The NASCAR Sprint Cup season has had bettors guessing all season, and for the most part, guessing wrong. It’s been a tough season with no real vibe or trend to grab onto. Just when you think the favorites are starting to emerge on a given type of track, a big underdog wins. Then, just when you’re about to give one of the underdogs a chance to win, the ‘chalk’ comes home.
This week at New Hampshire, we think we can use the data from races at Phoenix and Richmond in the same way we have always done because of the similar distance and lack of banking. But there is now that little cloud of doubt hovering above because of this year’s occurrences.
The standard equation of using similar tracks and past history, then mixing in actual practice results prior to the race isn’t as sound a betting formula as it has been in the past. For the first time, parity is playing a major role and throwing a wrench into many betting practices.
It would be foolish to throw out what happened at those two tracks this year, as would it be to throw out recent past results. Despite some drivers not winning races they were expected to with such ease, the past still does represent a great starting base of drivers to choose from.
New points leader Kyle Busch has three wins on the season and one of them came at Richmond. We can also look to his runner-up finish at Phoenix to have us believe he’ll be the driver to beat this week. He won at New Hampshire in 2006, but only has two top-fives there in the nine races since. He’s got three wins on the year with virtually no fear of not making the Chase which should let him go all out and grab bonus Chase points by getting wins. He'll be using a chassis this week that has one other race to its record, which was a third-place finish at Michigan.
The most consistent driver at New Hampshire has been Denny Hamlin with a 7.6 average finish in his 10 starts. He won there in 2007 and has finished runner-up in the last two fall races. Hamlin also was runner-up on his home track of Richmond in late April, a race he was favored to win.
Jimmie Johnson is a three-time winner at New Hampshire, but only has a Talladega win to show on the season. Even though the car and set-up was different for last week’s race at Kentucky than it will be for Sunday, the obvious improvement on the 1.5-mile track should be a sign that the team is working double-time to get back to their dominant form. Johnson won this race last year and finished third and eighth at Phoenix and Richmond respectively this season. Incidentally, he will be using the same car this week that he used at Phoenix and Richmond. The car also ran two races last season finishing third at Richmond and ninth at Martinsville.
Jeff Gordon made the pass on Kyle Busch at Phoenix to win there this season, which ended a lengthy winless drought. He’s had six New Hampshire wins over his career, but none since his magical year of 1998 when he won 13 races. However, Gordon has been strong on the track as he’s on a run of finishing sixth or better in six of his last nine starts. Unfortunately for Gordon, the car he won with at Phoenix got destroyed at Richmond. This week’s car will be brand new but is set up identically as the Phoenix car based on their set-up notes.
Clint Bowyer has plummeted outside the top-10 in points and is in danger of not making the Chase if he doesn’t get something going good right now. But New Hampshire has been a place that Bowyer has had his most success at winning in 2007 and the fall race last season. He also has proven to be almost as good at Richmond and Phoenix through the years too. At Richmond this year, Bowyer finished sixth. Bowyer will be trying to stay in Chase contention with a new chassis this week.
Kurt Busch is a three-time New Hampshire winner and has been one of the best there since 2008. He’s only finished worse than sixth once (13th) and most would expect his upward swing to continue, plus his outburst towards his team as well.
For some reason the Roush drivers haven’t had a lot of success at New Hampshire. Roush had plenty of wins in the early days with Jeff Burton and Martin, but of the current crop, only Greg Biffle has won (2008) on the there while Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards have struggled there more than other tracks over the last three seasons.
Kevin Harvick has contributed to one of Richard Childress Racing's four New Hampshire wins. He won is 2006, the same year he dominated Phoenix and Richmond. Harvick is an interesting choice this week because he hasn't stolen one recently. He's got three wins on the year, but could it be that Harvick is using this time on the track to test a little something new rather than race for wins on bonus points for the Chase? The car he's using this week raced at Phoenix and Richmond this year along with winning at Martinsville.
We could see a few drivers unexpectedly show up like four-time New Hampshire winner Jeff Burton or 2009 winner Joey Logano, but I’m going to stick with a few of the favorites starting with Johnson. I think the No. 48 team is going to make a strong move in the upcoming weeks to solidify their campaign for a sixth Cup championship. I also put Denny Hamlin and Tony Stewart in that group that should show their best for the final few weeks of the regular season.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)
2) #18 Kyle Busch (6/1)
3) #24 Jeff Gordon (10/1)
4) #29 Kevin Harvick (12/1)
5) #11 Denny Hamlin (10/1)