WHEN: July 15, 2012 | GREEN: Approximately 1:15 p.m. ET
WHERE: New Hampshire Motor Speedway
TRACK DESCRIPTION: 1.058-mile flat speedway
BROADCAST: TNT | RACE LENGTH: 301 laps, 318 miles
The last five weeks have been challenging for NASCAR drivers and teams. They have been forced to conquer two newly repaved tracks, take on a road course and go to a new venue for only the second time. Then there was Daytona. Everyone knew before the race started that it would be a wild card, but no one truly expected what happened before the smoke cleared.
Jeff Gordon's night summed up the action. He was involved in a scary four-car accident on pit road, another melee entering the pits, what could be described as a standard "Big One" crash on Lap 125 in Turn 4 and finally a 16-car accident on the final lap in the shadows of the checkers. By the time the smoke cleared (and Tony Stewart visited Victory Lane) there were only two cars that were left undamaged.
The first half of the race was fairly calm until one impatient driver triggered a six-car crash on lap 92. One day after winning the Nationwide support race, Kurt Busch was back to his old nature and trying to win the Coke Zero 400 with 170 miles remaining. He ran out of room in a three-wide battle that he instigated and started the unfortunate chain of events.The good news is that the series rolls into a relatively calm portion of the schedule. The next three races will all be held on flat tracks and that will allow drivers and teams to develop a little momentum. Flat tracks require rhythm, and even though the speeds and demand on brakes will be different on the 2.5-mile Indy and Pocono speedways, the mindset is similar to what they will face on the one-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway. This week, four of the 10 best drivers based on their last six Loudon races are all battling for a wild-card spot in the points. Gordon, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch and Joey Logano have each been exceptional on this track in the past, and they have all won there as well. The wild-card battle will be the race within the race most worth watching this week.
|10 best drivers at New Hampshire|
Over the past six races at New Hampshire, these drivers have the best average finish.
1. Jeff Gordon
Last six races avg. finish at New Hampshire: 7.00 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at New Hampshire: 10.82 in 34 attempts
Gordon doesn't have to run the table in the final eight races to secure a playoff berth, but he is going to have to be exceptionally strong. The good news is that four of the remaining eight races are going to be held on flat tracks, and he has won on each of them in the past. New Hampshire will be followed by Indy, Pocono, while Richmond is the last regular-season contest. He needs to win at least two of those events and place well enough in the remainder to climb up the points ladder. The bad news is that three other wild-card hopefuls and five drivers in this week's top 10 have the same objective and no one knows if this team is done making mistakes.
2. Tony Stewart
Last six races avg. finish at New Hampshire: 8.00 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at New Hampshire: 11.54 in 26 attempts
Stewart has to be this week's favorite. He has the trifecta of stats because he was perfect at Loudon last year with a second-place finish in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 and a victory in the Sylvania 300. He has been almost perfect on flat tracks combined during the past year, and he is always at his best in the hot summer months. Dating back to his runner-up finish in this race last year, Stewart has finished 11th or better in every event but one at New Hampshire, Indy, Pocono, Richmond, Martinsville, and Phoenix, which means he has the right feel for this type of track. He is comfortably inside the top 10 in the standings, but he needs to win as badly as anyone else in the field to earn the bonus points that will seed him higher in the Chase.
3. Kurt Busch
Last six races avg. finish at New Hampshire: 9.50 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at New Hampshire: 13.86 in 22 attempts
New Hampshire is a drivers track, but that is not necessarily good news for Busch. Last week, he proved once more that he is prone to overdriving when he thinks he can control his own fate. That will end with a trip into the wall sometime during the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 weekend, and if it happens at the wrong time, he is going to finish outside the top 25. Busch's last eight races on this track ended in near perfection with a victory, two more top fives and only one result outside the top 15, but it is his last eight races of this season that will be more predictive. In that span of time, he has one top five, on the road course in Sonoma, but hasn't even come close to backing it up with another top 15.
