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Camping World 301 Preview

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Even though I didn't cash a ticket in last week’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona, I was happy with the historic results that showed Aric Almirola win his first career race, which was also the first time the famed No. 43 car had won a race since John Andretti did in 1999 at Martinsville (a 25/1 wager I did happen to cash on). It was also the No. 43 car's first win at Daytona since Richard Petty won his 200th and final race in 1984 with Ronald Reagan in attendance. 
But not everyone in NASCAR Nation felt the same way because of the race being called at 3:00 p.m. ET due to rain. Several fans at home watching on television and in the stands felt cheated that at a track with lights capable of racing all night, NASCAR pulled the plug too quickly. Maybe they did, but let's remember that the race was scheduled for Saturday night and rain had been pouring all weekend. The weather man even said it was highly unlikely that there would have been any lengthy period where rain didn't pour on the monster 2.5-mile track track. Then they'd take another hour to dry. Come on now, the No. 43 car won! It's history and kind of cool, even if most of us didn't cash.
So let's just chalk it as one of those races where everyone who scheduled their weekend around NASCAR had some bad luck because of Mother Nature, that is everyone except for Almirola who was probably doing a rain dance. The LVH Superbook had Almirola posted at 60/1 odds while many others had him listed in the 'Field' at 40/1 odds.
Anything and everything can happen in restrictor-plate races at Daytona, but this week at New Hampshire should be fairly predictable. There are several layers of handicapping this race on the relatively flat 1-mile track that can narrow the top candidates to win down to two or three drivers. Between looking at past New Hampshire history, recent races on the similar tracks like Phoenix and Richmond, and then seeing how the drivers practice during the final sessions on Saturday, the winner should be gift wrapped. 
The big element in the equation is checking out what happened in the Mar. 3 Phoenix race and the Apr. 26 at Richmond. None of the tracks look alike, but all are flat with similar distances meaning that if a team has things figured out on one, they'll likely be ahead of game on the others. 
Two drivers dominated between the two similar events run on already this season, Kevin Harvick and Joey Logano. Harvick led a race-high 224 laps en route to a win at Phoenix and Logano led 46 laps at Richmond. Harvick also led 23 laps at Richmond before settling for 11th while Logano led 71 laps at Phoenix and finished fourth.
Harvick won at New Hampshire in 2006, a year he also won at Phoenix and Richmond in the same season. In 2009, Logano won a rain shortened race at New Hampshire for his first career win -- oddly similar to Almirola last week -- in what was one of the few New Hampshire surprises.  
After Harvick and Logano, two other drivers stand out on a second tier of candidates to win.  Over the past 20 New Hampshire races, no one has had a better average finish than Jeff Gordon (8.6) and it just so happens that he led a race-high six times for 173 laps in his second-place finish at Richmond in April. Gordon also finished fifth at Phoenix. Brad Keselowski finished third at Phoenix and led 114 laps at Richmond before finishing fourth.
On the next level, you have to include Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr and the best long shot of all might be Ryan Newman who was seventh at Phoenix and eighth at Richmond. Newman, who should fetch about 30-to-1 odds, is a two-time New Hampshire with the last coming in 2011.
Pay attention to what happens in Saturday's two practices, but you should have a good starting point to work with with the drivers mentioned below.
Top-5 Finish Prediction:
1) #22 Joey Logano (8/1)
2) #4 Kevin Harvick (5/1)
3) #2 Brad Keselowski (8/1)
4) #24 Jeff Gordon (8/1)
5) #48 Jimmie Johnson (6/1)   

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