hell of a job today, guys,” Newman said on the radio to his team after the race. “That’s a never-give-up attitude.”

The recovery helped him climb from 17th in the points to 15th in the standings and in a playoff spot. Newman is 21 points ahead of Jimmie Johnson, who is in the first spot outside a playoff position.

Jimmie Johnson — A broken water pump and power steering issues sent him to pit road and he lost several laps for repairs. That left Johnson with a 30th-place finish, dropping him out of a playoff spot.

Johnson is 17 points behind Clint Bowyer for the last playoff position with six races left in the regular season.

“Certainly a letdown to say the least,” Johnson told NBCSN.

“Certainly the wrong time of year to have some bad luck. It looked like the guys I’m worried about in the points didn’t have the best of days either. Maybe I got a pass on this one. Just disappointed to say the least.”

Clint Bowyer: A crash on a restart impacted his day and left him with a 20th-place finish that dropped him from 14th in the points to 16th, the final playoff spot.

Bowyer has finished 20th or worse in four of the last six races.

Kyle Larson: Two crashes in the final 85 laps left him with a 33rd-place finish for his second finish of 20th or worse in the last three races. Larson remains 13th in the standings and is 31 points ahead of Johnson.

Erik JonesHe had contact with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. on the track and Alex Bowman on pit road. He also had a pit road speeding penalty and thought he was going to be penalized another time on pit road. Through all of that, he managed to finish third for the second week in a row and solidified his spot after entering the day in the last playoff spot.

Jones is 14th in the standings, 28 points ahead of Johnson.