4. Jimmie Johnson
Last six races avg. finish at New Hampshire: 10.33 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at New Hampshire: 10.05 in 20 attempts
As predicted, Johnson crashed at Daytona. That was the fifth consecutive time he was either sidelined or significantly slowed by damage there, and because it was so foreseeable, it will probably not rob the team of any momentum. Instead, they will focus on the seven races that preceded it, in which Johnson won twice and finished worse than sixth only one time. Johnson has been almost perfect on flat tracks and he would have four consecutive results of sixth or better on this course type if not for late-race contact in the Goody's Fast Relief 500 at Martinsville. However, New Hampshire has been a little less kind in the last two years with a pair of sub-15th-place results in both fall races.
5. Denny Hamlin
Last six races avg. finish at New Hampshire: 10.83 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at New Hampshire: 9.00 in 12 attempts
Hamlin is the only driver this week with a perfect record in the four races run on the flat tracks in 2012: Phoenix, Martinsville, Richmond and Pocono. He won in Arizona, finished sixth and fourth in the two Virginia races and was fifth in Pennsylvania. That would make him this week's favorite if not for one simple matter: no one knows how his back will hold up. Hamlin skipped practice and the Nationwide race at Daytona because of back spasms and he took a couple of hard hits during the Coke Zero 400. He is a tough driver, but those accidents could not have helped his health any and his fans have to be a little concerned.
6. Ryan Newman
Last six races avg. finish at New Hampshire: 12.67 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at New Hampshire: 13.00 in 20 attempts
When Newman knocked Clint Bowyer into an ill-advised pass attempt on the leaders at Martinsville and went on to Victory Lane after those three crashed, little did he know that would end up being a pyrrhic victory. After that, he failed to crack the top 10 in 11 consecutive races until he drew the number five in last week's Florida lottery. Momentum has shifted on the strength of less impressive runs and Newman enters New Hampshire as the defending winner of this race. One bit of bad news is this, however, his win in the 2011 Lenox Industrial Tools 301 is his only top five on this track since 2005. Notably, that previous top five was another victory in 2005.
7. Kyle Busch
Last six races avg. finish at New Hampshire: 13.17 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at New Hampshire: 17.87 in 15 attempts
Busch entered the Quaker State 400 at Kentucky with great expectations. He was the defending winner of that race and expected a strong run even though his "cookie-cutter" record has been spotty in recent seasons. Instead of winning, he finished 10th, but that was enough to give his fans a glimmer of hope. Unfortunately, he was swept into a couple of accidents last week at Daytona and the final one came on the last lap and kept him from completing the distance. His last six races have been very disappointing and his Kentucky top 10 is one of only two top 20s that he earned in that span of time.
8. Greg Biffle
Last six races avg. finish at New Hampshire: 13.50 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at New Hampshire: 16.63 in 19 attempts
Biffle is playing hide and seek with momentum in 2012. He started the season with three consecutive third-place finishes, slipped outside the top 10 in five of his next 10 attempts while finishing sixth or better in the other five races, and then slipped to 24th at Pocono. That was five weeks ago, and in his most recent four attempts he finished in the top 10 twice and the 20s on the two other occasions. His strong runs have been enough to keep him close to the top of the standings, but he is going to have to find a little consistency before the Chase begins if he wants to have a shot at winning the championship.
8. Clint Bowyer
Last six races avg. finish at New Hampshire: 13.50 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at New Hampshire: 17.00 in 12 attempts
Bowyer was the hottest driver on the circuit when NASCAR left Sonoma. He won that road course race when no one thought he could and that was the culmination of a four-race top-10 run and an eight-race streak of top 15s. He slipped to 16th at Kentucky and was sidelined by two accidents at Daytona. Momentum can be lost just that easily, but it doesn't have to be. Bowyer was not overly strong last year at New Hampshire with a 17th and 26th in their two races, but he had a three-race top-10 streak to his credit there in 2009 and 2010. Better still, he won the 2010 Sylvania 300 and that will be foremost in his mind this week.
