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NASCAR Loudon Sprint Cup Preview

by Dave Grayson
Friday, July 13, 2012

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Ryan Newman was the winner last July at Loudon and his teammate Tony Stewart won the fall race, so look for a Tony Stewart Racing Chevy to be strong this weekend
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will make their presence known in the eastern seaboard with the first of two visits to the New Hampshire Motor Speedway for Sunday's running of the Lenox Industrial Tools 301. This will be race number 19 on the series' 2012 schedule and it's one step closer to the September 8th cut off when the official line up for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Chase for the Championship will be named.

Oh by the way, it's a case of winner-winner lobster dinner at New Hampshire. The race winner gets a giant lobster big enough to feed his entire pit crew. That's just one more reason why this race track is called "The Magic Mile."

THE STORY BREAKDOWN

The speculation regarding which driver is going to make that coveted Chase line up will be one of the major story lines from the New Hampshire weekend. This is especially true of the two wild card berths that are still very much a point of contention. The wild card criteria states that the number 11 and 12 positions will be awarded to the drivers with the most wins who are in points positions 11 through 20. Right now drivers Kyle Busch and Joey Logano, with one win each, are sitting in the wild card transfer positions. However, their hold on these coveted transfers are somewhat tenuous because drivers Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne, also previous race winners, are right behind them.

You also can't overlook the possibility that there's still time, prior to the Chase cut off, for yet one or two more teams to become wild card contenders. Carl Edwards, still seeking his first win of the year, immediately comes to mind. It's generally believed that it's going to take at least two, possibly even three, wins to nail down a wild card berth. Right now, there seems to be multiple scenarios that could be put in play here and this aspect of the Chase line up is going to become a source of major fan excitement.

The annual silly season is now in high gear and it, too, will be a major focal point during the weekend. The lynch pin to this year's gossip fest is Matt Kenseth. We already know he's leaving Roush Fenway Racing at the end of this season and we truly believe that he's going to Joe Gibbs Racing although the driver has been very careful about showing his cards until it's officially time to do so. There are two rumored possibilities here; Kenseth will drive a fourth, full sponsored, team for Gibbs or he's going to take over the #20 Home Depot/Dollar General ride which would force Joey Logano to look elsewhere. That's why Logano making the Chase has become so important.

Stewart Haas Racing's Ryan Newman is yet another high profile free agent. This is especially true in light of the very recent announcement that said the U.S. Army will not be returning next year as the team's primary sponsor. While SHR has made it clear that they seriously want to keep Newman, replacing a sponsorship that large may be a deterrent to that cause.

Despite an occasional outburst this year, don't overlook the silly season prospects of Kurt Busch especially in light of the fact that he took team owner James Finch's unsponsored Nationwide Series team to victory lane at Daytona last weekend.

Needless to say the big story of the NASCAR weekend will be the sad news regarding driver A J Allmendinger and the fact that he remains on temporary suspension due to last weekend's failed substance abuse test. a second, sample B, urine test is supposed to be taken and there might be some test results by this weekend. If the second test also turns up positive for prohibited substances, then Allmendinger will be placed on indefinite suspension and will not be allowed to participate in NASCAR sanctioned events until he completes the mandatory recovery program.

There is already speculation regarding who is going to drive his #22 Penske Racing ride if that happens. Penske Nationwide Series driver Sam Hornish Jr will be in the ride for the second Cup race in a row. He reportedly sent Roger Penske a text last Sunday saying he would be interested in returning to the Cup level if Allmendinger was not available. The names Trevor Payne and Joey Logano have already made the rumor mill regarding the #22 ride which will switch from Dodge to Ford next year.

THE LAS VEGAS BREAKDOWN

To determine who will proudly standing in the New Hampshire victory lane holding an extremely large lobster, we again turn to the number crunching professionals at the Las Vegas based World Sports Exchange, (WSE).

Once again, the WSE has "five time" leading their rankings this week. Jimmie Johnson is rated at 5 to 1 odds. He's fourth in the points with two wins and appears to be a shoe in for a Chase berth. He also has good numbers at New Hampshire which includes three wins, seven top five finishes and 13 top ten finishes. He also owns a very good average finish ratio, (AFR), of 10.1 at New Hampshire.

