New Hampshire Vital for Chase Hopes
New Hampshire Motor Speedway boasts a statistic that may breed some major Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup implications. That stat: There have been six different winners in the past six races. New Hampshire’s reputation as a competitively balanced track grew with each passing NASCAR Nationwide Series race at NHMS – there were 23 different winners in the first 23 races. That streak was broken last year when Kyle Busch finally repeated.
So what does this mean for the Chase? Plenty. Here are a few storylines to watch, all stemming from the unpredictability of the one-mile Loudon track.
Wild Card Watch Continues: After race No. 26 at Richmond, the top-10 drivers in points will earn berths into the 12-driver Chase. Spots 11 and 12 will go to those drivers with the most wins, provided they are in the top 20. Ties go to the driver with the best points position. Currently, David Ragan would hold the first Wild Card spot, thanks to his Coke Zero 400 win at Daytona. Tony Stewart, who sits in 11th and has the best pre-race Driver Rating at New Hampshire (113.0), would grab Wild Card spot No. 2, even though he is winless. Of the last six winners at New Hampshire, four currently reside outside the top 10 – Mark Martin, Clint Bowyer, Greg Biffle and Joey Logano.
Bad Brad Good At NHMS: An extension of the “Wild Card Watch” nugget, watch for Brad Keselowski, who is closing fast on a top 20 spot. His seventh-place finish at Kentucky moved him within three points of the top 20. Keselowski won the pole last September at New Hampshire, and had a sixth-place finish in June of 2009.
Burton Not Done Yet: Jeff Burton, a usual Chase contender, has struggled this season – as his points position of 25th would suggest. Still, the Wild Card is within reach. He’s the all-time wins leader at New Hampshire with four.
Potential Chase Bonus Points: All Chase drivers will have their points reset to 2,000 once the field is set, but only those in the top 10 will earn three bonus points for each win in the regular season. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick have a series-high three wins apiece, translating to nine potential bonus points.
NHMS A Chase Warm Up: Only one track holds a race in both the Race to the Chase (the 10 races that precede the Chase) and the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup: New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Consider this a note-gathering session for a crew chiefs with championship thoughts.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Halfway Home
That went fast. Last weekend’s race at Kentucky Speedway marked the midpoint of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series – 18 down, 18 to go.
A first half highlighted by three first-time winners – Trevor Bayne (Daytona), Regan Smith (Darlington) and David Ragan (Daytona-2) – and competitive balance (12 different winners, compared to seven at this point last year) is backed up by some stout numbers.
- An average of 14 different leaders per race, most through 18 races in history.
- An average of 31 lead changes per race, most through 18 races in history.
- 12 different winners. Last time there were more through 18 races was 2003. Last year at this time, there were seven different winners.
- 44 different drivers have led at least one lap
- Nine races were decided by a margin of victory under one second, including Talladega, which matched the closest margin of victory (.002 seconds) since the inception of timing and scoring in 2005.
Figure on a similarly intriguing second half. Some marquee events follow, including races at the iconic Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Bristol night race and, oh by the way, NASCAR’s playoffs, the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
Roush Fenway’s New Hampshire Success Cheers Red Sox Nation
New England, hands down, is Boston Red Sox country. And since Red Sox owner John Henry and Jack Roush joined forces, Roush Fenway Racing has been making inroads with area fans – and not just those of NASCAR racing.
Henry picked a winner, especially when it comes to racing in his backyard at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Roush’s drivers have won seven times and can match Hendrick Motorsports track record with a victory in Sunday’s LENOX Industrial Tools 301.
Greg Biffle is the team’s most recent winner in New Hampshire capturing the track’s fall event in 2008. Biffle, battling for at least a Wild Card entry into the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, will make his first start with crew chief Matt Puccia.
Roush Fenway’s other three drivers have yet to reach Victory Lane at NHMS but have been among the fastest in recent outings. David Ragan won Daytona’s Coke Zero 400 and followed his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory with a top-10 finish at Kentucky.
Carl Edwards finished fifth in Kentucky and counts second and third place finishes in New Hampshire. Teammate Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Affliction Clothing Ford) was second in Daytona and sixth in Kentucky. Like Edwards, Kenseth has finished runner up at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Kyle Busch Races To No. 1 In Truly Dominating Fashion
Without a doubt, Kyle Busch has to be the most confident driver in the garage – on the basis of where he’s going and where he’s been. His next NASCAR national series victory will be No. 100.
Following last week’s victory at Kentucky Speedway – his third of the season – Busch is back atop the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship standings. It’s the 26-year-old driver’s third time in the No. 1 slot this year previously leading after Phoenix and Martinsville.