10. Joey Logano
Last six races avg. finish at New Hampshire: 14.00 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at New Hampshire: 16.57 in 7 attempts
Logano made a statement at Pocono by dominating and winning the most recent flat-track race. His victory at Loudon three years earlier came in a rain-shortened event and detractors liked to point at that and say he did not deserve the distinction as a former Cup winner. Even though he partly owed his victory to rain, the win was not entirely a fluke. Logano has earned four top 15s in seven starts on this track, and that includes a sweep last year. Equally important, he has been better in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301s than the Sylvania 300s and he enters this weekend with three consecutive top 10s in this race.
OTHERS OF NOTE
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Last six races avg. finish at New Hampshire: 15.33 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at New Hampshire: 16.72 in 25 attempts
Earnhardt sits just outside the top 10 this week, but that is not indicative of how he is running. He has been great everywhere and that is particularly true on flat tracks. He stumbled briefly at Phoenix with a 14th-place finish, but recovered nicely to run third at Martinsville and finish second at Richmond. He capped off the flat-track season to date with an eighth at Pocono, and after last week's disappointing finish due to a last-lap accident, he is determined to lose that bad memory. Earnhardt's six-race average at Loudon is skewed by a 35th in the 2009 Sylvania 300, but he has finished 17th or better in six of his last seven attempts there.
16. Brad Keselowski
Last six races avg. finish at New Hampshire: 17.40 in 5 attempts
Career avg. finish at New Hampshire: 17.40 in 5 attempts
Keselowski got off to a strong start at New Hampshire in 2009 with a sixth-place finish as a part-time rookie. Like Logano's win, however, that result was partly attributable to rain and he spent the next four races trying to match it. He entered last fall's Sylvania 300 with three consecutive results outside the top 15 on this flat one-mile oval, and no one expected him to challenge for the lead. He finished second to Stewart that afternoon, which immediately caused the media to start talking about him as a dark-horse contender for the championship after needing NASCAR's wild card to even be in contention.
17. Kevin Harvick
Last six races avg. finish at New Hampshire: 18.17 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at New Hampshire: 14.09 in 22 attempts
Harvick finished fifth in both New Hampshire races of 2010, which came as a little surprise because his two attempts in 2009 ended in the 30s. Last year could have gone either way for the driver of the No. 29 and he split the difference to finish 21st in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 and 12th in the Sylvania 300. This week the focus won't be on how strong he may or may not be at New Hampshire because everyone will be talking about "Baby Otis," who was welcomed into the world and actually christened Keelan Paul on the Sunday following the Coke Zero 400.
18. Matt Kenseth
Last six races avg. finish at New Hampshire: 18.50 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at New Hampshire: 14.04 in 24 attempts
Roush Fenway Racing is not particularly strong on flat tracks, and Kenseth is offered as proof at New Hampshire. His sixth-place finish last fall was the first time he scored a top 10 in more than three years on that one-miler and his most recent top-five finish came in 2005. Momentum is a powerful force, however, and Kenseth has that on his side. He is one of only three drivers with back-to-back top-10s in the most recent two races and he has finished that well in 11 of his last 13 attempts. In the two races in which he failed to crack the top 10, he finished 11th at Richmond -- another flat track -- and was 13th at Sonoma.
