And so beginneth the creation that Brian calls the Chase. For 12 select drivers, Sunday’s green flag will mark the start of a 10-race pursuit of a dream; but for 31 others, it’s a chance to end 2009 on a high note. So as the title contenders continue to stroke the points in their made-for-TV drama, the chances for the track nicknamed the “Magic Mile” to live up to its name will be there. Keep in mind that for 3/4 of the field, there’s no longer any reason not to go for broke, giving them an extra level of aggression that’s sure to spice up the competition on this 1-mile oval. The Sylvania 300 will undoubtedly dim the lights for some come race’s end, but the Frontstretch Fantasy Insider will have your roster shining bright.
By the Numbers
Best Average Finish at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (since 2005, active drivers)
Brad Keselowski, 1 start, 6.0
Denny Hamlin, 7 starts, 8.3
Tony Stewart, 9 starts, 9.2
Jeff Gordon, 9 starts, 9.8
Mark Martin, 5 starts, 10.2
Gordon is at the top of several pundits’ Chase contender list. While he’s only scored one win this season, his team seems to be hitting on all cylinders heading into the final 10 races. Gordon finished second in the spring race at Loudon, while in the previous three fall races to start the Chase, he finished a somewhat disappointing 14th last season but in second and third the previous two. But Gordon is also on a bit of a roll as of late. He has finished in the top 10 in 10 of the last 13 races, and six of those races were top fives. Gordon has been put through the Chase ringer before, and he’s driving for the organization that has won the last three championships in Hendrick Motorsports. Look for Gordon to get off to a great start in his Drive For Five. – Mike
Though Smoke has cooled in recent weeks, there aren’t too many tracks out there that Stewart would probably rather start the Chase at than the Magic Mile. Since 2005, no driver has scored more points at NHMS than Stewart, who has a pole, a win and eight top 15s to his credit during that nine-race span… and those numbers would be much higher if you take away his infamous tangle with Ryan Newman in July 2006. Newman’s now his teammate, meaning Smoke should have a very clear path to another top-five finish… and possibly his season’s fourth win. – Bryan
With everyone and their mother talking up Brian Vickers as this year’s Chase Cinderella, let’s not forget that last year’s is also in the field. One year ago, Biffle took the playoffs by storm, scoring a surprising win at NHMS that catapulted the No. 16 to an unlikely third-place finish in points. Just like last year, Biffle comes into this race winless, yet running well enough to contend, earning his spot in the 12-car field a second straight year. Call it a hunch, a sleeper pick, whatever you want… but know that history tends to repeat itself. – Bryan
Hamlin is hot. He is coming off his second victory of the season at Richmond and has scored six top-10 finishes in a row, including his two wins and a fifth at Bristol. He’s now scored a top-10 finish in over half of the races this season, and was fourth in points even before the reseeding for the Chase put him in the same spot. The Joe Gibbs Racing driver also has the highest average finish of any active driver with more than one race at this track, with a win, five top 10s and no finish lower than 15th in seven starts. Hamlin is looking strong heading into the Chase, and should post a very good finish this weekend. – Mike
Bobby Labonte continues to be a serviceable driver in the Cup series, although he hasn’t been turning too many heads this season. Labonte has scored a large number of finishes in the 20s, with a high of fifth at Las Vegas. Unfortunately, that is his only top five and top 10 performance all year. But Labonte’s average finish at Loudon is a relatively decent 14.1, proof this track is one of his better ones in a long, distinguished career. Back in the No. 71 car this weekend, a ride he took to 18th at Atlanta, the veteran is looking to keep proving his worth while auditioning for a ride in 2010. Labonte may not contend for the win this weekend, but will give you a solid mid-pack finish with the potential for a top 15. – Mike
Don’t look now, but while Kurt Busch and Penske Racing’s flagship team is in turmoil, another driver in the stable is quietly on his best streak of the year. Here’s a hint… it’s the one who’s out of a job for 2010. That’s right, David Stremme has somehow scored three top 20s in the last four races, as well as scoring four consecutive lead-lap finishes for the first time this season. Stremme needs a ride at a time where they’re at a premium, and if the last month is any indication, that might be motivation enough for fantasy owners to steal a cheap top-20 finish with the No. 12 car. – Bryan
The Last Word
Loudon is a flat 1-mile track that is all about getting through the center of the corner – the faster that drivers can do that, the faster they can get back on the gas to head down the straightaway. With that in mind, look for drivers who were good at Phoenix and Martinsville this year; they’re your best bets to repeat those performances up in New Hampshire this weekend. Hendrick and Gibbs cars have also run well on flat tracks in recent history, so looking at drivers from those stables will certainly benefit fantasy players. Last but not least, don’t forget that drivers outside the Chase will be going for broke and/or testing for next year. Picking them is a risk/reward strategy that differs greatly from going with the consistency of a Chaser gunning for a championship… so know your poison before you pick it.
Results of our Experts in the Frontstretch Fantasy Games
Game of Tomorrow
Bryan – 6972
Mike – 6532
Bryan – 5208
Mike – 5147
Bryan – 13303
Mike – 11823
To help the readers track how well our experts are doing, we’ll keep track of the cumulative points scored by all three drivers every week, as well as the total for the season.
Bryan – 386, Total: 9040
Mike – 377, Total: 8878
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