After weeks of anticipation… the Chase is on! This week kicks off our new points format that was introduced to you last week. The thing to remember is you cannot use anyone outside the top 25 for Sit ‘Em Down, and you cannot use anyone in the top 10 for your Roll the Dice pick. Please put your picks on the message board before the start of the race and see how well you can do against Cami and Mike.
Mike’s Keys to the Race
New Hampshire is a relatively flat 1-mile oval. While it can offer two lanes of racing, the second groove usually doesn’t come in until the second half of the race. Track position, as always, is important… but not crucial, as three of the past five races here have been won by cars who started outside the top 10. Now that you’re not fooled by qualifying, what should you concentrate on? Well, one thing to note is that, in the first two years of the Chase, the top-10 drivers finished in the top 10 of Chase races over 70% of the time. Look for the teams that are in the Chase to excel the first time out.
Cami’s Instant Replay
Newman kicked off the 2005 Chase in the best way possible with a victory at New Hampshire in a day filled with fireworks and close racing. Stewart had the dominant car, leading 173 of 300 laps, but it was Newman in the lead when the 10th and final caution of the day came out with 16 to go, setting up an old-fashioned shootout with Stewart. The two exchanged the lead back and forth in the closing laps, with Newman taking the lead for good with two to go. Matt Kenseth, Greg Biffle and Dale Earnhardt Jr. rounded out the top five. Aggressive driving was also a big story in a crash-filled race. During a red-flag period, NASCAR warned the teams to tone it down after several drivers were displaying less than cordial behavior. Kurt Busch and Scott Riggs, Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne, and Michael Waltrip and Robby Gordon all mixed it up on the track, with the latter altercation ending with Gordon’s famous helmet toss at Waltrip’s car.
Crank ‘Em Up
Kenseth has been very strong at Loudon the past few years. In seven of the last eight races at the track, he has finished in the top 10, running second and third in the first two Chase races held here. The No. 17 Roush Racing team has been on a roll the last six races, with two wins and five top-five finishes to show for their efforts. The Killer Bees are also in top form, ripping off multiple stops in the 12-second range at Richmond. Clearly, this team is the popular pick to win the championship this year if they can avoid getting involved in anyone else’s issues.
Jimmie Johnson limped into the Chase. He lost the points lead at Fontana and followed that up with a terrible night at Richmond, spinning twice and finishing 23rd. The No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports squad has not had a top-five finish since their win at Indianapolis, and only has one top 10, which occurred at Bristol, where they finished 10th. Loudon should treat the team well, though, since they have an average finish of 8.7. With no finishes outside of the top 15 in the nine races they have run at the track, look for Johnson to right his ship in New Hampshire.
Sit ‘Em Down
Casey Mears has simply not fared well at New Hampshire in his short Cup career. Mears has run seven races at the 1-mile oval, never scoring a top-15 finish in any of them. This choice could jump up to bite me because Ganassi has improved their short-track cars recently, but I’m banking on past history repeating itself. With an average finish of 23.6, it looks like this is a good week to keep Mears on the sidelines.
Riggs is another driver that has not enjoyed much success at Loudon. In his five races at the track, he only has one top 10. However, that top 10 was this spring, so this is another pick that could turn out worse than one would hope for. But hoping to bank on past history again, I’ll look for Riggs’s average finish of 24.8 to foretell another poor finish in New Hampshire.
Roll the Dice
Earnhardt Jr. is another driver who has not enjoyed much success at New Hampshire in the past. His average finish at the track is 18.9, and he also finished last here this July with a blown engine. The No. 8 Dale Earnhardt Incorporated team has been running quite well, though, since their back-to-back 43rd-place finishes nearly sent them right out of Chase contention. The team has four top-10 finishes in the last six races, with the other two finishes being 18th and 17th. Knowing the top 10 usually runs well right out of the postseason box, look for Junior to put on a strong performance in the first race of the Chase.
Crank ‘Em Up
This race will be key for setting the tone for Jeff Burton‘s run for the championship. The dig on Burton lately is his inability to close out a race as strong as he starts, but Loudon is a track where Burton knows how to get it done. The RCR veteran has four wins to his credit here to go along with only one finish outside the top 20 in the last 17 races held at the track. Burton may fade again late… but he should still get a good finish.
Kyle Busch comes into the Chase on a hot streak. He was a turn away from the win at Richmond, and enters Loudon looking to complete the season sweep. His youthful exuberance and current momentum make him a solid pick to kick off the Chase the right way.
Sit ‘Em Down
It seems like the rejuvenation that Elliott Sadler brought to the No. 19 team might be wearing off. He started off great with a top 10 his first time out, but since then has fallen off a bit. Loudon hasn’t been a strong track for Sadler in the past, with a dismal average finish of 21.3 and finishes of 39th, 30th and 25th the last three times out. With that in mind, it’s a good week to get off the Sadler bandwagon.
Despite another poor run at Richmond, Jeff Gordon still made it back into the Chase. But possible lingering effects from last weekend that left the team scratching their heads could play a role this week. Loudon has been a good track for him in the past, but Gordon hasn’t seen the top 10 in the last three New Hampshire races. I’d play it safe and wait to see if last week’s struggle was due to Richmond or an even bigger problem creeping up on the Dupont team.
Roll the Dice
Now that he is officially out of the Chase, Biffle is setting his sights on Stewart in 11th place. While he has a tough road ahead to catch Stewart, he should get a good jump this weekend. With top fives in his last three Loudon starts, Biffle has obviously learned something at this track that has helped him improve on his dismal finishes here early in his career. With nothing to lose, this team is on the hunt for trophies, so look for Biffle to contend on Sunday.
Mike: You’re drinking the Burton Kool-Aid huh?
Cami: Yeah, I figure he’s been saving that big win for the Chase. Loudon is a place he can definitely do it. Even his bad days there aren’t all that bad.
Mike: It may work out for him, too, since it is only 300 miles. He won’t be able to lose the handle this week, though. By the way, Busch is probably a good pick. The pressure won’t get to him this early in the Chase.
Cami: I think he’ll start off well then fall off. At least I went out on a limb… I see you played it safe with the two top points leaders.
Mike: Yeah, I appreciate you giving me the opportunity to pick the big guns. Johnson has been struggling, but he has been pretty strong at Loudon. Kenseth’s team is just on fire. Did you see their pit stops last week?
Cami: Yeah, they were killer for sure. Man, I sound like Rusty Wallace there! Johnson should be OK if he isn’t a bump magnet again this week.
Mike: I think if Jeff Green gets into him this week, NASCAR will come down pretty hard on the boy.
Cami: Nice job last week with your picks. Too bad we wiped the slate clean just as you were catching up.
Mike: No biggie. It’s just like Cup racing… it’s all about momentum.
Cami: Hopefully you won’t peak too early.
Mike: A man never wants to peak too early. I’m worried about my Sit ‘Em Down picks though. Both of them could have good days.
Cami: It’s all a gamble, which is what makes it interesting.
Mike: You bet. We’ll see how it pans out.
Here is a preview of how the new point system should work. Luckily for Cami, this week doesn’t count.
|Crank ‘Em Up||Harvick- 1st||15||Stewart- 18th||1|
|Biffle- 6th||5||Hamlin- 15th||3|
|Sit ‘Em Down||Vickers- 24th||0||Gordon- 31st||3|
|Ku. Busch- 27th||1||Johnson 23rd||0|
|Roll the Dice||Kahne- 3rd||15||Bowyer- 12th||5|