22. Martin Truex Jr.
Last six races avg. finish at New Hampshire: 20.33 in 6 attempts
Career avg. finish at New Hampshire: 16.31 in 13 attempts
In 2007 and 2008, Truex looked like he had figured out how to get around New Hampshire. He finish in the top five in three of those races and swept the top 10, but appearances can be deceiving. His last six attempts have netted only one more top 10 and an average of 20.3. His last six races in 2012 have been better with two top 10s and an average of 14th, but that is not enough of a rationale to think he will race with the leaders throughout the Lenox Industrial Tools 301.
|All Drivers: Last six races at New Hampshire|
|Driver||Avg. finish (attempts)||Driver||Avg. finish (attempts)|
|1. Jeff Gordon||7.00 (6)||21. Kasey Kahne||19.83 (6)|
|2. Tony Stewart||8.00 (6)||22. Martin Truex Jr.||20.33 (6)|
|3. Kurt Busch||9.50 (6)||23. Marcos Ambrose||20.83 (6)|
|4. Jimmie Johnson||10.33 (6)||24. Jamie McMurray||21.00 (6)|
|5. Denny Hamlin||10.83 (6)||25. Brian Vickers||21.25 (4)|
|6. Ryan Newman||12.67 (6)||26. David Ragan||22.33 (6)|
|7. Kyle Busch||13.17 (6)||27. Bobby Labonte||23.00 (6)|
|8. Greg Biffle||13.50 (6)||28. Regan Smith||24.40 (5)|
|8. Clint Bowyer||13.50 (6)||29. Paul Menard||27.33 (6)|
|10. Joey Logano||14.00 (6)||30. Casey Mears||28.50 (6)|
|11. David Reutimann||14.17 (6)||31. JJ Yeley||29.33 (3)|
|12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.||15.33 (6)||32. David Stremme||32.40 (5)|
|13. Carl Edwards||15.50 (6)||33. David Gilliland||33.00 (5)|
|14. Jeff Burton||17.17 (6)||34. Landon Cassill||33.67 (3)|
|15. Juan Pablo Montoya||17.33 (6)||35. Dave Blaney||36.83 (6)|
|16. Brad Keselowski||17.40 (5)||36. Mike Bliss||37.25 (4)|
|17. Kevin Harvick||18.17 (6)||37. Joe Nemechek||39.17 (6)|
|18. Matt Kenseth||18.50 (6)||38. Travis Kvapil||39.67 (3)|
|19. AJ Allmendinger||18.67 (6)||39. Michael McDowell||40.40 (5)|
|20. Sam Hornish Jr.||19.50 (4)|
|Caution to the wind|
Most caution flags: 17 (1994 Slick 50 300)
Fewest caution flags: 2 (1997 Jiffy Lube 300)
Average number of caution flags per race: 8.1
Final Caution, last five races:
September 2011: Lap 174 of 300 - 2-car accident in turn two (Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards).
July 2011: Lap 241 of 301 - 1-car spin in turn two (Jimmie Johnson).
September 2010: Lap 243 of 300 - 4-car accident in turn two (Kurt Busch, Elliott Sadler, Joey Logano, and Jimmie Johnson).
June 2010: Lap 290 of 301 - 2-car accident in turn four (Kyle Busch, Jeff Burton).
September 2009: Lap 300 of 300 - 1-car spin on frontstretch (AJ Allmendinger).
Most caution laps: 78 (1994 Slick 50 300)
Fewest caution laps: 10 (1997 Jiffy Lube 300)
Average number of caution laps per race: 42.1
|Leading the way|
Most leaders: 15 (2011 Sylvania 300, 1996 Jiffy Lube 300)
Fewest leaders: 1 (2000 Dura Lube 300 - Jeff Burton)
Average number of leaders: 9.3
Most lead changes: 23 (2002 New England 300 by Stacker 2, 1996 Jiffy Lube 300)
Fewest lead changes: 0 (2000 Dura Lube 300)
Average number of lead changes: 14.9
Last five winners at New Hampshire (starting position):
September 2011: Tony Stewart (20th)
July 2011: Ryan Newman (1st)
September 2010: Clint Bowyer (2nd)
June 2010: Jimmie Johnson (10th)
September 2009: Mark Martin (14th)
Worst starting position for race winner: 38th - Jeff Burton (1999)
A race at New Hampshire has been won by the pole sitter 5 times and from the front row 7 times in 34 races.
