18 races remaining in the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season

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Half of the 2012 NASCAR Sprint Cup season is in the books with 18 races remaining heading into New Hampshire this week.

Matt Kenseth expanded his points lead to 25 points last week at Daytona and is showing that he’s not your ordinary lame duck driver. How long his lead will last remains to be seen, but based on his performance in the first half, 8-to-1 odds at the LVH Super Book looks pretty enticing.

In the LVH’s latest Sprint Cup Championship odds, Jimmie Johnson is the 3-1 favorite followed by Tony Stewart 6-1, Kenseth, Denny Hamlin 8-1, Dale Earnhardt Jr 8-1 with Greg Biffle and Brad Keselowski at 10-1.

We’ve had 12 different winners in the first half with Keselowski and Stewart leading the way with three wins each. On a consistency platform, it’s Johnson, Kenseth and Earnhardt Jr with 13 top-10 finishes. The next closest is Greg Biffle with 10 top-10’s.

My brain says Johnson will win it all, but my heart roots for Earnhardt Jr. and I’m not even part of his legion of fans. It’s hard not to root for a guy that has had to swallow his pride and have his ego deflect all kinds of criticism for not winning with the great Hendrick Motorsports equipment that is now finally showing some success.

I’ll admit, I’m caught up in the moment. But so are millions of NASCAR fans and it’s part of what has made this season so enjoyable. Dale Earnhardt Jr matters once again!

When we go to New Hampshire the first order of business when deciding who might be the best candidate to win is to refer back to races run this season at Phoenix and Richmond.

Although New Hampshire’s layout is vastly different from Phoenix and Richmond, the flat banking make the set-ups almost identical. If a driver had success on one of the tracks, he’ll likely be good on the others.

The Joe Gibbs Racing teammates of Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch won the races at Phoenix and Richmond this year and were two of five drivers to finish in the top-10 of both races. Johnson, Keselowski and Mark Martin were the others. Only Hamlin finished in the top-5 of both events with Busch finishing sixth at Phoenix.

After we see who should be good based on this year’s races at Phoenix and Richmond, the next step is to look at past history at New Hampshire. Hamlin won at New Hampshire in 2007 and has a track best average finish of 9th-place. In three of his last five starts, he’s finished runner-up twice and third once.

Kyle Busch has a 2006 New Hampshire win under his belt, but his last top-5 finish came in 2009. His recent engine troubles make him a risky proposition, but yet still hard to resist.

We saw Tony Stewart win last week at Daytona to give him three victories on the year. It was at New Hampshire last season that he kicked off his Championship run with a win. That triumph was his first of the season and he would eventually win four more times during the Chase.

 Overall, Stewart has three victories at New Hampshire and finished third at Richmond this season.

Stewart’s teammate Ryan Newman has to be considered just because he won at New Hampshire in the first of their two races there last season. Overall, Newman has three wins on the one-mile track.

Jimmie Johnson is a three-time New Hampshire winner, the last coming in 2010. However, in his last three starts there he’s had poor finishes of 25th and 18th.





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