Last week at Kentucky we saw a new aero package for down force tracks that was a smashing success.
It accomplished everything NASCAR wanted by slowing cars down and creating more passing, which combined together was a win-win for all the fans. Kevin Harvick had dominated the 1.5-mile tracks prior to Kentucky, finishing eighth – his worst on those types. Harvick might disagree, but consider that there were 2,665 green flag passes on Saturday night compared to just 1,147 on the same track last season.
Kyle Busch ended up taking control of the race to win for the second time this season with eight left to make up a gap of 87 points between himself and the 30th-place car to become eligible for the Chase. All four of the Joe Gibbs drivers had the new package figured out as they all finished in the top-five.
Unfortunately, we won’t see the new aero package in the 10-race Chase. They’ll give it to us again for Darlington, but that’s it, which means Kevin Harvick can go back to running his dominating set-up again on the five 1.5-mile tracks during the Chase.
NASCAR will raise the spoilers at Indianapolis and Michigan to create more drag, but the Chase will be decided by the aero package that the season started with, which means more Harvick, Jimmie Johnson, Martin Truex Jr. and Dale Earnhardt domination.
This Sunday’s New Hampshire 301 will also be using the regular package and, based on what we saw at Phoenix and Richmond, we shouldn’t expect to see too many drivers leading laps. I like to group Phoenix, Richmond and New Hampshire together simply because the crew chiefs do it for their set-ups. Many bring the same chassis to each if successful and because all three tracks are flat and range from 1-mile to ¾-mile in distance; we can apply them to each other to make odds and also as a basis for wagering strategies.
Between Phoenix and Richmond it was the Harvick and Kurt Busch show. Only four drivers led a lap at Phoenix with Harvick controlling the race, leading 224 laps and winning his fourth straight race there. Busch was one of five drivers to lead a lap at Richmond, but he led 291 of the 400 to win. With the set-up being the same, those are the two drivers you’re going to want to key on.
It’s hard to throw away what we saw last week with the Gibbs drivers, and even the Penske duo of Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano running, but that’s got nothing to do with this week and we’ll have to save Kentucky data for Darlington.
Harvick finished third at New Hampshire last fall and won in 2006, which was also the year he swept Phoenix and won at Richmond as well. In 2004, Busch swept New Hampshire and has totaled three wins over 28 career starts. However, he hasn’t had a top-five there since 2010.
Keselowski and Logano were the only drivers other than Harvick and Jamie McMurray to lead laps at both Phoenix and Richmond this season. Last season Keselowski won this race at New Hampshire and Logano took it in the fall. Logano won his first career Cup race at New Hampshire in a rain-shortened event in 2009. Those two figure to give Harvick and Busch their stiffest competition on Sunday.
Other drivers who have fared well at New Hampshire over their careers include Johnson and Jeff Gordon who have each won three times. Gordon will be making his 41st career start on the relatively flat track and has raced on all but one of the 42 races the track has ever had in the Cup series. His last win came during the magical 1998 season when he won 13 times.
Denny Hamlin has a 10.5 average finish over his 18 career starts that include two wins, the last coming in 2012. This is his type of race track. Just think of a bigger Martinsville, a place he won at for his only win of the season. The one negative is he didn’t run well at Phoenix or Richmond this season.
A wild card to watch out for is Kyle Larson who you should be able to get 20-to-1 odds with. In his first two New Hampshire Cup starts last season he finished third and second. He also ran well at Phoenix and Richmond this season. His teammate, McMurray, finished second at Phoenix and fourth at Richmond and could be worth a shot at 25-1.
I don’t want to take Harvick and Busch this week even though all the data says they’re going to be the drivers to beat, so I’ll roll with Logano.
Micah Roberts is a former Las Vegas race and sports book director, one of The Linemakers on SportingNews.com , and longtime motorsports columnist and sports analyst at GamingToday. Follow Micah on Twitter @MicahRoberts7 Contact Micah at [email protected].