Race: Sylvania 300
Date: Sunday September 22, 2013
Track: New Hampshire Motor Speedway
Time: 2 pm ET
by Virginia Vroom, NASCAR Handicapper, Predictem.com
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Matt Kenseth lived up to my prediction Sunday night after an over 5 hour red flag for rain at Chicagoland Speedway and took the checkers. There were plenty of cautions to go around after the race restarted into the night. The heavy rain from earlier in the day took away quite a bit of rubber from the track, making these cars much looser than before. Regardless, Kenseth lived up to his domination of 1.5 mile tracks and went to victory lane. Other drivers, namely Jimmie Johnson, fell into some bad luck. Johnson’s situation was unique in that his crew was interrupted by a NASCAR official on a green flag pit stop because the official believed that they missed a lug nut. Unfortunately for Johnson, upon inspection from his team, the NASCAR official made a bad call and cost him several seconds and positions on the track. Johnson also had a fault with his own pit crew after an incident with the jack again cost him several seconds and positions on the track. Jeff Gordon, who was the big story this weekend after NASCAR allowed him in the Chase as the 13th driver, was stoked over his 6th place finish. He had every right to be after he suffered a blown tire on a restart and going a lap down.
This weekend, Gordon is looking for some redemption as we head into New Hampshire Motor Speedway. This is actually one of his favorite tracks. New Hampshire overall is a great track to watch and a great track for the drivers. It’s pretty exciting, especially since it’s a Chase race. For some reason, these races are some of the best. Although it’s really only 13 drivers racing for the championship now, it’s like the rest of the field realizes that they have nothing to lose and really risk a lot more than they would during the regular season.
This track, for all intensive purposes, is a short track at just over a mile. New Hampshire has 12 degree banking in the turns and 2 degree banking on the straights. It is a true oval with the frontstretch and backstretch both boasting 1500 feet. This is a track where tires are essential. Because of its short-track tendencies, drivers tend to wear tires while driving hard for positions. Pit stops also make a huge difference here. While we saw that pit stops could hurt a driver at intermediate tracks like Chicagoland, it’s definitely an issue with the shorter tracks because it’s harder to get positions back. It’s kind of like a double-edged sword. You are on a short track, so you’d think that it’d be easier to get that lap back. In some cases, it is because drivers sometimes have to opportunity to literally drive until they lap the field and get that lap back; however, there’s also the scenario where drivers are getting lapped a lot faster because of the short track, leaving it more difficult to maintain that “Luck Dog” pass position. That being said, you can imagine that track position because of pit strategy is going to be key.
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When we take a look at the history of past winners here, we notice a lot of Childress and Penske success here. Joey Logano has a win here while Clint Bowyer has multiples wins. Kasey Kahne is the defending champ. Kahne’s teammates, Gordon and Johnson, also have wins here with Johnson being the most recent in 2010. Gordon, although stoked to come to New Hampshire, hasn’t won here since the ’90s. That’s going to be a hard stigma to beat. He may have the best record here overall, but wins are what we are concerned with. You better believe that Gordon wants to win, though, and prove all of the naysayers that he’s truly earned a spot in this Chase regardless of NASCAR’s rule. If we have to break it down to reality, though, I am going to go with Jimmie Johnson. I think that Johnson really needs and wants his mojo back, you know, that mojo that we are so used to seeing from Johnson and Chad Knaus. This is going to be the place for him to get back into the groove. He’s got the best record on flat tracks this year, and New Hampshire is no different. Here are your potential winners this weekend:
My Pick to Win: Jimmie Johnson
Middle of the Road Pick: Denny Hamlin
Dark Horse Prediction: Aric Almirola
Now, although Almirola only has one top-10 finish at New Hampshire in 6 career starts, it was this year. There’s a lot to be said of this guy so far this season. Almirola has really stepped up and is gaining some valuable experience and making the most of it for sure. Denny Hamlin is also someone you have to watch out for. He’s just flat-out good here. Despite his disastrous season so far, I think that Hamlin has an opportunity to salvage a strong run here. It’s one of his best and favorite tracks, and you really can’t rule out Hamlin when he’s at one of his best tracks.
There was quite a bit of movement among the top 12 drivers after our first Chase race, mostly atowards the middle and back of the pack though. Here are your current top 13 standings as we head into New Hampshire this weekend::
1. Matt Kenseth
2. Kyle Busch
3. Jimmie Johnson
4. Kevin Harvick
5. Carl Edwards
6. Kurt Busch
7. Jeff Gordon
8. Ryan Newman
9. Clint Bowyer
10. Kasey Kahne
11. Greg Biffle
12. Joey Logano
12. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Perhaps the biggest loser was Joey Logano, who had engine troubles last weekend. The biggest winner was Jeff Gordon, who gained 6 positions. He’s looking for a championship and hunting for those points. These guys are going to be fun to watch as we head into New Hampshire. There are a lot of dynamics and a lot of rivalries too that still need attention, both on and off the track. Stay tuned as we head into New Hampshire for our second installment of Chase races!