Setting the Tone – The Sprint Cup Series Sylvania 300 Race Primer

When the Chase for the Championship resumes at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, it will feature a new points leader and two hard-charging under-achievers who finished 1-2 the last time the Series raced here in July.

Ryan Newman and Tony Stewart took the top two spots here at the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 and is coming off a first (Stewart) and eighth (Newman) finish at last week’s Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway. Stewart’s victory propelled the Indianapolis-native from ninth in the standings to second, just seven points behind new leader Kevin Harvick.

Meanwhile, championship favorites Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, and Jimmie Johnson all ran out of fuel on the final lap and dropped to the bottom half of the standings. Only Harvick was spared a bad finish amongst the favorites, finishing second to Stewart.

Each of these storylines is shaping Sunday’s Sylvania 300 as the most important race thus far in the 2011 Championship season as maintaining or acquiring momentum going into the middle stages of the Chase has become paramount.

Of the contenders, Gordon has been the most dominant at Loudon and had a race-winning capable car in July before electrical issues hampered his performance. Equally impressive has been Johnson who usually got his Chase off to a good start when the playoffs previously began in New Hampshire.

Only Kyle Busch has a legitimate gripe with the short track amongst the contenders as Busch has mustered only an average finish of 16.3 in 13 races. The Chase could go from bad to worse in a hurry for the younger Busch should the trends remain steady.

Track position is the most important factor in winning at New Hampshire, making qualifying the most important aspect of the race weekend. Look for teams to be focused heavily on qualifying setups throughout practice on Friday.

This is all due to New Hampshire’s one-and-a-half lane groove that’s made passing, especially cars a lap down or more extremely difficult. Rubber buildup has often determined where a driver runs during the course of a race and the chances of rain this weekend (I’m not kidding) will make tire strategy even more a variable.

Rain will give the track even more grip giving teams the option to go with two tires over the course of a race. This strategy could win, or lose the race and spin the championship standings around even further. A clean track could also prompt teams to stretch the Sylvania 300 into a fuel mileage gamble much like last year’s race that saw Clint Bowyer outlast Stewart’s tank to win the 2010 Chase opener.

New Hampshire could set the tone for what might be the most exciting championship battle in the format’s eight year history.

The contenders can be found after the jump!

 

Loop Data Statistics Provided by NASCAR:

1 – Kevin Harvick (No. 29 Budweiser Chevrolet)
·         Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 92.1
2011 Rundown
·         Four wins, eight top fives, 14 top 10s
·         Average finish of 11.3
·         Led 12 races for 332 laps
New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook:
·         One win, five top fives, 11 top 10s; one pole
·         Average finish of 14.2 in 21 races
·         Average Running Position of 13.6, 11th-best
·         Driver Rating of 91.1, 10th-best
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 124.016 mph, 10th-fastest
·         2,324 Laps in the Top 15 (60.1%), ninth-most
2 – Tony Stewart (No. 14 Office Depot/Mobil 1 Chevrolet)
·         Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 90.3
2011 Rundown
·         One win, four top fives, 12 top 10s
·         Average finish of 13.7
·         Led 14 races for 375 laps
New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook:
·         Two wins, 13 top fives, 15 top 10s; one pole
·         Average finish of 12.0 in 25 races
·         Average Running Position of 9.0, second-best
·         Series-best Driver Rating of 114.0
·         Series-high 381 Fastest Laps Run
·         641 Green Flag Passes, seventh-most
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 124.510 mph, second-fastest
·         3,153 Laps in the Top 15 (81.5%), second-most
·         423 Quality Passes, third-most
3 – Carl Edwards (No. 99 Scotts Winterguard Ford)
·         Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 99.9
2011 Rundown
·         One win, 13 top fives, 18 top 10s; two poles
·         Average finish of 10.7
·         Led 18 races for 597 laps
New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook:
·         Two top fives, two top 10s
·         Average finish of 14.4 in 14 races
·         Average Running Position of 14.0, 12th-best
·         Driver Rating of 88.4, 11th-best
·         2,165 Laps in the Top 15 (56.0%), 11th-most
4 – Kurt Busch (No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Dodge)
·         Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 98.0
2011 Rundown
·         One win, seven top fives, 15 top 10s; three poles
·         Average finish of 12.6
·         Led 15 races for 612 laps
New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook:
·         Three wins, seven top fives, 11 top 10s
·         Average finish of 13.5 in 21 races
·         Average Running Position of 12.1, seventh-best
·         Driver Rating of 95.4, sixth-best
·         144 Fastest Laps Run, seventh-most
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 124.168 mph, sixth-fastest
·         2,801 Laps in the Top 15 (72.4%), fifth-most
·         412 Quality Passes, fourth-most
5 – Dale Earnhardt Jr. (No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet)
·         Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 84.2
2011 Rundown
·         Four top fives, 10 top 10s; one pole
·         Average finish of 13.9
·         Led 8 races for 50 laps
New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook:
·         Six top fives, 10 top 10s
·         Average finish of 16.7 in 24 races
·         Average Running Position of 12.0, sixth-best
·         Driver Rating of 97.1, fifth-best
·         196 Fastest Laps Run, fifth-most
·         719 Green Flag Passes, second-most
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 124.361 mph, third-fastest
·         2,874 Laps in the Top 15 (74.3%), fourth-most
·         424 Quality Passes, second-most
6 – Ryan Newman (No. 39 Haas Automation Chevrolet)
·         Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 89.6
2011 Rundown
·         One win, eight top fives, 14 top 10s; two poles
·         Average finish of 12.9
·         Led 13 races for 285 laps
New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook:
·         Three wins, six top fives, 13 top 10s; five poles
·         Average finish of 12.4 in 19 races
·         Average Running Position of 13.3, eighth-best
·         Driver Rating of 94.6, eighth-best
·         136 Fastest Laps Run, eighth-most
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 124.017 mph, ninth-fastest
·         2,788 Laps in the Top 15 (72.1%), sixth-most
·         339 Quality Passes, seventh-most
7 – Brad Keselowski (No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge)
·         Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 87.0
2011 Rundown
·         Three wins, seven top fives, 11 top 10s; one pole
·         Average finish of 15.2
·         Led 13 races for 272 laps
New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook:
·         One top 10; one pole
·         Average finish of 21.3 in four races
·         Average Running Position of 21.3, 21st-best
·         Driver Rating of 68.8, 22nd-best
 
