After an extended absence of flat track races, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series will make the first of two stops this season at the Magic Mile known as New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Of the first nine dates on the schedule, there are three low-banked courses of one-mile or fewer in length: Martinsville Speedway, Phoenix International Raceway and Richmond International Raceway. While these tracks all have their own unique elements, braking skills are paramount to get around each. Thus, many drivers are able to perform well across all four of these venues.
Following this event, the next flat track race will come in September as the Chase cutoff in Richmond. Loudon, Martinsville and PIR all see their return trips in the Chase itself.
Location: Loudon, N.H.
Length: 1.058 miles
Turns: 4 to 7 degrees (12 percent grade)
Straightaways: 2 degrees
Drivers to keep an eye on
Kyle Busch | No. 18 Interstate Batteries Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
In addition to collecting the points lead with his third win of the season last week at Kentucky Speedway, Busch has been simply masterful on flat tracks this season. He finished second at Phoenix, third at Martinsville with 151 laps led and won at Richmond after leading 235 laps. At Loudon, Busch went to victory in the summer of 2006 and has not finished worse than 11th in four starts since 2009. Average running position really highlights how far ahead Busch is ahead of the competition this season. Rowdy's average place is currently 8.9 while no other driver is running better than 12th.
Jeff Gordon | No. 24 Driver to End Hunger Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Since the fall of 2005, Gordon has recorded 11 consecutive top-15 finishes at Loudon with three runner-up performances and six finishes of sixth or better. Since loop data was introduced that year, Gordon's average running position is a series-high 7.6 at the site, never dropping below 13th in a single race. After winning earlier this season at Phoenix, Gordon recorded another top-five at Martinsville and was running well at Richmond until getting spun out with 99 laps remaining.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 National Guard/AMP Energy Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Among all drivers, Earnhardt's career average running position of 11.3 at Loudon is good for fifth. Despite qualifying outside of the top 30 in each race at the site a year ago, Earnhardt rallied to finish eighth in the summer and fourth in the fall. While the last four races of this season have all been forgettable, a flat racing surface should be a very welcome sight. Earnhardt finished 10th at Phoenix, runner-up at Martinsville and appeared to have a top-10 brewing at Richmond until having to pit for fuel with 10 laps to go.
Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
Few drivers can get around a flat track with the kind of surgical precision Hamlin does. He has finished 12th or better in all three flat track races this season, highlighted by a runner-up performance at Richmond. At Loudon, Hamlin has never finished outside of the top 15 in any of his 10 career starts. He won the summer race in 2007 and has been the runner-up in the last two fall races. All told, Hamlin's career average finish of 7.6 is tops all-time among drivers with more than one start at Loudon.
Clint Bowyer | No. 33 Cheerios Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
After an early wreck cost him any chance of a good finish at Phoenix, Bowyer has since recorded top-10s at Martinsville and Richmond. At Loudon, he has finished in the top-10 in three straight while spending 98 percent or more of his laps running in the top 15 in the last two. Last fall, Bowyer crushed the field by leading 177 of 300 laps with an average running position of second en route to this second career win on the Magic Mile. While Bowyer's car failed post-race inspection, resulting in penalties, fines and crew suspensions, his history at this track will keep you believing.
Juan Pablo Montoya | No. 42 Target Chevrolet | Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing
Even though Montoya has held an average running position of 13th or better in five consecutive Loudon races, he has managed only a single top-10. That came as a third-place result in the fall of 2009 after he qualified on the pole and led 105 laps. Montoya scored another pole the following summer and led 36 more circuits. However, he was overly aggressive with Jeff Gordon, causing damage to his car and later crashing with 19 laps remaining. JPM's brash behavior always makes him a risky selection, but the abilities to notch a strong finish this weekend are certainly there.
David Reutimann | No. 00 Aaron's Dream Machine Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
After taking some big steps forward last season, Reutimann has been a flop for much of 2011. However, the double zero is coming off a season-high finish of second at Kentucky and has some sleeper value at Loudon. He owns five straight top-15 finishes and finished seventh last fall with a career-high average running position of 11th. Reutimann's best result on a flat track this season is 15th at Martinsville but if the improvements at MWR are indeed real, an even better finish is a very likely outcome.
J.J. Yeley | No. 38 Long John Silver's Ford | Front Row Motorsports
With Travis Kvapil competing in the Camping World Truck Series at Iowa Speedway, Yeley will not be doing his routine start and park for Whitney Motorsports. Instead, Yeley will run the full race for Bob Jenkins' group as long as he is able to qualify on speed. While Yeley is nothing more than a bottom-tier selection or salary cap saver this week, he owns four finishes of 12th or better in seven career Loudon starts which came in span from 2006- to 2008. His career ARP of 25.2 at NHMS is better than David Ragan, the semi-retired Micheal Waltrip, Paul Menard and Regan Smith. Yeley is a long short, but a worthwhile one depending on the format.
Temper your expectations
Matt Kenseth | No. 17 Affliction Clothing Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
It may come as a surprise to some, but you have to go all the way back to 2007 to find the last time Kenseth finished better than 17th at Loudon. In fact, his career average running position of 17.5 at the site is good for only 17th among all drivers. Owners in allocation formats will want to keep starts in reserve and target the final dozen races of the season which include six 1.5-mile tracks, the kind where Kenseth excels.
Jeff Burton | No. 31 Caterpillar Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
Even though Burton has won four races at Loudon over his career, none have come since the track was reconfigured in 2002. While he has managed to post plenty of good finishes since, Burton has been a total non-factor this season. He's 25th in points and is the only driver to start all 18 races this season and not record a top-10 finish. Until Burton finally shows a pulse, it's nearly impossible him recommend starting him anywhere.
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a two-time award finalist. He's also made several appearances in print and on radio. McClung began contributing to KFFL in 2008 and currently serves as one of KFFL's featured fantasy NASCAR experts.