This week will mark the second and final stop of the 2012 season to the Magic Mile known as New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The schedule contains three other 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. Also keep in mind that both Martinsville and Phoenix will also see their return trip come in the Chase.
Practice sessions: Friday, Sept. 21 at 12:00 pm EDT, Saturday, Sept. 22 9:15 am EDT, 11:00 am EDT
Qualifying: Friday, Sept. 21 at 3:40 pm EDT
Race: Sunday, Sept. 23 at 2:00 pm EDT
Location: Loudon, N.H.
Length: 1.058 miles
Turns: 4-7 degrees
Straightaways: 2 degrees
Drivers to keep an eye on
Brad Keselowski | No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge | Penske Championship Racing
Despite qualifying outside of the top 15 each time Keselowski has finished second and fifth, respectively, in the last two events held at Loudon. Earlier this year he started back in 22nd but still managed to record a career-best average running position of ninth. The Blue Deuce is currently No. 1 in the standings following last week's victory at Chicagoland Speedway and is showing no signs of slowing down with two wins, seven top-fives and 10 finishes inside the top 10 over the last 11 races.
Kasey Kahne | No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
In addition to winning at NHMS in mid-July with 66 laps led, Kahne paced the field 43 times in this race a year ago with an average running position of fifth. Over the last five Loudon races Kahne has run 10th or better on four occasions even though he hasn't allows landed a deserving finish to match. Kahne began the Chase with a third-place result last week and is capable of challenging for a sweep on the Magic Mile.
Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
Had Hamlin's team taken two tires during a late pit spot, like most of the leaders, instead of four he would have likely won the July race at Loudon where he led nearly half the race. Instead he scrambled his way back through the field to earn a second-place result. Even though Hamlin has held an average running position of seventh or better in four straight races he's finished outside of the top 15 the last two weeks. Avoiding bad luck on Sunday will allow Hamlin to make amends.
Clint Bowyer | No. 15 5-hour Energy Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
Bowyer has claimed two career victories at Loudon, the most recent coming in the 2010 Chase, and also finished third back in July. After winning at Richmond to end the regular season, Bowyer notched a top-10 result to begin the 2012 Chase. That gives the No. 15 machine seven top-10 finishes over the last nine starts. Bowyer continues to prove himself year after year a very dependable middle-tier driver that will contend for victories on occasion.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 Diet Mountain Dew/National Guard Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
In the July race at NHMS, Earnhardt's average running position of fifth was his best since the 2008 season. Even though Loudon hasn't always been a site of strength for Earnhardt he's been a model of consistency this season and could very well have a repeat performance. Good starting position seems linked with Earnhardt scoring a good result on the Magic Mile so check the qualifying results before making a firm commitment.
Jeff Gordon | No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Gordon had to claw his way into the Chase only to crash last week at Chicago and finish way back in 35th. Even though his championship hopes are already looking bleak Gordon can make a stand this week at Loudon. You have to go back to the 2005 season to find the last time he finished outside of the top 15 at the site while collecting eighth finishes of sixth or better in those 14 starts. As Gordon slips out of title picture he may present himself an undervalued elite driver.
Ryan Newman | No. 39 Aspen Dental Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing
Last year Newman scored the pole position for each Loudon race and turned the first one into his third career NHMS victory. Back in July he started sixth and finished 10th as one of only three drivers to record all 301 laps in the top 15. That gives Newman five top-10s on the Magic Mile over the last six races. Even though Newman came up a little short of being eligible to compete for the championship he finished fifth last week at Chicagoland after qualifying 20th.
Brian Vickers | No. 55 Freightliner/Jet Edge Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
This week will be Vickers first Cup start since finishing fourth at Bristol Motor Speedway nearly one month ago. Vickers has made a total of six starts thus far and has record three top-fives, the same number as teammate Mark Martin has put up in 18 starts. When he's on the entry list Vickers becomes a bottom-tier driver worth getting on your roster.
Temper your expectations
Greg Biffle | No. 16 3M/GE Appliances Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
Since winning his second race of the season Biffle has only managed one top-10 finish in the last four races. That could spell trouble for the driver that ended the regular season first in points. While The Biff finished third in this race last year and ninth earlier this season he had finished on the led lap but outside the top 15 the prior three Loudon races.
Matt Kenseth | No. 17 Zest Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
Aside from a top-10 in last year's Chase, Kenseth has zero finishes better than 13th at NHMS since 2007. The Chase contains several intermediates tracks which are better options to start Kenseth at. Even though he could put together a good performance this week there are other elite drivers with better resumes on this track.