The Nextel Cup Series heads to the Northeast this weekend to the cozy confines of New Hampshire International Speedway, the 1.058-mile flat track in Loudon, N.H. The eighth Car of Tomorrow race of the season, this weekend up north is likely to send the usual CoT cast of characters near the front of the pack. But pay particular attention to those championship contenders on your fantasy team; those drivers will certainly be focusing their efforts even more keenly on this track this weekend with the Chase in mind.
So, who’s more likely to enjoy the summer breeze in New England, and who’s ready to be swept up in disaster? We have all the fantasy info you need to know in this week’s edition of Picks ‘N’ Pans.
Cami’s Race Rewind
Kyle Busch won his third career Cup Series event and first of the 2006 season in last year’s Lenox Industrial Tools 300. After a crash with two laps to go forced the race to go eight laps over the scheduled distance, Busch had to race in overtime to secure his third career win. Those extra laps made things a bit more interesting with teams already close on fuel mileage before the yellow. Carl Edwards passed Denny Hamlin as he ran out of gas to claim second place, while Greg Biffle, Mark Martin and Kevin Harvick rounded out the top five. Hamlin coasted into sixth place, the best amongst the Gibbs drivers after Tony Stewart was caught up in an early wreck with polesitter Ryan Newman while leading. Stewart finished 37th and Newman, who got in a wreck during the restart after his contact with Stewart, finished 39th.
Mike’s Keys to the Race
Loudon is another CoT race on the schedule, a fact that should not be overlooked by fantasy owners. There has been a very distinct chasm between the haves and have nots when it comes to the CoT races this season – leaving a few select organizations as heavy favorites. Another factor to consider is this track’s similarity to Martinsville – in fact, the facility has often been called Martinsville on steroids. Check out the spring results from that track’s race in April to figure out a darkhorse if you need one.
As for who to watch, the Hendrick teams should be front and center on everyone’s wish list for this weekend. Even though their crew chiefs will not be present, expect both Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson to be strong this weekend. The JGR drivers will also most likely be a factor. Finally, you cannot discount DEI after they showed some strength early this season in CoT races; Remember that Martin Truex Jr. dominated the race at Dover.
Crank ‘Em Up:
Gordon has visited Victory Lane at New Hampshire many times before, and owns the highest average finish of anyone who has run more than two races at the track. Forget about the fact that Gordon will be without his crew chief this weekend; with modern technology at his disposal, Steve LeTarte will be in constant contact with the team and have plenty of input into the final decisions that take place on the car this weekend. Also, don’t forget the fact that Hendrick has dominated the CoT races this season… clearly, he’ll be a man to beat come Sunday.
Johnson, who also drives for Hendrick Motorsports, will be missing his crew chief this weekend as well; however, that has never been a problem for him in the past. Everyone remembers the Daytona 500 from last season – Chad Knaus was not on the pit box for that victory, nor a second one that followed during a four-race suspension with interim crew chief Darian Grubb at the helm. Johnson has an average finish of 11.7 at Loudon and has won at the track twice. So, expect the No. 48 team to come out with a vengeance this weekend after the bad publicity of Sonoma.
Sit ‘Em Down:
Bobby Labonte has been doing a very admirable job in Petty Enterprises equipment this season, but he simply hasn’t been getting it done at Loudon as of late. Labonte’s last three finishes here have been 24th, 23rd and 40th, so this just feels like a weekend where it would be best to leave the Cheerios in the box.
I’ve never been high on Jamie McMurray; any longtime reader of this column is very aware of that fact. But this time, my criticisms have plenty of facts to back them up. McMurray’s average finish at Loudon is 22.0, and I think it is safe to say that he’s not going to be strong again this weekend. McMurray has been hit or miss in CoT races, and I think this will be a miss weekend for the No. 26 team.
Roll the Dice:
JJ Yeley has shown some signs of promise after finishing second at Lowe’s the end of May. On top of that, he is running Joe Gibbs CoT equipment, which certainly gives him a chance to run well this weekend. It is a gamble, but one that’s worth taking this weekend after Yeley collected two top-15 finishes at Loudon last year.
