After a weekend filled with wine and cheese, the drivers are headed to the Northeast for lobsters, beer, and a return to the guts and glory of oval-track racing. New Hampshire is a tricky little track with variable banking that makes multiple racing lines available to the drivers – they can run high, low, and in-between.
But multiple grooves is one thing, and the ability to make multiple passes is something else altogether. The CoT remains a mystery not everyone has figured out. Some teams who were dominant last year are struggling; and if they’re still on your roster, chances are you’re part of a program that’s simply trying to get up to speed. But this weekend will offer a chance for those on the bench to get healthy, and others to rebound from bad weekends on the West coast. One thing is for sure, though; you can never have too much information when filling out your fantasy rosters for the weekend.
To make the best choices for your team, read on to see who the experts chose this week in Picks ‘N’ Pans.
Bryan’s Race Rewind
One year ago, Denny Hamlin used a two-tire stop to get track position ahead of Jeff Gordon and Martin Truex Jr. He was then able to hold off a furious charge from Gordon’s No. 24 Impala to score his first Sprint Cup win of the 2007 season. The win deprived Hendrick Motorsports of victory in a race that saw Gordon, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch all lead significant laps for the four-car team. The race also marked a dominant performance by Chevrolet, as Impalas took the top-eight positions in the final running order. Carl Edwards had a car that likely would have challenged for the win, but a botched pit stop robbed Edwards of track position and left him with a 13th-place finish. The race was a largely uneventful affair, with only six cautions – three of which were for debris.
Mike’s Keys to the Race
Loudon is a track with progressive banking – the bottom of the track is flat, and the banking increases as it moves up toward the wall. As is the case at most tracks, but especially on the flat, short tracks, rolling through the center of the corner is the key to going fast and winning. The teams who can make the car work down on the flat will have an advantage because there won’t be as many people running there making passing easier.
Loudon was one of the tracks on the 2007 schedule that raced the CoT, so the teams have some sort of baseline to develop their cars off of for this year. As for who to look for up front, Richard Childress Racing has been the class of the series on short tracks this season and has the most recent winner at Loudon with Clint Bowyer. You also have to think about Joe Gibbs Racing simply on the merits of all of their success this year, and it doesn’t hurt that they employ the defending champion of this event, Hamlin. When looking at your roster, don’t just look at history at Loudon, but look at the success your drivers had earlier this year at Phoenix and Martinsville – usually, the drivers who succeeded there will have a good chance this weekend too.
Crank ‘Em Up:
Hamlin has been almost completely MIA the last two weekends. He was 14th at Michigan, then never sniffed the lead and finished 27th last weekend at Sonoma. Fortunately for Hamlin, he’s heading to Loudon, a track where he won last season and has the highest average finish of any active driver. And let’s not forget he won at Martinsville earlier this season and finished third at Phoenix. Both of those tracks are also flat, short circuits which bodes well for the JGR driver heading into this weekend. Look for Hamlin to get healthy in a hurry.
Gordon has been out to lunch more times this year than any of his fans care to remember. Last weekend was another example where the car was horrible to start the event; but in true No. 24 team fashion, they made the adjustments to allow Gordon to scratch out a top-three finish. The momentum they gained, along with Gordon’s history at New Hampshire – where he has won three times and finished in the top three the last three races – bodes well for them this weekend. Expect to see Gordon continue his improvements.
Sit ‘Em Down:
Brian Vickers has been a very big surprise this season. He is less than 100 points from the top 12 in points and, if not for some bad luck, would most likely have won a race or two this season. But unfortunately for Vickers and his fans, he has not seen that success on flat, short tracks. He finished 23rd at Martinsville and 25th at Phoenix – and for his career, Vickers has an average finish of 20.7 at Loudon, and has only finished in the top 10 one time in seven career starts at the track. Don’t expect the glass slipper to fit too well for him this weekend…
Juan Pablo Montoya was in the top 12 in points after Talladega. But since then, he has four finishes of 30th or worse in the seven races that have been held. Add to that the fact that he is on his third crew chief of the year, and the stars are not lining up very well for Montoya. He has had some decent run on the flat short tracks this year, but he and Chip Ganassi Racing have struggled more and more of late. Ganassi had a solid short track program last year, but it has been just mediocre so far in 2008 across the board. Wait for another week to give Montoya another shot.