Next stop New Hampshire Motor Speedway where Busch counts five victories over all three national series. He’s the 2006 winner of the LENOX Industrial Tools 301.
Busch is No. 1 in the points department as well as tied with Kevin Harvick for most wins. And he’s a runaway leader in Loop Data statistics as well, owning a season-best Driver Rating of 111.9 through the first 18 races.
Here are several key categories in which Busch is the leader:
• Average Running Position of 8.854
• Fastest Laps Run, 10.3 %
• Fastest on restarts
• Fastest green flag speed
• Laps in the Top 15, 85.6%
If you’re looking for a statistic that truly tells the tale of Busch’s domination it’s in laps led: 1,060 of 5,295. To put that in context, that’s almost 600 more laps led than the 473 laps led by the next best leader, five-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series – Etc.
Several drivers connected to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will be participating in the touring series events this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Entered in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East event: Ben Kennedy, son of Lesa France Kennedy (vice chairwoman and executive vice president of NASCAR and CEO of International Speedway Corporation); Martinsville Speedway President Clay Campbell; and Brandon McReynolds, son of TNT/FOX/SPEED analyst and former crew chief Larry McReynolds. … Entered in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race are NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Ryan Newman and ESPN NASCAR Analyst Andy Petree. … Milestone Watch: Jeff Gordon goes for his 85th win, which would give him sole possession of third on the all-time series wins list; Clint Bowyer will make his 200th series start; Matt Kenseth goes for his 200th series top-10 finish; Martin Truex aims for his 50th top-10 finish and Denny Hamlin needs just one lap led to reach the 5,000 laps led mark in the series. … If someone you know has shown extraordinary charity and kindness of spirit in working for kids in need, honor their efforts by nominating them for the Betty Jane France Humanitarian Award by visiting NASCAR.COM/Unites, calling 704.348.9683, or sending an email to BJFaward@nascarfoundation.com. Only a few days remain; the deadline is July 18.
Sadler and Sorenson Continue Impressive Points Championship Battle
Consistency has been king for Elliott Sadler. Though he hasn’t visited Victory Lane yet this season, he does lead the series championship contenders in top-five finishes with nine and is tied for the series lead in top-10 finishes (13) with Ricky Stenhouse Jr. The 36-year-old veteran is on top of the standings by four points over Reed Sorenson and 27 points over third-place Stenhouse Jr. It’s his fourth time atop the standings and first since the May race at Charlotte. Sorenson also has led four times this year, most recently after Daytona before ceding the top spot to Sadler following last Saturday’s race at Kentucky. So far in 2011, the points lead has changed hands 11 times.
As the series heads to New Hampshire this weekend, the battle for the points lead could heat up. While Sadler has made seven starts compared to Sorenson’s four at New Hampshire, Sorenson has the better average finish of the two with a 12.0. But Sadler is on a roll in the past four starts rallying off four consecutive top-10 finishes and he outranks Sorenson in the NASCAR Nationwide Series pre-race Driver Rating with a 96.2 compared Sorenson’s 94.6.
Home Race, Kind Of: Roush Fenway Racing Head To Red Sox Country
Two of the NASCAR Nationwide Series brightest stars, Roush Fenway Racing’s Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Trevor Bayne will be participating in the 2nd annual Fan Appreciation Day hosted by Roush Fenway Racing. The event will be held on Thursday, July 14 at City Hall Plaza, adjacent to Quincy Market after facing off in activities at Fenway Park — the home of the Boston Red Sox — as part of their season-long “Ricky vs. Trevor” competition (http://www.roushfenway.com/rfr-dirextion/ricky-vs-trevor/).
The RFR tandem will also be sporting special paint schemes on their Ford Mustangs this weekend that will hit home with local New England sports fans. Stenhouse will run a Fenway Park 100 Years paint scheme this weekend. He has only made one start at New Hampshire posting a 16th-place finish last season. Stenhouse’s teammate, 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, also will carry a Sox-related scheme this weekend. He’ll have the New England Sports Network (NESN) on his Ford Mustang, calling attention to the Sox’s long-time television network. Bayne is 13th in the standings, 74 points behind 10th-place, Brian Scott. Though only starting 13 of the 18 scheduled races this season, he has posted three top fives and seven top 10s. He finished fifth at New Hampshire last season and leads all the championship contenders in pre-race Driver Rating with a 102.9.
“Loudon is always a special place for us to visit because of our relationship with Fenway Sports Group,” Bayne said. “There are a ton of Red Sox fans that come out to the races when we are there and cheer us on; it’s great to have that kind of support. I only have one start at Loudon under my belt, but it was one of my best races of the year in 2010 because we started in 18th and drove our way to the front for a top-five finish.”