Kurt Busch won the race while injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. stuck to his game plan and, with relief help, held onto second place in the NASCAR Nextel Cup points race yesterday in Loudon, N.H.
Busch was the only driver to stay with pole winner Ryan Newman through most of the Siemens 300, passing him twice and, finally, pulling away from Newman and runner-up Jeff Gordon at the end for his second win of the season and 10th of his career.
"My car was just really good on long runs and, once we got to the front, we were able to run real strong in clean air," Busch said.
A number of drivers had their eyes on the season standings yesterday, with the top 10 drivers, along with any others within 400 points of the lead after the 26th race, able to compete for the championship over the last 10 races of the season.
Busch's first win since Bristol in March solidified his chances of vying for the title as he jumped from ninth to sixth in the points standings with seven races remaining until the "Chase for the Cup" begins on the same flat, 1.058-mile New Hampshire International Speedway oval on Sept. 19.
"I thought we had to apply pressure this week and get our 10 races going right now," Busch said.
Earnhardt, with second-degree burns on his legs, neck and chin from a crash a week ago during a poll trial, started the race to get the championship points but gave up the seat on Lap 61 to Martin Truex Jr., the Busch Series points leader making his Cup debut.
Truex hit the wall on Lap 141 after bouncing off Ken Schrader's car, but the 24-year-old rookie hung in to finish 31st, two laps behind Busch. Series leader Jimmie Johnson, who swept both New Hampshire races last year, struggled to an 11th-place finish yesterday but increased his lead over Earnhardt from 105 to 165 points, with Gordon 202 back.
Earnhardt, hoping for an early yellow flag, had to wait 59 laps before Ricky Craven bounced off Elliott Sadler and hit the wall, bringing out the first caution. The ensuing driver change was flawless, with a crewman helping Earnhardt out of the car and Truex sliding in, buckling up and driving away without losing a lap.
"It ain't no fun getting out, I'll tell you that," said Earnhardt, sitting behind the pit box in the Dale Earnhardt Inc., team's pit stall and watching Truex drive his No. 8 Chevrolet.
"My injuries really, really hurt bad," Earnhardt said. "It's a pain I ain't never felt before."
The race was slowed by 12 caution flags for 62 laps.
* FORMULA ONE: There's no doubt who's No. 1 in Formula One, and Michael Schumacher had every right to celebrate after winning the German Grand Prix in Hockenheim to tie his own record with 11 victories in a season and close in on his seventh championship.
It was Schumacher's sixth straight victory, matching Alberto Ascari's single-season record set in 1952. Schumacher, who has won all but one race this season, finished 8.3 seconds ahead of Jenson Button. Fernando Alonso was third.
* CHAMP CAR: Defending titleholder Paul Tracy vaulted back into championship contention with a victory at the Molson Indy Vancouver in British Columbia.
Tracy started from the pole and controlled the entire race for his second straight win at Vancouver. Michel Jourdain Jr. of Mexico worked his way up from 12th to finish in second place, about 5.5 seconds behind Tracy.
* IRL: Dario Franchitti took advantage of the first and last caution flags for his first IRL victory.
Franchitti started in seventh and got great help from the first yellow flag on Lap 39. He pitted and changed his tires, and that made all the difference for him in the Menards A.J. Foyt Indy 225 in West Allis, Wis.