LENOX Industrial Tools 301
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We’re done with the Saturday night races for a while and this Sunday we will have some good old fashioned short track action at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Qualifying at this track is super important, but the last few races have come down to fuel mileage, so looking at the results you may not notice that. Seeing as we haven’t had many short track races this season, I’ll be going off of past performance at Loudon when making my picks this weekend as well as looking back at Bristol and Martinsville a little bit. This is not the weekend to take sleeper picks and hope for the best. There are favorites and guys that always run well here, and there’s no reason to go against them.
During The Last Race At Loudon…Tony Stewart was on the right side of a fuel mileage gamble this time as Clint Bowyer ran out of fuel in the closing laps and Smoke was able to grab his third career win at new Hampshire Motor Speedway. Brad Keselowski finished 2nd behind the #14 followed by Greg Biffle, Jeff Gordon, and Brian Vickers, who rounded out the top 5. Gordon led the most laps that day (78 out of the 300).
Practice Schedule…Unfortunately the Yahoo! Auto Racing players don’t get to see practice before setting their rosters this weekend. On Friday at noon, there will be the first practice session of the weekend followed by qualifying on 3:30 pm. Then, on Saturday, there will be two practices. The first will start at 9:00 am and Happy Hour will start at 11:00 am.
Top Fifteen Ranking Entering The LENOX Industrial Tools 301:
1. Tony Stewart – Smoke had a bit of a stumble in Kentucky but with his win at Daytona last weekend, he now has finished 3rd or better in four of the last five Sprint Cup Series races. You’re warned every year that this is the time to pick the #14, so hopefully you aren’t ignoring that. At New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Stewart is always a very good fantasy driver whether he has momentum or not. In twenty-six career starts here, he owns an average finish of 11.5 and has collected three victories, fourteen top 5s, and sixteen top 10s. What’s most impressive is that Tony has led 1,180 laps (averages out to about 45 per race) in his career at Loudon, which is second only to Jeff Gordon’s 1,304 in eight more starts. Stewart finished 2nd in this race last season and, as I said before, followed that up with a win in the fall during the Chase. He hasn’t had a driver rating below 90.0 at this track since 2006, and I wouldn’t expect that to change on Sunday. The #14 should be a contender for the win even if the race comes down to fuel mileage. If he didn’t run out of gas in the fall race in 2010 here, Stewart would be on a four-race streak of finishes 2nd or better at this track. Barring a major mechanical failure or something, Stewart should be considered a lock for a top 10, if not a top 5, on Sunday.
2. Jimmie Johnson – Five Time doesn’t lead a whole bunch of laps at Loudon (just 317 in twenty career starts) but he gets the finishes, and that’s a good thing for fantasy racers. He sports an average finish of 10.1 at this track (second-best in the series) and has visited victory lane three separate times (most recently in 2010). This team has struggled a bit in the last three events here (finishes of 25th, 5th, and 18th), but before that Johnson put together a string of seven straight finishes of 9th or better at this track. He hasn’t had a driver rating above 100.0 in the last three races here–which is a little concerning–but with the way this team has been running over the last month or two, it’s real hard to go against them. Jimmie finished 9th at Bristol earlier this year and then 12th at Martinsville, although he would have probably finished 2nd in the latter if that late wreck didn’t happen.
3. Jeff Gordon – New Hampshire will be one of (if not the) best opportunities for Gordon to grab a win to get into the Chase this year. What I’m hoping for (because he will be on my Yahoo! roster) is that what happened back in Martinsville will happen this Sunday, except that Gordon will actually win. Jeff has made thirty-four career starts at Loudon and has finished inside the top 5 in nearly half of them (fifteen), including three victories, the most recent coming in 1998. Over the last two years (four races), only one driver has an average driver rating better than Gordon, and that is Tony Stewart. The #24 finished 4th here last fall and the last time that Gordon finished worse than 15th at Loudon was back in 2005. He has also had a triple-digit driver rating in eight of the last eleven events here. Gordon had three straight finishes of 6th or better before Daytona and I expect him to finish there on Sunday as well.
4. Denny Hamlin – Despite only having one career victory here, Denny Hamlin does have the best average finish at Loudon of anyone in the series with 9.0. In his twelve career starts here, he has been able to grab five top 5s and has just one finish outside of the top 20. That one finish came last fall, when Hamlin ended up 29th after starting 28th. I wouldn’t expect that to happen again on Sunday, though. Before that, Denny finished 3rd and 2nd in the two previous events at New Hampshire, and he ended up 2nd in the 2009 September race at this rack as well. Hamlin finished 6th in Martinsville earlier this year and won the second race of the season at Phoenix, which some people compare to New Hampshire a bit. What’s a little concerning is his back injury, but the last time that Hamlin was injured it only made him better it seemed like.