|Active winners at New Hampshire|
Jeff Burton (4)
Tony Stewart (3)
Ryan Newman (3)
Kurt Busch (3)
Jimmie Johnson (3)
Jeff Gordon (3)
Clint Bowyer (2)
Kyle Busch (1)
Kevin Harvick (1)
Joey Logano (1)
Joe Nemechek (1)
Greg Biffle (1)
Denny Hamlin (1)
|First-time winners at New Hampshire|
For a race without a lot of history, it is amazing to note that five drivers have won their first Cup race at New Hampshire.
Joey Logano (2009 Lenox Industrial Tools 301)
Clint Bowyer (2007 Sylvania 300)
Ryan Newman (2002 New Hampshire 300)
Robby Gordon (2001 New Hampshire 300)
Joe Nemechek (1999 Dura Lube/Kmart 300)
|One-mile flat tracks: New Hampshire vs. Phoenix (since 2009)|
The flat tracks all have certain similarities, but it is relatively easy to determine the closest comparative track to New Hampshire. At one mile in length and with similarly minimal banking, Phoenix is as close to New Hampshire as drivers and teams will find.
|Driver||Combined Avg.||Attempts||New Hampshire||Phoenix|
|Juan Pablo Montoya||15.54||13||17.33||14.00|
|Martin Truex Jr||15.92||13||20.33||12.14|
|Dale Earnhardt Jr||17.85||13||15.33||20.00|
|Sam Hornish Jr||19.25||8||19.50||19.00|
|Beaver's Best Bets for New Hampshire|
Winner: Tony Stewart. He's great on flat tracks, great during the summer months and won last week, so it's hard to ignore Smoke.
Dark horse top 10: Joey Logano. It's not out of the question that Logano could practically lock up a Chase berth by winning this week, but a finish on the high side of the top 10 is more likely.
Don't bet on it: Matt Kenseth. Momentum could propel him into the top 10, but the smart money says he will land in the low teens instead.
|Beat Beaver -- Predicting the top 10|
The flat tracks should be among the most predictable on the circuit, but that was not the case at New Hampshire last fall. Only one of the top-10 finishers in the Sylvania 300 also finished in the top 10 in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 and only three swept the top 15. But hey, it's more predictable than Daytona.
1. Tony Stewart
2. Jeff Gordon
3. Jimmie Johnson
4. Denny Hamlin
5. Kyle Busch
6. Clint Bowyer
7. Ryan Newman
8. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
9. Joey Logano
10. Brad Keselowski
LAST WEEK'S PICKS
I've got to get a better lucky rabbit's foot; this one is broken. There is one thing that can be counted on at Daytona and that is that anything that can go wrong, will. All of my top 10 picks last week -- with two exceptions -- crashed at least once, and it's hard to finish in the top 10 with damage.
Since Daytona is prone to extraordinarily strange circumstances, it will come as no surprise that my dark-horse 10th-place driver last week was AJ Allmendinger, who was suspended from competition less than two hours before the start of the Coke Zero 400. Thank goodness for Jeff Burton; (I never thought I'd say that). Actually, once the cars starting wrecking, I was half-hoping for negative points but I spoiled that perfectly bad evening by scoring two. Yes, you read that correctly two, now move on.
For any driver correctly picked in the top 10, five points are awarded. For any driver picked in his exact finishing position, five bonus points are awarded. For correctly predicting the winner, a total of 20 points are awarded. So for a perfect top 10, a total of 110 points are available. One point is subtracted for each driver picked who finishes outside the top 10.
|1.||Dale Earnhardt Jr.||15||-1|
Total points for Daytona = 2 (out of a possible perfect score of 110)
Season best: 37 points (Charlotte, May); Season worst: 2 points (Daytona, July); Season avg.: 21.8 points (8 races)
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