Outside of Aric Almirola crashing in the morning practice session Saturday and pulling out a backup car, it has been a relatively smooth weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway as many of the pre-race favorites have lived up to expectations, turning fast laps in qualifying and the practice sessions. Former winner Kyle Busch grabbed the pole, and the top four qualifiers have a combined nine wins at the track. Meanwhile, seven of the drivers starting in the top 10 Sunday are former winners at New Hampshire.
Hamlin it up at New Hampshire
Qualifying results are particularly useful this weekend because of the importance of track position at New Hampshire. There have been 38 Cup Series races held at the flat, 1.0-mile track, and half of them have been won by a driver starting in the top 10. Perhaps more importantly, just nine races at the track have been won by a driver starting outside the top 15. Driver performance in race trim during practice is still important, but if you are having trouble deciding between a couple drivers, qualifying results are a good tiebreaker this weekend.
The top 3
1) Jimmie Johnson
Johnson has shown plenty of speed this weekend, and the three-time New Hampshire winner holds on to the top spot in the driver rankings heading into Sunday's race. He will start on the front row after a second-place effort in qualifying, and he ranked 10th and 11th in the two practices Saturday and logged the fourth-best 10-lap average speed in the final session. Johnson has 12 top-10s in his last 14 starts at New Hampshire, and a dominant day could be on tap. Feel free to make him the anchor of your fantasy roster in all formats.
2) Jeff Gordon
He has been one of the most consistent options at New Hampshire for almost two decades, and Gordon hasn't disappointed so far this weekend. He qualified 11th, and he cracked the top five on both short and long runs during practice Saturday. Gordon leads all drivers with an 8.6 average finish in the last 20 races at New Hampshire, and he has finished in the top 15 in his last 17 starts. He is one of the safest options to build a roster around this weekend.
3) Denny Hamlin
Hamlin has been one of the best drivers at New Hampshire since joining the Cup Series, and he has been living up to expectations this weekend. He qualified third Friday, and he ranked fourth and third in the two practices Saturday. Hamlin is a two-time winner at New Hampshire, and his 9.0 average finish at the track is the best in the series. All signs point to another strong run for Hamlin this weekend, and he makes a strong addition in any format.
11) Kasey Kahne
Kahne has been solid across the board this weekend at New Hampshire. He delivered a 10th-place effort in qualifying Friday, and after cracking the top 15 in the first practice Saturday, he jumped into the top 10 in Happy Hour. He also logged the fourth-best 10-lap average speed in the opening session. He has finished 11th or better in three of his four starts at New Hampshire since joining Hendrick Motorsports, winning the July race in 2012. He should at least be able to challenge for a top-10 this weekend, and his ceiling is even higher.
16) Jamie McMurray
His overall numbers at New Hampshire aren't great, but McMurray did finish 12th and fifth in two starts at the track last season. More importantly, he has been fast this weekend. McMurray qualified in the top five, and he turned the second-fastest lap and logged the third-best 10-lap average speed in Saturday's first practice session. He should make a solid addition to fantasy rosters in most formats this weekend.
17) Martin Truex Jr.
Although he has been a bit of disappointment this season, Truex has traditionally run well at New Hampshire. In 16 starts at the track, he has a 14.7 average finish and has only finished outside the top 20 three times. Meanwhile, Truex qualified in the top 10 Friday, and he also cracked the top 10 in race trim during Saturday's practices. He looks ready to add to his solid resume at New Hampshire, and could be sneaky source for a top-15 finish this weekend.
22) Jeff Burton
His weekend began with a disappointing 30th-place effort in qualifying, and while Burton will be facing a bit of an uphill battle, his car was fast in race trim Saturday. He ranked 15th and 17th in the two sessions and logged the 10th-best 10-lap average speed in the first practice. Burton has a 13.4 average finish at New Hampshire for his career, and he finished third and eighth in two starts last year. The veteran should still be able to work his way towards the top 15, making him a solid sleeper in most formats.
Big names outside the top 10
18) Ryan Newman
His numbers at New Hampshire have slipped a bit since picking up his third win at the track in July of 2011, and Newman hasn't been all that impressive this weekend. He qualified outside the top 20, and he failed to crack the top 20 in the first practice Saturday before showing some small signs of life in Happy Hour. Newman has finished outside the top 15 in three of his last five starts at New Hampshire, including both his starts last season. Another mediocre run could be on tap this weekend.
20) Greg Biffle
Biffle drops a couple of spots in the final rankings, and while he has been a steady option at New Hampshire in recent years, he has struggled to find speed this weekend. He will start 27th Sunday after a lackluster effort in qualifying, and he also failed to crack the top 20 in either practice Saturday. History says that he will at least sneak into the top 20, but his upside appears limited this weekend.
About Brian Polking
Racing has been part of Brian's life ever since he can remember, and he spent his childhood at dirt tracks throughout Ohio and Kentucky watching his father race. NASCAR naturally became his favorite sport, and he has been following the Cup, Nationwide and Truck Series for most of his life. Brian majored in journalism and economics at Ohio State University and becoming a sports writer has always been his dream. Although he has covered everything from minor league baseball to the NCAA tournament, his passion has always been NASCAR. Brian has served as a NASCAR writer for a variety of sites, eventually becoming head editor of the NASCAR section for Fanball.com. His knowledge of NASCAR comes from his life-long love of racing, and he tries to add a personal touch to every article he writes. Brian is always up for talking NASCAR with anyone that wants to. Brian joined KFFL's team in 2011.
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