At 6 to 1 odds you will find the duo of Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin. Stewart, currently fifth in the points, is a rock solid bet for New Hampshire because he has three wins, 14 top fives, 16 top tens and a healthy 11.5 AFR. His three season wins virtually locks him into the Chase and that will free him up to aggressively pursue even more wins. Also don't forget the legend that says when the summer weather is here, "Smoke" gets hot."

Hamlin, seventh in the points with two wins, also appears to be locked into the Chase line up and is also free to aggressively pursue additional trips to victory lane. In 12 New Hampshire starts, he has a win, five top fives, eight top tens and a series high 9.0 AFR at the Magic Mile.

All by himself, at 7 to 1, is Jeff Gordon who is definitely on the outside looking in regarding a berth in the Chase. He's 17th in the points and will now have to rely on a wild card berth to make the Chase. However, to make that happen, he needs to score at least two wins in quick fashion. New Hampshire could be a great launching pad for the four time champ. He has three wins there along with 15 top fives and 19 top tens. He also has a healthy 10.8 AFR. Look for Gordon to display an all in approach to his race plans for here on out.

At 9 to 1 is fan favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr who is second in the points with a win this season. That likely places him in a worry free position regarding making the Chase. Unfortunately, for the fan club known as "The Junior Nation", Earnhardt doesn't have very strong stats at New Hampshire. He's still seeking his first win at the Magic Mile but has accumulated six top fives and ten top tens. However, the AFR, at 16.7, is a little on the high side.

Kyle Busch enters the WSE's New Hampshire rankings at 10 to 1 and will be a driver to watch. He's currently in control of the first wild card berth for the Chase. He's 12th in the standings with a previous win. He's also a previous New Hampshire winner with four top fives, six top tens and a decent 15.9 AFR. He will be a car to watch on Sunday.

The WSE has the trio of Kasey Kahne, Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick ranked at 12 to 1. Kahne, 16th in the points with a win this season, is knocking on the door for a wild card berth but the magic mile numbers says he may have to wait for one more race to make that move. Kahne has one top five, six top tens and a rather high 17.8 AFR at this track.

Keselowski is ninth in the points but has three wins and that will get him into the Chase. It almost makes him free to aggressively pursue even more wins. He has one top five, two top tens and a 17.4 AFR at New Hampshire but that really doesn't mean a lot. There's been a lot of tracks this season where his personal stats were not that strong. All this driver needs is a well prepped Miller Lite Dodge and he'll do the rest.

Harvick is, surprisingly, still seeking his first win of the season. However, he has quietly maintained a level of consistency that has placed him sixth in the points. He's a previous winner at New Hampshire with five top fives and 11 top tens. He also has a steady 14.1 AFR. Sunday could turn out to become his first win of the year.

At 15 to 1 you will find the trio of Martin Truex Jr, his Michael Waltrip Racing team mate Clint Bowyer and Carl Edwards. Truex is eighth in the points but still seeking his first win of the season to help shore up his presence as a Chase contender. He has three top five finishes at New Hampshire along with five top tens and a 15.1 AFR.

Bowyer has a win this season and is tenth in the points. He'll be looking to improve those stats to insure a Chase berth. He has two wins at New Hampshire along with a pair of top fives, four top tens and a 17.0 AFR. This might actually make him a rather interesting long shot bet.

Edwards is another driver with a surprising absence from victory lane this year. He's 11th in the points and 31 away from that all important tenth position. A win really soon would help this cause. He also seeking his first win at New Hampshire but does have a pair of top fives, three top tens and a 13.9 AFR.

Ryan Newman is ranked at 17 to 1 by the WSE. Regarding his Chase hopes, he has a win this season and, at 15th in the points, is still a wild card contender. He's also a very good long shot consideration because of his strong New Hampshire numbers that includes three wins, six top fives, 13 top tens and a healthy 13.0 AFR.