Crank ‘Em Up:
Only a run-in early in the race last year with Newman has kept Stewart from possibly going four races in a row with a first or second-place finish at Loudon. Barring last year’s 37th-place finish, Stewart has a win in 2005 and two runner-up finishes in the last four New Hampshire races. The CoT shouldn’t affect Stewart’s performance here, either, especially since he has top 10s in all but two CoT starts. Look for Stewart’s summer to get kicked off in high gear on Sunday.
Four-time Loudon winner Jeff Burton heads to one of his favorite tracks this weekend fresh off his third-place finish last weekend at Sonoma – his best run since April’s win at Texas. While Burton’s had mixed results in the CoT races, his past successes at Loudon should give him a positive attitude heading into this week’s race. RCR as a whole has been pretty up and down this year, but after last week’s results, they are on an upswing. Look for Burton to continue that this weekend.
Sit ‘Em Down:
Casey Mears has been on a roll as of late following his win in the Coca-Cola 600, but that train could derail this weekend at Loudon. Mears and the No. 25 team haven’t had the same success in the CoT as their Hendrick counterparts have, and this is a track where Mears historically has trouble. In eight starts at NHIS, he has a best finish of 16th and an average finish of 23.3. Give Mears his moment to cool down… and then look to use him again in a couple of weeks.
Not much has gone right for Elliott Sadler this year, and I don’t look for that to suddenly change this weekend at Loudon. Sadler’s best finish with the CoT came in its first week out at Bristol, and things have gone downhill ever since. Looking at his Loudon record, there isn’t much hope that will change. He has scored a few top 10s here and there, but his overall average finish of 20.3, combined with his lackluster performance this season, doesn’t lead me to believe he’ll squeak out another top 10 this week.
Roll the Dice:
Newman‘s road back to being a contender has hit a few speed bumps in recent weeks, but he is in a good position to get back on track this Sunday at Loudon. In 10 starts at the track, he has seven top-10 finishes to go along with two victories. Prior to his 20th-place finish at Sonoma, Newman had three straight top 10s in the CoT, and he’ll be racing the car he drove to a fourth-place finish at Darlington in May. Look for the No. 12 team to dial up another strong performance this week.
Mike: So, you’re thinking Burton is going to recapture the old magic and be able to put a whooping on them at New Hampshire this weekend?
Cami: I’d like to believe he’s going to put on a clinic, but I think he’s good for a top 10 for sure. He was money here a few years back, so I think he can build off that good run at Sonoma and race back up front.
Mike: He’s run pretty well in the CoT races, too. I think he’ll be competitive for sure, as long as he doesn’t have mechanical difficulties like he had at Richmond.
Cami: Yeah, but that’s a gamble you take with anybody. And don’t I know it, since that has caused me more than a few bad finishes this year. Speaking of bad, I see you’re going with the Hendrick Bad Boys this week.
Mike: You betcha. I think the organization is going to be very focused this week to try and prove a point. On top of that, it is a CoT race, and they have been money in those events all year long. I’m just hoping Johnson’s interim crew chief has a better calculator than Chad.
Cami: Well, obviously Chad’s is broken. I hate to say it, but I really don’t see a dropoff either. Jimmie won without him last year, so he has the practice.
Mike: That is very true. I am glad to see you dissing on your boy Casey again, though. That always seems to work wonders for you.
Cami: No, that works wonders for you. And I’m not the only one that dogs certain drivers. Funny how you were somewhat tempted to use Jamie last week, but now you’re back to dogging him.
Mike: Oh, yeah. I can’t deny that he can run well on the road courses, but Loudon goes in a circle, and I’m not feeling like he’s going to run very well at all this weekend.
Cami: But you think Yeley is? Has he done anything since he ran well at Charlotte?
Mike: I think that he has been running better this season and, since he is in Gibbs’s CoT equipment, I feel like he is going to put on a good show. He was strong at Dover before the shock broke on him. He’s not on a roll like Newman, though. I think that is going to be a good pick for you.
Cami: As long as he can stay out of Stewart or Juan Pablo Montoya‘s way, I think it should work out well.
Mike: Very true. I guess we’ll see how it pans out.
Crank ‘Em Up: 13.7
Sit ‘Em Down: 23.2
Roll the Dice: 20.2
Crank ‘Em Up: 12.2
Sit ‘Em Down: 23.7
Roll the Dice: 19.5