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At 12-1, Jeff Burtonknows Loudon well

Sep 9, 2003 12:59 AM

The 27th of 36 races on the season goes to Loudon, New Hampshire, the track's second race of the season.

   In the first race Jimmie Johnson (8-1) took the checkers, becoming the eighth consecutive different winner to win in the past five seasons. Jeff Gordon (9-1) and Jeff Burton (12-1) combined to win six of the first nine races at Loudon. Today's parity in NASCAR has definitely made this a more exciting race to watch.

   The driver we're keying is Jeff Burton, Loudon's all-time leader in wins with four. From '97 through '00, Burton won at Loudon once a year and had three other top 5 finishes. Since then, Burton's best result was ninth, two months ago.

   In the last two weeks, his team was sharp in practice sessions at Darlington and Richmond, both places Burton has traditionally performed well. Look for a great day out of Burton, whose odds are anywhere from 12-1 to 25-1 depending on where you shop for numbers.

   Gordon is New Hampshire's all-time money winner. In 17 career starts, he has eight top 5 finishes including three wins. His last victory came in '98, the year he won 13 races and the third of his four driving championships.

   While his demise on the track isn't as obvious as Burton's, Gordon still only has one top 5 finish in the last five. In 2001, he did lead the most laps in both races, but last season was mediocre at best. Two months ago, he also led the most laps, but finished last on the lead lap. He's been on a downward spiral since, but maybe this is the week he gets back on track.

   Ryan Newman (8-1) has a better start to his New Hampshire career than anyone. Newman was fifth in his first try at Loudon, then followed that up with a win in the fall from the pole. Two months ago, he had a solid fourth place finish. His win last week gave him six on the season and also catapulted him into sixth in the standings. He'll be tough again this week.

   Las Vegan Kurt Busch (10-1) had a fantastic run last season in New Hampshire to go along with a respectable 11th this season. Busch hasn't come close what we expected to see in the last two races following his Bristol win. Everyone has come down hard on him and rather than listen to what all the other drivers and fans say, he ought to keep on doing what he does best.

   Tony Stewart (9-1) is a consistent top 5 finisher at Loudon, including two career victories. His first came while driving in the IRL in 1998 and the other came in this 2000 race. Stewart is the only driver to have a top 5 in each of his first four seasons on the track. The way things are going for Stewart, he might be happy with a top 15.

   The two drivers who have been 1-2 all season, Matt Kenseth (12-1) and Dale Earnhardt Jr (10-1), have each had seven races at Loudon without much success. Kenseth's best performance was third this season, while Junior was sixth.

   The parity could produce a long shot. Three of the last seven winners at Loudon have paid off at 45-1 or higher. In '99 Joe Nemechek (35-1) paid 50-1. In 2001, Robby Gordon (35-1) won as a 60-1 choice. Last year Ward Burton (45-1) won at 45-1.

   Ricky Craven (32-1), from the Northeast, is also worth a look. Craven has struggled lately, but had a quality sixth place finish last fall. Both of his career wins have come on tracks below 11/2 miles in distance.

   Johnny Benson (40-1) is another possibility. In his only Loudon start, he began second and finished fourth. Benson was 26th in the first race there this season, but looked good last week at Richmond.