New Hampshire Update: Truex leading at halfway

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Days after the announcement that his main sponsor, NAPA Auto Parts, would leave Michael Waltrip Racing at year’s end, Martin Truex Jr. has had a strong afternoon at New Hampshire Motor Speedway and led the Sylvania 300 – the second race in the 2013 Chase for the Sprint Cup – at halfway.

Early morning rains eventually gave way to partly cloudy skies at the start, but also forced the Sprint Cup contingent to start on a green track for the second consecutive week. On Lap 3, Kasey Kahne was able to make the move past pole sitter Ryan Newman for the lead, with Jeff Gordon heading past Newman for second place shortly after.

Newman eventually settled in fourth position behind Kahne, Gordon and Martin Truex Jr. when a caution came out at Lap 30 for a Turn 4 spin involving Josh Wise. NASCAR had originally set a competition caution to be thrown anyway at that point of the race because of the aforementioned rain.

Kahne was able to keep the lead after the first round of pit stops, while Gordon narrowly missed hitting the pit crew of Mark Martin after contact with David Ragan following his stop; Gordon fell back to seventh for the restart on Lap 36, which saw Truex whip past Kahne for the lead coming out of Turn 2.

Truex had no chance to build up a gap as the yellow emerged again on Lap 37 for a two-car incident involving Jamie McMurray and Kevin Swindell. McMurray had contact with teammate Juan Pablo Montoya and backed into the Turn 4 wall, with Swindell then hitting him and causing considerable front-end damage to his own car.

The green flag run after that yellow was also short-lived, as Bobby Labonte suffered a tire failure and then had contact with David Gilliland before hitting the frontstretch wall at Lap 52. Labonte was making his return to on-track competition after missing several races due to three broken ribs from a cycling accident; he was checked, cleared and released from the infield care center.

Truex quickly pulled away off the restart at Lap 60, leaving Kahne and Newman to fight it out for second place before the former grabbed the position. Chase leader Matt Kenseth also got by Newman for third before the field started to shake out into largely single-file racing.

Truex, Kahne and Kenseth remained the Top 3 of the race as it passed over the 100-lap mark as part of a long, caution-free run. Truex would give up the lead for service on Lap 110, but would return to the point after Dale Earnhardt Jr. couldn’t get a yellow to get back on the same strategy as the leaders and had to pit himself at Lap 129.

At Lap 150 of 300, Truex was leading Kenseth, followed by Brad Keselowski in third after starting 20th, early leader Kahne in fourth, and Gordon in fifth.