NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship

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Race 2 of NASCAR’s Chase for the Championship takes us to Loudon, N.H., for some flat-track racing. This will be the second time the series has stopped at the one-mile facility.

Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart had a 1-2 finish in July which gives us a lot to work with when breaking down who might do well this week.

In addition to the July race, we can also reference Phoenix and both Richmond races to get a read on who the top drivers might be this week. Although none of the three tracks have the same layout, the banking and short distances are similar. So if certain teams do well on one track, they’re likely to do the same on the other.

Even though Martinsville is half the distance of New Hampshire, we’re seeing a lot more teams incorporate their chassis setup – and sometimes the actual car – from there to the three other tracks just because of the banking, or lack thereof.

We also can put a lot more weight into what we just saw two weeks ago at Richmond because it is the most recent run – a race won by Kevin Harvick with Carl Edwards and Jeff Gordon in tow.

However, based on how this wild season has gone with five first-time winners and 14 different drivers taking the checkers, it could be argued that past trends mean as little as they ever have.

It’s almost a crap shoot every week and it doesn’t help that this year’s ridiculous practice schedule with only two sessions happening and both before qualifying. It’s become harder than ever to weed out the good practice times in race trim from those in qualifying trim.

The fastest 10-consecutive lap stat helps, but there is nothing like having a “Real” Happy Hour where all the cars have their optimum set-up ready to race.

What we have now is teams getting their cars set perfect for race conditions and then having to reset it for qualifying. Even though they have notes to re-set the car back up that was the best during practice, it’s almost impossible to get it back as perfect after resetting it for qualifying.

It’s like starting all over again and they don’t have a practice to show that they got it back correct. They have to make the changes needed during the race.

If anything, I think the practice schedule has a lot to do with all the parity we’re seeing right now.

Jeff Gordon has three Loudon wins over his career in 33 starts with his last win coming during his magical year of 1998. Since 2004, he’s been runner-up on four separate occasions and hasn’t finished worse than 15th.

On the basis of his strong Richmond run recently, his Phoenix win and his current form everywhere, Gordon should be considered one of the favorites to win this week.

Denny Hamlin didn’t have a good run at Richmond two weeks ago, a track where he has always dominated, but he did show up for the last Loudon race with a third-place finish. He was also runner-up in the first Richmond race. In 11 starts on the track, Hamlin has finished in the top-10 eight times with a win in 2007.

Jimmie Johnson is a three-time winner at New Hampshire with the last coming in the 2010 spring race. In 19 starts he’s finished 15th or better in 17 of them. This is the time that Johnson is supposed to turn it on like he has every year. No one has more Chase wins than Johnson.

Ryan Newman was strong in the first Loudon race this year and it gave him his third career New Hampshire win.

Tony Stewart settled for his fourth runner-up finish at New Hampshire since his last win in 2005. Stewart has two career wins on the track. Because of how good Stewart and Newman were the last time around, they should be again considered top candidates to win.

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