Newman rolls to pole; Gordon's confidence up
Newman ran 136.497 mph to edge Kahne's 136.082 and Gordon's 136.053.
It is Newman's seventh pole at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
In the media center afterward, Newman noted, "I've sat in here on at least six other occasions and said this is the birthplace of track position. I strongly believe that it is."
The flat, 1-mile oval "is extremely difficult to pass on," he said. "Qualify well, having that No. 1 pit stall, starting the race up front in clean air … and probably the most important is the confidence of knowing you have the fastest race car."
Both Newman and Gordon were added to the Chase late, after NASCAR penalized Martin Truex Jr. out of the playoffs due to team scheming at Richmond and put Newman in, and gave Gordon an unprecedented 13th berth, as a victim of the various Richmond shenanigans.
Gordon is now seventh in the standings and Newman is eighth.
"It just feels good that we're picking things up," said Gordon. "We've had an up-and-down season, for sure. But if you ever want to peak, it's when the Chase comes up."
-- Ed Hinton
— Mark Garrow (@GuruGarrow) September 20, 2013
Tough times for Waltrip; Truex free to look around
LOUDON, N.H. -- Fan reaction played a major role in NAPA's decision to end its sponsorship of Michael Waltrip Racing, Waltrip indicated Friday.
"We live in a different world today," Waltrip said. "You can hear everyone's opinion pretty easily. A lot of folks voiced a lot of concern for our team to them [NAPA]. They had to react. I can't say I was overly surprised."
The auto parts company, which has sponsored Waltrip as a driver and owner for 13 years, "didn't call us beating on the desk," after MWR was penalized for attempting to manipulate the outcome of a race at Richmond on Sept. 7.
The NASCAR penalties wound up removing Waltrip's NAPA-sponsored driver, Martin Truex Jr., from the Chase.
Initially, NAPA "said, 'give us some time,'" Waltrip said. "They gathered all the facts they could, and 10 days later, they told us their decision."
NAPA will remain on Truex's car through the end of this season, which Waltrip called "a fair decision."
Waltrip said he had asked Truex for some time to seek other sponsorship, but "if he came to me tomorrow and said, 'I've got a deal to go do something,' obviously I would not hold him back. His support and loyalty toward our organization has been amazing.
"He drove some crappy cars when he first got to our shop."
Waltrip indicated the primary sponsors of his other two cars will remain.
-- Ed Hinton
Montoya ready for return to Indy cars
Juan Pablo Montoya reckons he had a nice, long visit. But it's time to go home. Maybe he'll stop back on special occasions.
"I had seven great years here," Montoya said of his digression to NASCAR, where he won only two Cup races, both on road courses, for team owner Chip Ganassi.
Before, Montoya was an Indy car and Formula One star, and won the Indianapolis 500 in 2000.
Now, he's headed back to Indy cars to drive for Roger Penske's team, the one organization he felt was missing from his resume.
"I have been lucky enough to race for Chip in IndyCar -- it's one of the best teams out there," he said. In Formula One, "I have run for Williams, McLaren, Mercedes and BMW -- I mean, I have run for big teams, and the only one on the list that I hadn't run and felt I always wanted to do was Roger's."
Even while considering another NASCAR ride, possibly replacing Kurt Busch at Furniture Row, "when I started talking to Roger about it, it was a no-brainer for me," Montoya said. "I always loved open wheel. That is my background."
Montoya will finish this season for Ganassi, and left open the possibility of driving selected races for Penske's NASCAR team.
"Looking at the Penske thing into the future, we'll see if there is maybe some NASCAR races that might come about," Montoya said. "We'll see."
-- Ed Hinton
A bit of a handful today. Doing some small changes for qualifying.
— Juan Pablo Montoya (@jpmontoya) September 20, 2013
Drivers like updated restart rule
NASCAR's simpler, more forgiving restart rule is a hit with drivers after one race, at Chicagoland on Sunday.
"I think it has taken a little bit away from the leader, which is OK," said Jimmie Johnson, who lost a race at Dover in June after being penalized for jumping a restart from second place. Johnson lost another race at Kentucky after he was too tentative on a restart to keep from jumping.
The new rule, simply put, is that once the leader goes, everybody can go. It's legal, say, for the second-place car to beat the restart leader to the start-finish line.
Previously, "The ace everyone had in their pocket was knowing the leader couldn't be beat [to the line]," Johnson said. "Now, when the green is out, it doesn't matter. … There's change on both sides, for the leader and for second.
"I think it makes life easier for second."
And for the third- and fourth-place drivers on a restart, Kyle Busch added.
"Now, as soon as the flag drops, the guy in the second row can push," Busch said. "You don't have to wait until after the line to push. You can push right away and get that line moving and get an advantage."
Previously, if the leader spun his tires or the second-place car jumped, "then all of a sudden they're checking up not to beat them to the line and it's just causing chaos five and 10 rows back," Jeff Gordon said. "You start getting people running into one another and damaging their cars and causing wrecks.
"Now, it seems like both lanes sort of flow evenly into Turn 1."
-- Ed Hinton
Stuck at work during today's Sprint Cup Quals? Not to worry we've got you covered! Listen LIVE on http://t.co/kRVjhjFFzm starting at 3:30pm!
— PRN Staff (@PRNlive) September 20, 2013
Drivers react to MWR-NAPA fallout
Kyle Busch, who knows a thing or two about issues with sponsors, criticized on Friday the fan uproar on social media that spurred NAPA's dropping of Michael Waltrip Racing.
"There's a lot of race fans that sometimes voice their opinion about there not being enough competitive cars each and every week," Busch said, "yet they'll send in their comments to sponsors that they shouldn't sponsor that team or shouldn't sponsor that driver because of some of the things that happen on the race track. …
"All that does is drive sponsors away from our sport. So it's not a good thing to be doing those sorts of things."
In 2011, M&M Mars, Busch's primary sponsor, withheld its logos from the final two races of the Cup season after he was penalized by NASCAR for wrecking Ron Hornaday Jr. in a Trucks race. The sponsor returned in 2012 and remains with Busch.
"Even through the tough times we've had, they still stand behind me," Busch said, "and we've done a lot of great things on and off the race track together since."
Jimmie Johnson said he was surprised by Thursday's announcement that NAPA will leave MWR at the end of this season.
"The longstanding relationship that Michael has had with NAPA -- definitely shocked," Johnson said.
-- Ed Hinton
— NH Motor Speedway (@NHMS) September 20, 2013