This week will mark the second and final stop of the season to the Magic Mile known as New Hampshire Motor Speedway. The remaining 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 see their return trip come in the Chase.
Practice sessions: Friday, Sep. 20 at 12:00 p.m. EST. Saturday, Sep. 21 at 9:15 a.m. EST, 11:00 a.m. EST
Qualifying: Friday, Sep. 20 at 3:40 p.m. EST
Race: Sunday, Sep. 22 at 2:00 p.m. EST
Location: Loudon, N.H.
Length: 1.058 miles
Turns: 4-7 degrees
Straightaways: 2 degrees
Drivers to keep an eye on
Kyle Busch | No. 18 M&M's Peanut Butter Toyota | Joe Gibbs Racing
Remember: Gordon is in the Chase
Busch ended a streak at Loudon of four consecutive starts without a top-10 finish by placing as the runner-up back in July. That's not to say he didn't run well during that time, though. In fact, Rowdy qualified on the pole and outside pole in the 2012 races but experienced different costly issues at the end of each day. This season, Busch has held an average running position inside the top 10 in three straight races that started with a victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway. It and extended by a runner-up performance last week at Chicagoland Speedway.
Kurt Busch | No. 78 Furniture Row/Denver Mattress Chevrolet | Furniture Row Racing
Busch has made four appearances at Loudon without a top-20 finish, yet he's a fine selection this week. Over the last 20 races of the season, the elder Busch brother has only finished outside of the top 15 three times. That includes a 31st-place result at Loudon where he started on the outside pole and led a race-high 102 laps before spinning out with 76 to go. Busch has notched three consecutive top-fives and continues to march onward as a dark horse contender.
Jeff Gordon | No. 24 Drive to End Hunger Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
You have to go back to July of 2005 to find the last time Gordon failed to record a top-15 finish at Loudon. Loop data was introduced the same year, so it's no surprise his average running position of 7.3 is tops among the field by nearly two full spots. Gordon was granted a place in the Chase as the 13th car in the wake of the shady side deal involving rival teams. He returns to NHMS with four consecutive finishes inside the top 10 after a season full of misfortune and inconsistency.
Clint Bowyer | No. 15 5-hour Energy Toyota | Michael Waltrip Racing
Last year, Bowyer was one of only two drivers to record a top-five finish in each Loudon race. He didn't qualify as well back in July but managed a respectable 13th-place result. Bowyer recently suffered a blown engine after leading a bunch of laps at Atlanta and then caused a deliberate yellow flag to help a teammate after looking very sharp at Richmond International Raceway. To their credit, the suddenly controversial No. 15 camp refocused quickly and scored a top-10 finish last week.
Kasey Kahne | No. 5 Great Clips Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
The other driver with top-fives in both Loudon races last year was Kahne. He won the July event and placed fifth in the Chase. Earlier this season, he extended his streak of six consecutive top-15s at NHMS by placing 11th. During that time, he's held an average running position of fifth or better three times and spent more than 89 percent of his laps in the top 15 in five straight. Kahne has gone three races this season without a top-10 but figures to stop that slide this weekend.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. | No. 88 Time Warner Cable Chevrolet | Hendrick Motorsports
Earnhardt has a lot of work to do if he hopes to overcome last week's engine failure and compete for a championship. Loudon is a solid track to make that happen. Earnhardt has finished 17th or better in seven straight NHMS starts. His run in July featured an average running position of ninth after qualifying third. However, Earnhardt got shuffled back due to some late cautions and had to settle for a 14th-place finish.
Brad Keselowski | No. 2 Miller Lite Ford | Penske Championship Racing
Keselowski won't be able to defend his championship, but that doesn't mean he can't record his first career victory at Loudon. He returns to the site with four consecutive finishes of sixth or better. Keselowski captured the pole back in July and laid down a career best average running position of sixth. Last week's seventh-place finish was the first top-10 for the Blue Deuce in a month with some strong but spoiled performances in between.
Jeff Burton | No. 31 Cheerios Chevrolet | Richard Childress Racing
This season will mark Burton's swan song at RCR, but with four finishes inside the top 20 over the last five races, he's exiting in a respectable manner. Burton has only finished worse than 16th at Loudon once over the last eight starts and scored a podium finish in July. Burton isn't the safest middle-tier driver but could be something of a value on a track he's been steady at over the years.
Temper your expectations
Carl Edwards | No. 99 Aflac Ford | Roush Fenway Racing
It's not that Edwards is a poor performer at Loudon, it's just that he's not as a strong when compared to other elite drivers. Yes, he's scored a top-10 in two of his last five NHMS appearances but has only held an average running position better than 10th once since 2009. Edwards is a good option, but with so few races left, this isn't his best locale.
Mark Martin | No. 14 Mobil 1/Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet | Stewart-Haas Racing
Since winning the Loudon postseason race back in 2009, Martin has failed to record a top-20 finish through the four races held over the next two seasons. As a part-time driver at MWR, he opted to keep NHMS off his schedule, so there's something of a rust factor. Martin will be piloting the No. 14 car that Tony Stewart has been very successful in on this track, but that's not enough considering Martin's mediocre average finish of 17.8 in four starts since lending his services to SHR.
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.