This week’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race takes us to Loudon, New Hampshire for race 17, two away from the halfway point and 10 shy from the beginning of NASCARs playoff system, the Chase for the Championship.
Last week’s win by Kasey Kahne on the road course moved him into 13th place, only three points away from the 12th and final position for the Chase. Juan Pablo Montoya raced himself into 12th, knocking Jeff Burton to 14th.
As always, when we roll into one of the three tracks at Phoenix, Richmond or New Hampshire, we can use the results from previously run races to get a better jump on who might win. While each track is different whether it be banking, width, configuration or distance, the crew chiefs normally use the same chassis if they had success.
New Hampshire’s layout is a one mile paper clip configuration with relatively no banking at seven degrees in the turns. Think of it like a Martinsville with a longer drag strip on the straightaways.
Last season, Jimmie Johnson won 3 of 6 races on the combined tracks. This season there havebeen races run at Phoenix and Richmond already with Mark Martin and Kyle Busch getting the victories. Three drivers this season have finished in the top 10 in each of the two races.
After Martin finished first at Phoenix, he followed that up with a fifth at Richmond. Martin is currently 11th in points, only 12 ahead of Kahne in the Chase.
This will be a good opportunity for Martin to get some more breathing room and distance himself from the cutoff mark. Although Martin doesn’t have any career wins at New Hampshire, he has 13 top 10 finishes in 24 career starts.
Tony Stewart and his start-up team got things really going at Phoenix with a strong second place finish. Two weeks later using the same car, he cruised to another second place result in almost the same fashion. He waited with great patience the entire race, never looking like a solid contender, and then raced hard in the final 100 laps.
Because of those great runs and others ensuing, Stewart has pushed himself atop the points lead with a nice comfortable 84 point cushion between him and second place Jeff Gordon.
Stewart’s success at New Hampshire is matched by no one. In 20 career Cup starts on the track, Stewart has finished in the top 5 on 10 occasions getting two wins. Jeff Burton, Kurt Busch, and Gordon all have more career wins than Stewart at New Hampshire, but Stewart can also claim an Indy Car win at Loudon.
The year after winning the IRL Championship, Stewart claimed victory at New Hampshire in 1998 easily making him the only driver to get wins on the track from different national series.
There is little doubt that Stewart is the hottest driver on tour as his standing reflects. Last week’s finish gave him four runnerup finishes on the season and 8 top 5 results in 16 races. He only has one victory to show for it all, but that could change this week.
If Kyle Busch keeps his inconsistent run going, he may miss the Chase. Despite having an outstanding team, Busch only has 5 top 10 finishes in the 16 races, the worst number of anyone currently in the top 12.
There are four other drivers outside the top 12 have at least five or more top 10 finishes this season. Kahne is only 48 points away from Busch in the 13th position.
However, the one thing no one else has this season, other than Martin, is three wins. It’s all or nothing for Kyle and it resembles his overall persona that he exudes to the NASCAR public which is either high end admiration or high end dislike for the Las Vegas driver.
Whatever the case may be, Kyle needs to focus on these last 10 races. It’s been seven races since he last won and that was at Richmond, which should be a good sign for the similar set-up requirements of Loudon. He only has one career win on the track which came in 2006 while driving the No. 5 Hendrick car, the same one Martin currently drives.
Jeff Burton fell out of the top 12 giving Richard Childress no drivers there among all four of his cars. These type of tracks used to be staples in the Childress arsenal, but ever since adding the fourth team prior to this season, the entire organization has been in a world of hurt.
We can’t put the entire blame on the team stretching themselves out too far, but it is the one correlation that makes the most sense. Prior to joining Childress, Burton accumulated four wins in Loudon, a track record that still stands.
Burton was one of the first drivers to start the trend in 1997 of doing well at the combined tracks of Phoenix, Richmond and New Hampshire. His last win came in 2000.