Posted 07/14/2012 at 01:12 PM
For the second straight New Hampshire practice session on Saturday, Denny Hamlin came out on top with the fastest speeds. Hamlin not only had the fastest individual lap (131.383 mph) of final practice, but he also had the fastest average speeds making him the clear favorite to win Sunday’s LENOX Industrial Tools 301 on Sunday.
Hamlin duplicated his mastery of practice from the earlier Saturday session where he bested the field in all major categories that also includes fastest 10-consecutive lap average.
Hamlin’s teammate Kyle Busch turned in the second fastest lap at 131.243 mph in the 60-minute session and had the top speed until the final 10-minutes.
The Gibbs duo both look like formidable opponents for the 41 other drivers considering they might already have had an advantage coming in this weekend because of past excellence on similar tracks. Hamlin won at Phoenix and Busch won Richmond earlier this season, places that require a similar set-up to New Hampshire‘s flat one-mile track.
Brad Keselowski had the third fastest lap (130.936) followed by Clint Bowyer (130.837) and Jimmie Johnson (130.743).
Johnson is a three-time New Hampshire winner, Bowyer has won twice and Keselowski was runner-up last fall. In Johnson and Keselowski’s case, they both finished in the top-10 at Richmond and Phoenix this season, two of five drivers to do so. Two of the others were, of course, Hamlin and Busch.
The other driver to do so was Mark Martin who isn’t participating this week. But the No. 55 car is still in action with Brian Vickers driving and he used the final session to claim the sixth fastest lap. In three starts this season, Vickers has taken the No. 55 to two top-5 finishes. Vickers also gained a career best finish of fifth in the fall race last season.
Martin Truex Jr. had the seventh fastest lap, his lowest placement on any speed chart this weekend between the three practices and qualifying. He could pose a major threat to Hamlin and Busch.
Kasey Kahne was eighth fastest, continuing a strong run on the weekend. Kahne also had the second fastest average speeds of the session and the third best 10-consecutive lap average. If we look back on the Phoenix race, it was Kahne who dominated the practices and looked to have the car to beat before having an issue with the wall.
While Hamlin and Busch looked to be the strongest in Saturday’s practices, we also have to consider the time in which both sessions were run. Sunday’s race will start at 1:16 pm (ET) when the temperatures will rise above 90 degrees. In both of Saturday’s sessions, they were run in the morning where temperatures were in the low-to-mid 70’s.
What we saw today may not be as relevant on race day, the same type of cautionary thought process bettors have to consider for races at Charlotte where the temperatures drastically change throughout the race. However, being fast in any climate is always a good start.
Points leader Matt Kenseth ran the most laps (55), but only had the 17th fastest time.
Other notables like Jeff Gordon finished 13th. Last fall's winner, Tony Stewart, had the 19th best time and Dale Earnhardt Jr. was 21st. Junior radioed in a few times that he is not happy with his car.
The stars of the two Saturday practices look to be the Gibbs duo, the MWR cars and three-fourths of the Hendrick team. It would be surprising if one of those cars didn’t win Sunday, but we still can’t count out the Stewart-Haas duo who swept New Hampshire last season.
The big difference between Stewart and Newman this year is that both were outstanding in practices prior to the race, which isn‘t the case this weekend.