With the first race of the Chase behind us the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Loudon, New Hampshire for the second race in the final 10. Tony Stewart surprised many fantasy owners last weekend with his win at Chicagoland and suddenly appears like a legitimate contender for the championship. Stewart has won at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, along with the remaining eight tracks, and could really throw a twist to all those pre-Chase Champion predictions with two consecutive victories.
Qualifying is very important at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, also known as the "Magic Mile", since there will likely be little passing starting up front is priority. In addition to qualifying, getting the car setup correct before it leaves the shop is also a necessity. This race is one of the shorter, in terms of distance, which does allot the teams time to make major adjustments during the race.
Ryan Newman won the pole and race here in July and looks to repeat this weekend. Tony Stewart managed his fuel last weekend well enough to earn his first win of the season and is off to a great start in the Chase heading to Loudon. Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin will all need to rebound this weekend after disappointing finishes at Chicagoland to keep their championship hopes alive.
As always, feel free to post your picks for this weekend's Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Jeff Gordon - Without question last week Gordon and the No. 24 team fell apart from the time they unloaded the car at Chicagoland. The team failed to correctly make the necessary changes to improve the car during the race and the result was a 24th place finish in the first race of the Chase. Gordon should get back on track this week at Loudon, NH where he has three wins and 18 top-ten finishes in 33 starts at NHMS.
Alternate pick: Jimmie Johnson - Johnson made a statement last week at Chicagoland that he is a serious threat to win his sixth consecutive championship. He spent 180 of the 267 laps last week in the top-five and was running in third on the final lap when the No. 48 ran out of gas. Johnson may have slipped slightly last week, but expect the reigning Champion not let that happen again this week at Loudon. He has finished top-10 in eight of his last nine starts at NHMS and no reason to doubt for another this weekend.
Ryan Newman - Newman's win here in July gave him a huge boost of confidence as well as the team, which he continues to carry into the Chase. While he finished in eighth last week, Newman was another driver that fell victim to an empty fuel tank. He has run exceptionally well at NHMS in his career with 13 top-10 finishes in 19 starts including three wins. While I don't think Newman will pull off a sweep at Loudon this season, there is no question he could finish top-five.
A.J. Allmendinger - Allmendinger had finished top-12 in his last five races leading up to Chicagoland, but that streak ended with his 27th place finish. He has five top-15 finishes this season in five starts on short, flat tracks and should be right there again this week. Allmendinger finished in 12th place in July at Loudon and who knows, maybe he could become the 17th different driver to win a race this season.
Alternate pick: Brad Keselowski - Keselowski shows no signs of faltering on his recent hot streak and look for it to continue at Loudon. He capitalized on the lead cars running out of gas last week at Chicagoland to finish fifth in his first Chase race. Keselowski finished 35th here in July, but that will not happen again this weekend.
David Ragan - Ragan finished a career best 14th at Loudon in July and the No. 6 team will be focused on improving on that number this weekend. He has not been great at Loudon, but the team has run well in the last two races at Richmond and Chicagoland. I expect Ragan to run in the top-15 this weekend and perhaps even flirt with a top-10 finish.
Alternate pick: Regan Smith - While Ragan is likely your best pick from the Group C pool this week, if you have exhausted your starts for Ragan then Smith is probably your next best option. Despite his 33rd place finish in July, Smith has finished in the top-20 in four of his last five races. At best he gets another top-20, but most owners will consider that a "win" for a Group C driver other than Ragan and Menard.