Here are some storylines, notes and drivers to watch for during today's NASCAR race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway:
Denny Hamlin is fast, but is his team up to the challenge?
After topping every round of practice along with having the dominant car here in July, Denny Hamlin is the clear-cut favorite this afternoon. However, it's going to be a challenge for Hamlin to win thanks to a miscue in qualifying where the No. 11 team set the wrong air pressures and Hamlin could qualify no better than 32nd.
But New Hampshire is an oval where passing is always a challenge and single-file racing is the norm and not the exception, it's going to take more than a fast Toyota for the Joe Gibbs Racing driver to work his way to the front. What Hamlin needs is his pit crew to be flawless. And this is something they haven't been lately, as noted by their mistake in qualifying Friday along with their refueling issue during last week's race which cost Hamlin a top-10 finish.
Jeff Gordon is out of mulligans
To win the championship a driver can have only one bad race. Last Sunday, Jeff Gordon used his mulligan when a stuck throttle put him in the wall and placed him 35th in the final rundown. And although it's going to be an uphill climb and require him to be lights out in the remaining nine races, it's possible that Gordon can still get back in title contention.
But that comeback needs to begin to this afternoon. And thanks to a pole-winning effort on Friday, along with the previous success Gordon has had here lately - in his last seven starts he has five finishes of sixth or better - the opportunity is certainly there for the four-time Cup champion.
Sound pit strategy is key
Because of how difficult it is to navigate the flat one-mile track and the difficulty drivers have racing side-by-side, track position is everything at New Hampshire. Knowing this and the lack of tire wear, look for crew chiefs to call for two tires instead of four as often as possible.
Remember, it was that very strategy in July which led to Denny Hamlin's demise. On that day coming in for his final pit stop, miscommunication between himself and crew chief Darian Grubb resulted in Hamlin getting four tires and not two and dropped him far back in the running order.
- Both Brian Vickers and Sam Hornish Jr. will have to forfeit their starting positions and drop to the rear of the field. Vickers will have to do so after his team made an unapproved engine change, while Hornish Jr. had to have Dave Blaney qualify his Dodge as Hornish Jr. was in Kentucky competing in the Nationwide Series event.
- Holding the top five spots, Toyota drivers dominated final practice. However, historically it is Chevy who has excelled in Loudon, as the manufacturer has won seven of the previous 10 races.
- Four drivers in today's field - Joe Nemechek (1999), Ryan Newman (2002), Clint Bowyer (2007) and Joey Logano (2009) - all scored their first Sprint Cup Series victories at New Hampshire.
1. Denny Hamlin
Ignore where Denny Hamlin is starting (32nd) and instead focus on how fast he was in practice and the dominance he exhibited in July leading 150 of 300 laps. Barring any mistakes in the pits, Hamlin should be in Victory Lane celebrating his fifth win of 2012.
2. Tony Stewart
If Hamlin doesn't win today, Tony Stewart likely could be the reason. In his last five New Hampshire starts, the man who won this race last year has a win and two runner-ups and will start third.
3. Clint Bowyer
This may come as a bit of a surprise, but Clint Bowyer was consistently fast in practice, not to mention this is a track where he has twice been victorious. And Bowyer will have the same chassis underneath him today that he drove to a third-place finish here in July and a win two weeks ago at Richmond.