8 – Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet)
·         Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 99.3
2011 Rundown
·         One win, 11 top fives, 18 top 10s
·         Average finish of 10.6
·         Led 15 races for 694 laps
New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook:
·         Three wins, seven top fives, 13 top 10s
·         Average finish of 9.6 in 19 races
·         Average Running Position of 10.2, third-best
·         Driver Rating of 105.8, third-best
·         319 Fastest Laps Run, second-most
·         605 Green Flag Passes, 13th-most
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 124.268 mph, fourth-fastest
·         3,140 Laps in the Top 15 (81.2%), third-most
·         411 Quality Passes, fifth-most
9 – Kyle Busch (No. 18 M&Ms Toyota)
·         Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 107.9
2011 Rundown
·         Four wins, 13 top fives, 16 top 10s; one pole
·         Average finish of 11.3
·         Led 20 races for 1,188 laps
New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook:
·         One win, four top fives, six top 10s
·         Average finish of 16.3 in 13 races
·         Average Running Position of 16.1, 16th-best
·         Driver Rating of 88.2, 13th-best
·         119 Fastest Laps Run, 12th-most
·         627 Green Flag Passes, 10th-most
·         2,193 Laps in the Top 15 (56.7%), 10th-most
·         319 Quality Passes, 10th-most
10 – Matt Kenseth (No. 17 Affliction Clothing Ford)
·         Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 96.1
2011 Rundown
·         Two wins, seven top fives, 14 top 10s; two poles
·         Average finish of 12.3
·         Led 15 races for 625 laps
New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook:
·         Five top fives, 11 top 10s
·         Average finish of 14.4 in 23 races
·         Average Running Position of 17.9, 19th-best
·         Driver Rating of 76.9, 20th-best
·         Series-high 741 Green Flag Passes
11 – Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet)
·         Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 97.6
2011 Rundown
·         Three wins, 10 top fives, 14 top 10s; one pole
·         Average finish of 12.0
·         Led 17 races for 721 laps
New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook:
·         Three wins, 14 top fives, 18 top 10s; three poles
·         Average finish of 11.0 in 33 races
·         Series-best Average Running Position of 7.8
·         Driver Rating of 107.3, second-best
·         310 Fastest Laps Run, third-most
·         650 Green Flag Passes, sixth-most
·         Series-best Average Green Flag Speed of 124.520 mph
·         Series-high 3,446 Laps in the Top 15 (89.1%)
·         Series-high 471 Quality Passes
12 – Denny Hamlin (No. 11 FedEx Ground Toyota)
·         Season-to-Date Driver Rating: 90.3
2011 Rundown
·         One win, four top fives, 10 top 10s
·         Average finish of 16.7
·         Led 14 races for 392 laps
New Hampshire Motor Speedway Outlook:
·         One win, five top fives, eight top 10s
·         Average finish of 7.2 in 11 races
·         Average Running Position of 10.9, fourth-best
·         Driver Rating of 100.5, fourth-best
·         96 Fastest Laps Run, 13th-most
·         Average Green Flag Speed of 124.242 mph, fifth-fastest
·         2,437 Laps in the Top 15 (74.6%), eighth-most
·         387 Quality Passes, sixth-most
 
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Top 12 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway
 
Driver
Races
Poles
Wins
Top Fives
Top 10s
DNFs
Average Finish
Driver Rating*
 
1
Kevin Harvick
21
1
1
5
11
0
14.2
91.1
2
Tony Stewart
25
1
2
13
15
2
12.0
114.0
3
Carl Edwards
14
0
0
2
2
0
14.4
88.4
4
Kurt Busch
21
0
3
7
11
1
13.5
95.4
5
Dale Earnhardt Jr.
24
0
0
6
10
4
16.7
97.1
6
Ryan Newman
19
5
3
6
13
2
12.4
94.6
7
Brad Keselowski
4
1
0
0
1
0
21.3
68.8
8
Jimmie Johnson
19
0
3
7
13
0
9.6
105.8
9
Kyle Busch
13
0
1
4
6
0
16.3
88.2
10
Matt Kenseth
23
0
0
5
11
1
14.4
76.9
11
Jeff Gordon
33
3
3
14
18
2
11.0
107.3
12
Denny Hamlin
11
0
1
5
8
0
7.2
100.5
* – Driver Rating based on last 13 New Hampshire Motor Speedway races.