5. Ryan Newman – Even though he (got lucky) won the race back at Martinsville, Newman has been disappointing for fantasy owners all season, so take this ranking with a huge grain of salt. This is where Newman should be, but there’s no guarantee. If this team looks a little off in practice, expect The Rocketman to fall in my final rankings and I would definitely consider picking someone else. He’s going to qualify up front, which is very important here, but that doesn’t mean he’ll finish there. Now that the doom and gloom part of this is over, let’s look at the good stuff with Newman. In twenty career starts at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, The Rocketman has notched three victories and has finished inside the top 10 in 65% of them with an average finish of 13th. He won both poles here last season and led a total of 181 laps in the two races. Newman ended up 25th in the fall race, but remember that came down to fuel mileage in the end. Still, he has finishes inside the top 10 in four of the last five races, and won this race a year ago. He could go either way this week, but Newman will still be on my Yahoo! roster this weekend.
6. Clint Bowyer – The Michael Waltrip Racing Toyotas have been really good on the short tracks thus far in 2012, and that makes me like Clint Bowyer even more this week. As I said earlier, Clint was in the lead in the final laps of the last race here at Loudon in 2011, but he ran out of gas and ended up finishing 26th. Yes, pretty disappointing, I know, especially if you had him on your fantasy roster that race (like I did). Still, Bowyer has led more laps at this track (229) than anyone over the past two seasons, and he does have two wins here. And those victories were absolute dominating performances. During the first, in 2007, Clint led 222 of the 300 laps and had a perfect driver rating of 150.0. In the second, which came in 2010, he led 177 of the 300 laps and had a near-perfect driver rating of 149.4. There’s no doubt that Bowyer knows how to get around this track, and like I said before, the MWR cars have been top-notch on the short tracks in 2012. Clint finished 4th at Bristol and 10th at Martinsville.
7. Kasey Kahne – Kahne will be one of the riskier picks this weekend, just like he has been all season. His average finish of 17.8 in sixteen career starts at this track is nothing to get excited about, but let’s look a little deeper into the races quick. Over the last two years (four events), Kahne has just one top 10 finish. However, in one of those outside the top 10 (June 2010, where Kahne finished 36th), he lost an engine after starting on the outside pole and leading 110 laps. Kahne also started 2nd in the most recent race here and led 43 laps but only finished 15th. What is promising is that Kasey has a driver rating of at least 100.0 in four of the last six New Hampshire races. There is no doubt that the #5 Chevrolet will be fast this weekend, but it will all come down to whether or not Kasey and this team can put a whole race together and bring the finish home. Only four drivers have a better average driver rating than Kahne at Loudon over the last years. He could easily finish inside the top 5 or outside the top 20, you really have no idea with KK right now.
8. Dale Earnhardt, Jr. – Despite his struggles over the last few years, Junior has actually been pretty good at New Hampshire. In the last four races here, Earnhardt has the fifth-best average finish (11.0) and is one of only four drivers to finish inside the top 20 in all four events. He has been a pleasant surprise at nearly every race track this season, so don’t let the #88 sneak up on you this weekend. Junior has never won at Loudon, but has recorded ten top 10 finishes in twenty-five career starts and owns an average finish of 16.7. If he qualifies near the front on Friday, I would have a lot more confidence in picking the #88 on Sunday. Even if he doesn’ t, though, I still consider Junior to have a solid chance a top 10 finish this weekend. Big surprise, huh? Dale finished 15th at Bristol and 3rd at Martinsville.
9. Matt Kenseth – Of all the organizations in the Sprint Cup Series, Roush-Fenway Racing has just the fifth-best average finish at Loudon over the last two years. In short, you may want to lay off of the Roushkateers this weekend. Keep in mind that they generally run better here in the fall race during the Chase for whatever reason, especially if you are in an allocation league. However, it’s extremely difficult to go against Kenseth at any track this season because this team has been so strong week in and week out. I haven’t really noticed, but when I looked at this chart, it showed me exactly how consistent this team has been. Right now, you have to consider Kenseth the runaway favorite for the 2012 championship (wouldn’t that be a nice going away present?). At Loudon, Matt The Brat has been nothing too special, but he does top 10 finishes in half of his twenty-four starts here and boasts a decent average finish of 14th. What I don’t like is what he has done at New Hampshire recently: only one finish better than 17th in the last eight races. The good news? That one finish was in the fall race last season, where Kenseth came home in 6th. He’s not a lock for a top 10 by any means, but right now I don’t think Kenseth will be too bad of a pick on Sunday.
10. Greg Biffle – The Biff is pretty hit-or-miss here so make sure he looks good in practice (and starts up front) before picking him on Sunday. What’s good, though, is Biffle has finished 18th or better in each of the last seven races at Loudon, including his 3rd-place finish in the fall race last year (as I said earlier). He won here in 2008 and has averaged a finish of 16.6 in his nineteen career starts at this track. I’m expecting Biffle to improve upon that average on Sunday, though, even if it is just a little bit. He finished 13th at both Bristol and Martinsville earlier this season. In an allocation league like Yahoo!, I would stay away from the #16 this weekend because he is much too valuable at the other, larger race tracks.