Roll the Dice:
Ryan Newman has been on a heck of a roller coaster ride this season; he has as many top-five finishes as he has finishes of 42nd or worse. But Newman had a solid run this past weekend and he’s made it clear to the organization that they need to step up or he will be considering going elsewhere next season. Newman’s average finish New Hampshire is 11.1, and he’s been in the top 10 the last two races there. It’s the perfect place for the No. 12 team to start their turnround; and while it is certainly a gamble to pick Newman this weekend, he could pay off a pretty big dividend.
Crank ‘Em Up:
Matt Kenseth is well known as Mr. Consistency, but his record at Loudon stands out – even for the robotic top-10 machine that the No. 17 team has been. Since 2003, Kenseth has finished outside the top 10 only once at the Magic Mile, and that was a 14th-place finish in July of 2006. Kenseth has completed all but four laps at Loudon through his entire Cup career, and while he has never won there, he’s got momentum on his side. Kenseth has gone from backmarker to top 12 in points over the last month, and is coming off his first ever top 10 at Sonoma. The No. 17 team is red-hot right now, and Kenseth is knocking on Victory Lane’s door.
Another driver that is hitting their stride as the summer race to the Chase heats up is Johnson. While the No. 48 team is still not in their title form from 2007, they have definitely stepped up their performance on the track. Johnson has scored four top-15 finishes in a row, but more importantly, has led significant amounts of laps in the last three races. Johnson has found the front of the field again, and he is due for a win. Loudon may very well be the place. Johnson has won twice at Loudon in the past, and will be at the front of the field all day Sunday. Fantasy gamers, it’s time to get back on the No. 48 train.
Sit ‘Em Down:
After a strong run at Pocono a few weeks ago, Kurt Busch seemed poised to hit another summer hot stretch like he did in 2007. However, the races at Michigan and Sonoma derailed that notion. Busch has been absolute junk the last few weeks, and that was at tracks that he has run well at in the past. Penske Racing as a whole has been way behind on the ovals in the last few months, and the No. 2 team has been farther off than the other Penske teams. Plus, with Newman’s ultimatum to Penske Racing to improve immediately, the No. 12 team is going to get the A-equipment for a while. Busch will struggle early and often Sunday and will be lucky to finish on the lead lap, much less in the top 10.
David Gilliland’s runner-up performance at Sonoma was unquestionably impressive – both for the learning driver and for Yates Racing – but don’t expect that lightning to strike two weekends in a row. Gilliland has seen and had success at Sonoma before; but he doesn’t have the same experience at Loudon. Further, though Gilliland struggled everywhere in 2006 and 2007, Loudon was exceptionally hard on him. In three starts at the track, Gilliland has finished inside the top 30 only once, and that was a 28th-place run in July of last year. The flat New England oval has not been kind to Gilliland, and while he has been running well of late, there are much safer drivers to put on a fantasy roster this weekend.
Roll the Dice:
Gamers with roster space for another Roush driver, look no further. Though the 2007 campaign saw David Ragan wad up a lot of race cars, Loudon was a consistent bright spot for his No. 6 team, as they scored top-20 finishes in both races. This year, Ragan has gone from greenhorn rookie to legitimate Chase contender, and has shown marked improvement at every track he’s been to. Roush Fenway Racing teammates Kenseth and Edwards both enjoyed strong showings in this race one year ago, and there’s no reason to think Ragan won’t be able to capitalize on that team info as well. The No. 6 will also be looking to get back on track after struggling at Sonoma.
