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. There are three low-banked courses of one mile or fewer in length among the first nine dates on the schedule: 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 successfully. Thus, many drivers are able to perform well across all four of these venues.
Practice sessions: Friday, July 12 at 12:00 p.m. EDT; Saturday, July 13 9:00 a.m. EDT, 11:20 a.m. EDT
Qualifying: Friday, July 12 at 3:40 p.m. EDT
Race: Sunday, July 14 at 1:30 p.m. EDT
Location: Loudon, N.H.
Length: 1.058 miles
Turns: 4-7 degrees
Straightaways: 2 degrees
Drivers to keep an eye on
Clint Bowyer | No. 15 5-hour Energy Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
Smoke 'em if you got 'em
Bowyer owns a pair of wins at Loudon, most recently in the fall of 2010, and was one of three drivers to score a top-five finish in both races last year. From 2010 on, Bowyer has recorded an average running position of 10th or better in five of his last six NHMS races. This season, Bowyer is now up to second in points with six finishes coming inside the top 10 over the last seven races.
Tony Stewart | No. 14 Mobil 1 Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing
Since loop data was introduced in 2005, Stewart's career average running position of 9.2 ranks second among all drivers at NHMS. During that span of 16 races, he's finished outside of the top 15 just twice. Smoke was solid at Loudon last year but was outstanding back in 2011 with a runner-up performance in the summer and a victory in the fall. Stewart is coming off a second-place finish at Daytona International Speedway to give him four top-fives over the last six races.
Kasey Kahne | No. 5 Farmers Insurance Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Over the last eight races of the season, Kahne has held an average running position of ninth or better on five occasions but has finished outside of top 20 four times, including two DNFs due to crash. A trip to Loudon could help turns things around. Since 2010, Kahne has qualified on the outside pole twice and won last year's summer race from that spot. He's now recorded an average running position of fifth or better in three straight NHMS starts.
Brad Keselowski | No. 2 Miller Lite Ford | Penske Championship Racing
Despite not qualifying well, Keselowski has finished sixth or better in three straight races on the Magic Mile. The Blue Deuce needs that good fortune now with only two top-15s over the last eight starts. It's been a rough stretch for Keselowski, but the underlying performance is decent with an average running position that was inside the top 15 in five of his last six.
Jeff Gordon | No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Gordon's career average running position of 7.2 at Loudon is two spots better than the next driver. He finished sixth in this race a year ago and captured the pole in the fall prior to ending the day in third. Gordon has now crashed three times over the last seven races but has also finished 12th or better in the other four outings. The risk is high, but Gordon is more than capable of recapturing his touch at Loudon.
Joey Logano | No. 22 Shell-Pennzoil Ford | Penske Championship Racing
Logano has a rain-shortened Loudon victory from 2009 and has finished inside the top 15 in each of the last four NHMS events. He was looking good early last week at Daytona but blew a tire and smashed into the wall, finishing more than 50 laps down. Before that disaster, Logano had strung together six finishes of 11th or better and climbed to 10th in points.
Ryan Newman | No. 39 WIX Filters Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing
You can't find a safer middle-tier driver at Loudon than Newman. Over the last seven NHMS races, he's held an average running position of 10th or better six times. Newman won this race from the pole in early 2011 and started P1 again in the fall. Last year, he finished 10th in both Loudon races with an average running position of 10th to match.
Denny Hamlin | No. 11 FedEx Freight Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
Hamlin is one of several struggling drivers with a strong resume at Loudon. He's coming off crashes in two straight races and has gone four races without a top 20. Hamlin was the runner-up at Loudon last summer after leading 150 of the 301 laps and a laid down a career-best average running position of third. He would get the job done later by winning the fall race with 193 laps led despite qualifying outside of the top 30.
Temper your expectations
Carl Edwards | No. 99 Fastenal Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
Edwards has qualified on the first two rows in four of the last five and will need to do something similar this week at Loudon, where he owns just one top-10 since 2008. Edwards had put together a respectable average finish of 14.5 in 17 career NHMS starts, but most other top-flight drivers have fared much better. Edwards isn't shaping up to be much of a value this week.
Matt Kenseth | No. 20 Dollar General Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
Kenseth is another very impressive driver that hasn't been offering many highlights at Loudon. Like his former Roush teammate, Kenseth has had a drought, owning just one top-10 at the site since 2007. The team and manufacturer changes may prove to be the difference for Kenseth's lukewarm runs here, but that remains to be seen.
Eric McClung has been profiled by the FSWA for covering the fantasy sports spectrum and is a three-time award finalist. Over the years, he's 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. He's also captured the fantasy football championship in the KFFL staff league twice.