At the WSE's lower tier for New Hampshire you will find Roush Fenway team mates Matt Kenseth and Greg Biffle ranked at 20 to 1. Kenseth is the current points leader, with a win at Daytona, and appears to be on his way to another Chase run. He has been a model of consistency this year. He's also done a remarkable job of not letting his future racing plans interfere with his focus. However, he's at 20 to 1 due to New Hampshire stats where he's never won at. He has five top fives, 12 top tens and a 14.0 AFR.

Biffle, third in the points with a win, also appears to be Chase bound. He has some good New Hampshire numbers including a previous win, five top fives, seven top tens and a 16.6 AFR.

At 25 to 1 is Joey Logano who, based on a win this year, currently holds down the second wild card Chase berth at least for the moment. He's 14th in the standings but too far away from tenth to make the Chase the traditional way. He's going to need at least a second win to secure the wild card status. He actually has some decent numbers at New Hampshire that includes a win, a pair of top fives, a trio of top tens and a 16.6 AFR.

Jeff Burton closes this week's WSE rankings at 30 to 1. He has some very good New Hampshire numbers that includes four wins, 8 top fives, 13 top tens and a healthy 13.6 AFR. Critics will immediately claim that these numbers were compiled quite a long time ago and that's true. But it needs to be noted that this team is coming off of the momentum of an extremely strong run at Daytona last weekend and that could lead to something special this weekend.

If you do not see your favorite driver listed here, it means that the WSE has automatically ranked them at 10 to 1 odds on their "all others" list.

Now for the disclaimer. NASCAR wants us to remind you that these numbers are posted for information and entertainment purposes. They neither encourage nor condone the placing of wagers on their events. However, if you're going to do it anyway then you may as well take care of business with the WSE who are the best in their business.

If you don't mind a suggestion, I'd be taking a hard look at both drivers from Stewart Haas Racing. Tony Stewart and Ryan Newman has a combined six wins at New Hampshire and very impressive AFR's. They swept the New Hampshire races last year with Newman winning the July race while Stewart took the event in September. Newman started both 2011 races from the pole position. He has a series high six poles at the magic mile and, last year, set the track qualifying record: 135.232 MPH.

THE RACE BREAKDOWN

The Lenox Industrial Tools 301 is 301 laps/318.485 miles around the New Hampshire Motor Speedway's 1.058 mile oval.

The race has 44 entries vying for the 43 starting positions. Nine of those entries are on the go or go home list. These teams are not guaranteed a start in the race because they are currently outside of NASCAR's top 35 in owner's points. They will have to rely on qualifying speed to make Sunday's race.

Known as the "magic mile," the New Hampshire Motor Speedway is very close to a flat track. It only has 12 degrees of banking in the corners and two degrees in the straightaways. Both the front and back stretch measures 1,500 feet. The speedway presently has seating for 95,491 fans.

The speedway was officially opened in 1960, but the first ever NASCAR Sprint Cup event wasn't held there until July of 1993. That first race was won by Rusty Wallace. Since that time there has been 34 Sprint Cup races that has sent 20 different winners to victory lane. Hendrick Motorsports leads the team wins with eight.

Track position is always important especially when the venue is a one mile oval. Five past New Hampshire races have been won from the pole, seven have been won from the front row  while eight have been won from starting positions outside of the top 20.

Don't be too surprised if fuel mileage and conservation becomes a huge factor in the outcome of Sunday's race. It certainly wouldn't be the first time.

There is a slight possibility that weather could also become a factor during the New Hampshire weekend. The Saturday forecast for Loudon-New Hampshire calls for partly sunny skies with daytime temperatures near 90 degrees. There is a 20% chance of showers on Saturday evening. Sunday race day weather calls for cloudy conditions during the morning hours and partly sunny conditions later in the day with temperatures in the upper 80's. There is a 30% chance of showers and thunder storms later in the day. In the event of rain, the speedway has a fleet of five jet dryers that can dry the track in approximately two hours.

Sunday's Lenox Industrial Tools 301 will be broadcast live by the TNT Network beginning at 12 pm eastern time. The race re air will be on Wednesday, July 18th, on SPEED beginning at 12 pm eastern.

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