Mike: Well Bryan, you made a couple of good picks last week; unfortunately you put them in the wrong categories. Kenseth was a solid eighth place for one of your Sit ‘Em picks while your crank of road-course ringer Boris Said yielded a resounding 41st. Cranking those specialists is always an iffy proposition.
Bryan: No Fear Racing had no fire under the hood Sunday, that’s for sure – but in respect to Kenseth, I’m cranking him up this week. He has nine top 10s in his last 10 Loudon starts, plus momentum coming off his first top 10 ever at Sonoma. Now, Gordon stole a top five at Sonoma, but he hasn’t been on top of his oval game of late. Why does he deserve the spot?
Mike: It may be a bit of a sentimental pick, but it seems to me that the No. 24 team is finally beginning to figure out some of the adjustability in the new car design. It very well could bite me badly, but his history at Loudon and the way that team is coming around, I’m thinking they will start to get things back together this weekend. And you’re obviously thinking that the Hendrick boys have something figured out, anyways, if you’re picking Johnson to run strong. Do you think Chad can finally make a good pit call again?
Bryan: The No. 48 team is on the cusp of breaking out, and they’ve been running considerably better of late, posting four straight top 15s. But more importantly, they’re leading laps – 59 at Pocono, 65 at Michigan, 27 at Sonoma. He is running at the front again, and the Magic Mile will be more of the same for Johnson and Knaus this weekend. Another guy with momentum on his side is Vickers, yet you’re sidelining him this weekend, too. I made that mistake at Sonoma. Why should fantasy gamers do so again?
Mike: I certainly agree that Vickers has been hot this year and will have a very good chance at making the Chase; however, if you look at his success, none of it has been on short tracks. Phoenix and Martinsville were very poor races for him, and his history at Loudon is not good, either. Combine those two factors and I don’t think he’s going to do much this weekend. Although his luck this year hasn’t been the best, I was surprised to see you are sitting two-time Loudon winner Kurt Busch. What makes you think our loyal readers should leave him on the pine this weekend?
Bryan: Any faith I had in the resurgence of the No. 2 car vanished after Sonoma. Ever since Pocono, they’ve been junk, posting bad finishes two consecutive weeks at tracks that Busch has traditionally run well at. Penske Racing is in a big-time slump right now and the No. 2 is at the forefront of it, which makes me iffy on rolling the dice on my boy Newman… convince me.
Mike: Dice rolling is a gamble, and anything with Newman this year has been a gamble – but he ran well at Sonoma. He put out a bit of an ultimatum to the organization and I’m hoping they have responded. If they have, he’ll run well at Loudon; and chances are he will. It is a historically good track for him, and he has only finished outside the top 12 twice in 12 career starts. I can’t fault you for the Ragan roll of the dice. Do you think he can make it into the top 10 this weekend?
Bryan: Ragan wrecked stuff left and right his rookie season, yet scored top 20s at both races at Loudon last year. This year, he’s emerged as a legitimate Chase contender and will be raring to get back on track after a poor run at Sonoma. He’s definitely a sleeper threat.
Mike: You know, we are going to catch some flack because neither of us picked a Childress driver, and they have really had the cars on short tracks this year, not to mention they have Mr. New Hampshire in Jeff Burton. I thought long and hard about using him, and I just might wish I had used him instead of Gordon.
Bryan: It’s not too late to make a change.
Mike: Oh, I know, but I made my picks and I’ll live with them. I guess we’ll just have to see how it pans out.
The following are the guidelines that Bryan and Mike follow in making their picks each week: Crank ‘Em Up drivers can be in any position in the driver standings, Sit ‘Em Down drivers must be in the current top 25 of the driver standings and Roll the Dice drivers can not be in the top 12 of the current week’s driver standings.
Crank – 13.1
Sit – 21.1
Roll – 15.0
Crank – 11.3
Sit – 24.0
Roll – 24.3