11. Kevin Harvick – Well DeLana had her baby so we won’t have to worry about Harvick getting out of the car mid-race this weekend. I would think that would be a little bit of a distraction for Kevin this weekend, though, so you may want to shy away from him for the time being. He has also been pretty disappointing on the short tracks thus far in 2012 (yes, I still remember his monstrous letdown in Martinsville). Harvick isn’t too bad at Loudon, though. In twenty-two career starts here, he has compiled an average finish of 14.1 and has one victory (in 2006). He finished 12th in the most recent event here and got top 5s in both races at New Hampshire during the 2010 campaign. A stat that I like is that Harvick has finished inside the top 20 in sixteen of his twenty-two starts. However, with him being such a “top” driver in most leagues, I’m not sure I would take him on Sunday. I think there are better choices going into the weekend, but we’ll have to see how the #29 looks in practice before I make my final decision.
12. Joey Logano – I don’t know if you’ve noticed it, but ever since the rumors that Logano could be out of a job next season have heated up, this team has really rose to the occasion. I still think Joey is spending too much time in the Nationwide Series, but that argument is for a different time. At Loudon, Sliced Bread does have one career win (back in 2009), but that was a rain-shortened event. Still, you have to put yourself in the position to win races like that, and I like my fantasy picks to have the guts to take a risk like that. What’s interesting when you look at Joey’s Loudon stats is that he has been sort of “on-off” his entire career here. In the three July races that he has ran, Logano has finished 1st, 9th, and 4th. In the four September starts, he has finished 32nd, 21st, 35th, and 14th. If you are superstitious like that, go ahead and take the #20 this weekend. He shouldn’t be a bad pick by any means.
13. Brad Keselowski – BK is going to be one of those guys this weekend that could go either way once we see them on the track. He’s either going to look good and go up in my rankings on Saturday, and the exact opposite. Keselowski has made five career starts at this 1.0-mile race track and owns an average finish of 17.4. He grabbed a top 10 in his first career start here back in 2009, and, as I said before, finished runner-up to Tony Stewart in the fall race last season. Brad’s driver rating in that race was just 93.8, though, so it wasn’t just a good car that got him up there. Still, Keselowski knows how to get around this track (he won the pole for the fall 2010 race) and he has been getting better and better every year since coming to the Sprint Cup series full time. Because of that, you can’t really look at his history at a certain racetrack and use that to predict how he will race. Once we see the cars on the track, however, we should find out whether the Blue Deuce will be any good on Sunday.
14. Martin Truex, Jr. – As I said before, Michael Waltrip Racing has been great on the short tracks in 2012, and that is part of the reason that I have Truex ranked this weekend. Believe it or not, this is actually his fifth-best track on the circuit. In twelve career starts here, Martin owns an average finish of 15.1 and has compiled five top 10s–the most recent coming in this race last season. Truex followed that solid performance with a 16th-place effort in the 2011 fall race, and even led three laps that day. When you look at the short tracks this season, the #56 has been a valuable pick: Truex finished 3rd at Bristol and followed that up with a 5th-place at Martinsville. Keep an eye on him in practice.
15. Jeff Burton – He’s not going to go out there and challenge for the win on Sunday but Jeff Burton could be a very valuable asset in fantasy racing this weekend at Loudon. He has raced here thirty-four times and he just gets how to race the track–twenty-nine of those events have ended with Burton in the top 20. He’s coming off of his best finish of the season last weekend in Daytona (2nd) and I could seriously see him challenging for a top 10 on Sunday when the checkered flag flies. In the last five races here, Burton hasn’t finished worse than 16th and has completed every single lap (1,502 in total). His career average finish here is 13.6 and Jeff has visited victory lane four separate times at this track, the most recent coming in 2000. He would be an excellent “start saver” pick this weekend in the Yahoo! Auto Racing game.
Extra Note: Brian Vickers will be in the #55 Toyota this weekend and Sam Hornish, Jr. will race the #22 Dodge in place of A.J. Allmendinger, who is suspended.
Those To Avoid Entering The LENOX Industrial Tools 301:
Marcos Ambrose – At Loudon, I like to pick drivers that can conserve their brakes, and Ambrose is one of the best at it. For some reason, though, he hasn’t found much success at this 1-mile race track. In six career starts here, Marcos has averaged a finish right around 20th and has never had a driver rating over 74.9. He ended up 9th in this race last season but when you look at his Yahoo! chart from that race, you can tell the #9 wasn’t a top ten car.
Paul Menard - Just stay away. It’s pretty pathetic when your best finish in ten career starts at a track has been 20th, and that is the case with Paul Menard. He tends to qualify well here, but the finishes just don’t show up. In the last two years, Menard has started 14th or better in all four races at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Qualifying is important at this track but so is being able to race well. Paul has just one lead-lap finish in the last six events at this track.
Kyle Busch - This is Rowdy Busch so it’s hard to say not to pick him, but I just think that there are too many other (better) options this week. Kyle does have one win here (back in 2006), but in fourteen career starts at Loudon he has more finishes outside of the top 10 than he does inside. That’s something that I do not like to see. Not to mention that this team has been under-performing for the last month-and-a-half now. If he starts on the pole and looks the fastest in practice, I may change my mind.