Twelve members of Kurt Busch's crew, two wielding orange mallets and one carrying a torch, scurried around his bashed-in stock car early Sunday afternoon. They were trying to salvage not just Busch's car, but also his season.
Ryan Newman went on to win the Sylvania 300, but Busch's wreck was as important as anything else that happened at New Hampshire International Speedway. And a lot happened. A series of accidents late in the race ended with an irate Robby Gordon hurling his helmet at Michael Waltrip's car.
This was the first of 10 races in the Chase to the Nextel Cup, and Busch, the defending champion, probably lost the title. He was nudged into the wall on the second lap by a car driven by Scott Riggs, fell 66 laps behind and finished 35th.
"There are guys you race with and there are guys you can't," Busch said.
Then, referring to Riggs, Busch said, "And he really doesn't know where he is most of the time."
Tony Stewart led 173 laps Sunday, but he lost a crowd-pleasing duel to Newman on the next-to-last lap and finished second. Stewart did not lose ground otherwise. In fact, he extended his lead in the standings from 5 points to 20 over Greg Biffle.
"They got their money's worth today," Stewart said, referring to the estimated crowd of 101,000. "That's the way the Chase should start -- just like that."
NASCAR officials held a slightly different opinion. Gordon threw his helmet at Waltrip after he tried to back his wrecked racecar into Waltrip. Eleven laps earlier, Kasey Kahne swerved his wrecked car in front of Kyle Busch's in apparent retaliation to another wreck.
"You're going to see some pretty stiff penalties coming out of this," the NASCAR spokesman Jim Hunter said in a postrace news conference.
The penalties, which Hunter said could be announced Tuesday, could include suspensions of those involved Sunday in what he called shenanigans. Gordon, Waltrip and Kahne were summoned to a postrace meeting with NASCAR officials.
After Gordon threw his helmet, which hit Waltrip's car near the driver's-side window and nearly bounced in front of Stewart's car, NASCAR stopped the race to clean up a sizable amount of debris and to cool off a group of drivers who were clearly upset.
Greg Biffle finished fourth Sunday. Of the top eight finishers, seven were drivers in the Chase. Newman, who finished the 26-race qualifying portion of the season 661 points behind Stewart, gained seven positions in the standings and is third.
Kurt Busch, who won both races at New Hampshire last season, tumbled to 10th in the Chase, 142 points behind Stewart. Busch can still win the title, but he would probably have to assemble a streak of victories or top-five finishes.