Here are some storylines, notes and drivers to watch for in today's NASCAR race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway:
Two Keys To Winning: Fuel and Track Position
Today's race will likely not be decided on the track per se, but won or lost in the pits – centering on the decisions crew chiefs will be making throughout the afternoon.
One of the most critical calls facing the guys atop the pit box is how far to go on a fuel run, as fuel-mileage races have become synonymous on the track coined the "Magic Mile." Secondly, because of how difficult it is to pass, track position is everything at New Hampshire. Knowing this, along with the lack of tire wear, crew chiefs frequently call for two-tire and no-tire stops in an effort to jump ahead of the competition.
A year ago, New Hampshire was very good to Stewart-Haas Racing, with Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart finishing first and second in this race and Stewart later going to Victory Lane in the fall event. While neither jumped out in practice, expect both drivers to work their way into contention before the afternoon is out. This is statistically one of Newman's better tracks – he's won here three times – and Stewart, coming off a win at Daytona, has a win and two seconds in his last four Loudon starts.
All-Out For The Win
Dale Earnhardt Jr. said in his Friday press conference he and his team were going to start going for wins more aggressively and not worry so much about racing for points. With just eight races left before the Chase, gambling and going all-out for wins is a philosophy a lot of teams in the top 10 will start incorporating, as everyone wants to procure as many bonus points as possible.
But being aggressive is an approach those outside the top 10 are now taking – and have been for a while. The belief among drivers 11th on back is it's going to take two wins if they want to race their way into the Chase. Pay particular attention to Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon, two drivers who are winless on the year and have made no secret of the fact they will do just about anything to score that initial victory.
• After clocking in the 36th-fastest time in qualifying, Kelly Bires will be making his first Sprint Cup Series start this afternoon.
• On the subject of starts, Juan Pablo Montoya will be making his 200th today – the 119th driver in history to do so.
1. Denny Hamlin
With multiple wins at Pocono and Martinsville, as well as a victory here in 2007, it is obvious Denny Hamlin is at his best on the flat ovals. And after having swept both rounds of Saturday's practice and having the best 10-lap average in each session, the No. 11 Toyota appears to be the car to beat this afternoon.
2. Jeff Gordon
There is hungry, there is desperation and then is whatever the state of being Jeff Gordon is currently at – winless, frustrated and saddled with more bad luck than at any other point in his career. The good news is the three-time Loudon winner has been fast throughout practice and qualifying – he starts seventh – and is in excellent position to get that victory he needs oh-so-badly.
3. Brad Keselowski
Yesterday's Nationwide Series winner finished second here last fall and has shown that same speed throughout the weekend. However, one factor working against Brad Keselowski today is he qualified 22nd and he's going to need some help from crew chief Paul Wolfe in his quest to get to the front.
Clint Bowyer is hit-or-miss at New Hampshire, but when he's on, he's very good – two wins where he led 222 and 177 laps, respectively. And a good run today is what Bowyer needs after back-to-back subpar finishes has dropped him to 10th in points.