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Matt McLaughlin’s Driver Handicaps: Firecracker 400

*2007 Firecracker 400 Driver Handicaps**Jeff Gordon* - Gordon's Daytona record speaks for itself; he's won a total of six point races there, most recently the 2005 Daytona 500. With the Hendrick teams on a roll at the plate tracks, that should make Gordon an automatic contender, right? Not quite; it has to be pointed out that Gordon has finished outside the Top 25 in two of the last four point races here.*Denny Hamlin* - Hamlin has yet to finish better than seventeenth in any of the six plate races he's started on the Cup circuit.*Matt Kenseth* - Kenseth's fifth place finish in this race last year was his best points race result at Daytona. He has just five Top 10 finishes in fifteen points-paying races run here.

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Fantasy Picks ‘N’ Pans: Pepsi 400 Edition

The Nextel Cup circuit heads to Daytona this week for NASCAR's traditional Independence Day extravaganza. Held on the 2.5-mile tri-oval to mark the end of the season's first half, the 400-miler gives us a chance to take stock and look back on what's been a wild and wacky beginning to '07. Even though the race is no longer held _ON_ the 4th of July, it still involves a prolonged celebration of our country's independence nonetheless.As for your fantasy team, it's a bit of a crapshoot; the Pepsi 400 is a completely different race from the Daytona 500 that kicked off the season. This race is during the heat of the Summer and is run completely at night. It is also the final restrictor plate race in the old style car -- the final plate race of the year at Talladega will be run with the Car of Tomorrow.Looking for the right combination to make sure you light your own fireworks...on the race track itself? We've got all the information you'll ever need in this week's edition of Fantasy Picks 'N' Pans.

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What’s In A Suspension?

This past weekend's race at Loudon, New Hampshire marked the 8th race of the Car of Tomorrow, the 6th race of Tony Eury Jr's suspension, and the 1st race suspension for Chad Knaus and Steve Letarte for their infractions last week at Sonoma. It's the circle of life, Simba; one suspension ends, two more begin.However, it was widely reported all weekend long that even though Knaus and Letarte were indeed suspended, they were still at the track in some capacity. NASCAR reasoned that while they cannot be physically with their team, they are still permitted on the track's property and can be in communication with their team.Which got me to thinking: what the heck is in a suspension anyway?

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Top Ten Reasons There Will NOT Be a Petty Racing at Daytona This Weekend (First Time Since 1965!)

10. Been there, done that.9. "The King" just turned 70 this week and let's face it, the older you get, the longer it takes to recover from birthday parties.8. All of the Pettys are at that age where nothing beats a good nap on a Saturday afternoon.7. Richard didn't want to risk winning number 201, and Kyle is simply happy with 8.

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Mirror Driving

Hey everyone,Due to the July 4th holiday, Mirror will make a one-day only move to Thursday, July 5th. Our apologies for the inconvenience, and we hope you'll come back then to read all the latest opinions from your favorite Frontstretch Staff members!Sincerely,The Managing Editor

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How Quickly A Rising NASCAR Star Can Fade

Stars rise and stars fall in the world of auto racing, and the ones who fall to Earth are far more numerous than the ones that rise above to star in a stock car league like NASCAR.Well, it appears as though the star of Scott Riggs is about to take that plunge back to Earth if he is not able to start performing better in his Evernham Motorsports ride. That's a real shame, for Riggs is a driver who, just a few years ago, looked to have finally punched his ticket to the big time after toiling for years to get there, has not been able to find the same stuff that Kasey Kahne has found with EMS, and is in danger of losing his ride as a result.

