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Mark Martin beats Montoya and Hamlin in a crash-marred, controversy-filled New Hampshire 300, opening the championship chase with a bang! bang! bang!

   It was a smokey, controversial finish at Loudon Sunday, Mark Martin (yellow) winning, but with safety issues raised, like a slow yellow called for the race-ending yellow brought out by AJ Allmendinger's crash (orange car) (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

     By Mike Mulhern

    LOUDON, N.H.
    Mark Martin had to use all of his wiles to pull this one off, in a vigorous battle with a very aggressive Juan Pablo Montoya down the stretch -- in a remarkably vicious playoff opener among the 12 NASCAR chase challengers. And Martin did – winning a tense Sylvania 300, by half a car-length in a crash-filled three-hour race.
    Montoya may have had the car to beat, but crew chief Alan Gustafson managed to use enough pit strategy to get Martin to the front late in the day. And Martin was able to survive a flurry of late-race crashes and cautions, including one on the very last lap.
    The final restart – double-file, with leader Martin again picking the outside line – came with three laps to go. The two stayed side-by-side for a while, but then Martin pulled a good move to make a three-length breakaway heading to the white flag.
    Then, moments later, AJ Allmendinger spun out in the middle of the frontstretch and stalled. NASCAR didn't throw the yellow however, for nearly 15 seconds, to let Montoya and Martin fight it out. Then as the leaders came off the fourth turn, NASCAR threw the yellow and the checkered, as Allmendinger struggled to get his car refired. "I think NASCAR thought he would get his car going faster than he really did," Denny Hamlin said. "But at least they let us race it out."
   Martin and Montoya had to split around Allmendinger's car, and Martin barely beat Montoya to the line. A few minutes after the race, NASCAR ruled Hamlin second rather than Montoya. Even though Montoya was second at the finish line, NASCAR scored the official finish by using the running order at the yellow as the pack drove over one of the many hidden scoring loops buried in the asphalt.
   That no-call on the Allmendinger situation angered some drivers. It was just one of several safety-related incidents in the race: Hamlin ran over a pit crewman, Kurt Busch hit and spun David Ragan on pit road, and Tony Stewart was allowed to keep racing despite a rear axle issue that eventually required pit road repairs.
   All those no-calls came at a track where drivers have been killed – Kenny Irwin and Adam Petty – and where a dangerous incident involving Dale Jarrett (stuck stalled in the middle of the track, as the pack bore down on him full-speed a few years ago) was actually the triggering incident for NASCAR's 'no racing to the yellow' rule to begin with.
    So Martin, now with a league-leading five tour wins this season, stretched his slim Sprint Cup points lead, in the chase toward a title he has never won in his legendary NASCAR career.
   "Alan won the race. Alan is the man," Martin said jubilantly. "This is just incredible. I'm sure I'm dreaming.
   "He won this race. He took a driver who can't drive Loudon, and won."
    It was Martin's experience, plus maybe some trickery, that got him the key track position at the end.
   "On that last restart I was thinking 'I'm going to lose it,'" Martin said.
   Indeed Montoya felt Martin's moves just after the restart were key to Martin getting the advantage in those final miles. And Montoya indicated Martin might have abused the 'respect' that drivers have for him by pulling a fast one on Montoya.
   "I could have pushed him out of the way, but I respect him a lot," Montoya said. "Next time I won't wreck him but I will bump him.
    "He cleared me out of four (on the final restart with three laps to go), but then he stopped down in the first turn. I just got caught by surprise. I probably should have jumped to the outside.
   "I was surprised he did it. Now I probably would have done the same thing. But if the second place guy hadn't been me, they'd have taken him. But he's the guy I respect the most here.
   "It was the smart thing to do. You've got to learn from that. And I learned from that.
   "I got screwed. It's frustrating when someone does it to you…but when you do it to someone it feels good.
   "Mark hasn't won a championship, but he wants one pretty bad, so he's the most dangerous guy in the chase."
    The entire afternoon was filled with extremely hard action throughout the field, somewhat surprisingly.
   One late incident was costly for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who had a potentially winning car, who got good track position, and then got tagged by David Reutimann late.
    Earnhardt was angry: "He couldn't hold his line…and spun me out. I should have known he couldn't hold his line.
   "Some people you just can't race side by side with.
    "David just ran out of talent down there."

    Yes, it was Mark Martin (5) winning at the finish line....but NASCAR used one of those 'hidden' scoring loops, buried in the asphalt, to set the final order, ruling Denny Hamlin (11) edged Juan Pablo Montoya for second (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


Since I am forced to listen

Since I am forced to listen everytime an incident happens how safety-minded NASCAR is, then NASCAR blew it. That safety is NASCAR's primary focus, then, yes, they blew it big time. I sat there waiting and waiting for the caution flag and then in horror waiting for the huge crash with Allmendinger. Allowing the leaders to race off of turn 2 was fine, but the caution should've been thrown no later than midway down back stretch. They outcome was pretty much decided by racing by then.

So I guess safety only matters when NASCAR says it does. NASCAR got off lucky yesterday, at least in that incident.

Na$car did the right thing it

Na$car did the right thing it was the spotters job to let the other drivers know where the 44 was and they had plenty of time to let their drivers know what was going on.

The best way to determine if

The best way to determine if NASCAR did the right thing is to view it from several different scenarios. Would the caution have been thrown immediately had it been lap 15? Would the caution have been thrown immediately had it been Junior leading and Kyle Bush in 2nd? Consistency has never been NASCAR's strong suit. ALL their decisions are made based on money. A big crash at the start finish line on the last lap or a nose to nose photo finish plays better than a race ending under caution.

NASCAR, like all other

NASCAR, like all other sanctioning bodies and sports leagues, needs to enforce it's rules consistantly and trasparently. What's frustating about this week's race is the lack of consistancy. When a car spins on the frontstretch and stalls in the racing line, NASCAR usually throws the caution and freezes the field immediately. However, yesterday, they essentially let the field race back to the flag. This lack of a consistantly applied rule cost Montoya at least one position and left some wondering if he could have beat Martin in a green-white-checker finish.
This inicident, coupled with NASCAR's lack of transparancy enforcing the pit road speed limit at Indy will give fuel to the conspiracy theorists who say that NASCAR is working agains Montoya.
Personally, I don't buy it, but only by continually applying consistancy and transparency when enforcing thier rules can NASCAR appear ligitimate in the public's eye and avoid looking like professional wrestling.

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