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Running Their Mouth: Lenox Industrial Tools 300

"Oh man, I will tell you, I was driving like a wuss those last few laps trying not to make a mistake. Those guys with fresh tires were coming and Martin (Truex, Jr.) held them off just long enough to get us this win. I have to thank Jeff (Gordon), he could have gotten himself two (ten) more bonus points there, but he chose not to and I appreciate that. The two-tire call by Mike (Ford) was definitely what got us the win. Our FedEx Ground team was pretty good all day. We were a top-four car for the most part, but I knew all we needed was clean air for this car to be good. I just can't thank everyone enough, Chevrolet, Coca Cola, Wiley X, the whole FedEx team, Joe Gibbs Racing, the pit crew for turning this deal around. It is amazing; finally, we got a win." _Denny Hamlin_

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Who’s Hot and Who’s Not In Nextel Cup: Loudon Edition

The one-mile flat track up in New Hampshire proved as difficult as ever to pass on Sunday, but that didn't stop a resurgent Jeff Gordon from giving it a shot. His last lap battle with Denny Hamlin left the two side-by-side heading to the finish line; but in the end, Hamlin held on, squeaking out a win while sending out a statement that his team could pose a challenge to Hendrick's Car Of Tomorrow dominance. In the meantime, several storylines developed behind the two contenders, with late race pit strategies, dropped jacks, and two tire stops doing their best to separate the contenders from the pretenders as the Race To The Chase began its final ten-race stretch.With the urgency reaching a fever pitch, who left the Granite State with their title hopes solid as a rock, and who discovered their chances may be permanently cracked in two? Read this week's edition of Who's Hot and Who's Not in Nextel Cup to find out.*Hot**Denny Hamlin:* Hamlin didn't lead a large amount of laps Sunday; for once, he wasn't even the dominant car of the day at a Car of Tomorrow event. But in the end, the driver of the Fed Ex Chevy got what he wanted the most; his first win of the season.

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Numbers Game: Lenox Industrial Tools 300

*0.068* Denny Hamlin's margin of victory over Jeff Gordon at New Hampshire. (in seconds)*1st* Cup pole for Toyota and 2nd career Cup pole for Dave Blaney this weekend. His first came in February, 2003 at Rockingham.*2* Chevrolets who failed post-race tech on Sunday following the Lenox Industrial Tools 300. Neither the No. 70 driven by Johnny Sauter (finished 14th) nor the No. 5 driven by Kyle Busch (finished 11th) met the minimum height requirements during post-race inspection. Look for penalties and/or fines to be announced sometime today.

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Matt McLaughlin’s Thinkin’ Out Loud : New Hampshire Edition

_Editor's Note : Due to a family emergency, Matt McLaughlin was unavailable for Thinkin' Out Loud; Managing Editor and SI.com contributor Tom Bowles filled in for this edition. Matt will return next week; in the meantime, please keep the McLaughlins in your thoughts and prayers._*The Key Moment*: Crew chief Mike Ford finally figured out the best way for the No. 11 pit crew to keep costing the team a race win; don't leave the outcome in their hands. Ford gave Denny Hamlin two tires during a pit stop with 44 laps to go at New Hampshire, putting the No. 11 car out front in clean air. The sophomore sensation responded by holding off a frantic late charge by Jeff Gordon to snag his first win of ‘07.*In A Nutshell*: A mixed bag. Take a racetrack already hard to pass on, make it ten times harder to pass with the Car Of Tomorrow, and you've got yourself a bore. Still, it's a race that got mildly interesting at the end; intense racing among Hamlin, Gordon, and Truex ended with a close finish that left everyone on their feet.*What They'll Be Talking About Around The Water Cooler This Week:*Alright, it's been over 48 hours and I'm still scratching my head. *How can Brian Vickers can be sent home after post-qualifying violation one week after Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson were put in the field without even turning a lap?* Vickers' violation was for the car being too low, but at least he had a time good enough to make the field on time; that's more than Gordon or Johnson could say, as they got in on "provisionals" at Sonoma. Without a guaranteed starting spot, Vickers had no such protections, and as such he packed his bags and handed his starting spot to "44th place" Chad Chaffin. That's ironic, as it was Chaffin who got sent home at Pocono last year when a similar violation occurred with his old team; other than that, this decision hardly seems fair when compared to the special slots given to the No. 24 and No. 48. Isn't it time to fix a rapidly destructive provisional system? Or is it time for Red Bull to pony up and become NASCAR's official drink of choice? Maybe then their car would actually have been allowed to start the race…

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