For some NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers, these are now desperate times. With a win needed to be guaranteed a spot in the Chase for the Championship, and 11 winners so far after 18 races, that means points don’t mean much at all to some drivers.
Part of the issue is that of the 11 winners, two of them, Kurt Busch and Aric Almirola, are not inside the top 16 in points. That narrows the window, especially when there’s only five spots remaining for drivers on points alone. Who’s left out in the cold, then? Some big, big names. The group of Greg Biffle, Brian Vickers, Kasey Kahne, Marcos Ambrose, Kyle Larson and Tony Stewart would not be in the Chase as of today.
Now, Biffle is just four points behind Austin Dillon for that final qualifying spot, while Vickers is 10 points out and Larson and Kahne are each 12 points out. So, they still are basically right there in terms of being able to get in through the “back door.” However, Stewart is 29 points out, and even though there are still eight races left in the regular season, and even though Stewart is notable for running well in the middle of the summer, that’s a large deficit against a lot of drivers to make up. And if a few more drivers win… that gap between the “points line” substantially increases.
Simply put, Stewart is likely going to need a win to get into the Chase now.
That means he, and some other drivers, may well be willing to take a bit of gamble when it comes to late-race strategy in these remaining events. It may mean taking two or no tires on a final pit stop, or it may mean trying to stretch that last tank of fuel to last those final couple of laps to get a win. So, likely, there are going to be some guys taking some gambles to try and win from here on out.
That’s just one factor to keep in mind when making your fantasy picks for Sunday at New Hampshire and the coming weeks ahead.
LOOKING FOR SOME ACES
At this point in the season, it’s hard to believe that Kahne made the Yahoo! Fantasy League’s A-list of drivers, but he did, so that’s why I’m talking about him here. Well, that and the fact this “Magic Mile” could be where he wins his first race of the season. Kahne has a win and another top-5 finish in his last four races at New Hampshire. His average finish in those races is 13.5, hurt by a 37th-place result after leading 31 laps last Fall. Remember, too, Kahne is the lone Hendrick driver without a win this season, so you know if the opportunity is there late, Kahne and his team will take the gamble and go for the win. Hendrick Motorsports tested at New Hampshire, last month and a lot of emphasis has been placed on improving there.
Another driver who definitely belongs in this category, but is surprisingly winless is Matt Kenseth. New Hampshire could also be the place for his first win in 2014. Kenseth has one win in the last four trips there with an average finish of 9.25. He also has one other top-10 result and has led 140 laps in those races. Keep in mind Kenseth and his team can play it a little more conservative, though as he is first in points among the winless drivers.
One driver who hasn’t won in the last four trips to New Hampshire, but easily could have is Kyle Busch. He has led 173 laps in those races with two top-5 finishes. Busch does have one career win up there and eight top-10 results in 18 races.
A driver with incredible New Hampshire career numbers is Jeff Gordon. After starting one of the Big Ones at Daytona Sunday, you might wonder if he will be a marked man this week, but nonetheless, he’s been too good at New Hampshire to ignore. In his recent races, while Gordon hasn’t won, he does have an average finish of 8.5 with a third-place result and two other top 10 finishes.
For his career, Gordon has three victories and 22 top-10 finishes in 38 races at New Hampshire. He also leads all active drivers with 1,352 laps led at the Magic Mile.
MIDDLE OF THE ROADSTERS
It was at this race last year where Brian Vickers pretty much secured himself a full-time ride with a convincing win. Now, on the edge of the Chase in 2014 Vickers wouldn’t mind at all if history repeated itself. Along with that win, he has two other top-10 finishes in the last four races at New Hampshire for an average finish of eighth. And while he has led just 21 laps in those four races, his worst finish has been 15th.
New Hampshire has been a good place for Tony Stewart in the past and he and his fans wouldn’t mind if it became a good place in the present, also. Stewart has just one top-10 finish, a seventh, in his last three trips there, but he has led 122 laps in those events. For his career, Stewart has three wins and 17 top-10 finishes in 29 races there and is just behind Gordon in laps led at 1,302. He just needs to lead that last lap this week.
Denny Hamlin also has plenty of reason to like New Hampshire. He has one win in the last four races there, and has won twice in his 16 career events at the track. Hamlin also has led 343 laps in the last four trips to New Hampshire, so it’s possible he could be dominant there, too.
A driver who has yet to win at New Hampshire, but may be ready to is Brad Keselowski. He has finished between fourth and 11th in the last four races there adding up to an average finish of 6.5. He has led just 23 laps in those events, so you can’t say he’s been dominant. But with the way he’s run at most places this year, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Team Penske’s top dawg up front Sunday.
Unlike at Daytona, where there was at least some variety in the entry list, we’re down to the usual suspects here in Austin Dillon and Kyle Larson, plus one. That one would be Jeff Burton, who is in the No. 66 this week.
Burton has had plenty of success at New Hampshire in his career, with four wins and 15 top 10s in his 38 career races there. Now, Burton has run just one other race this year, so you could argue he might not be that sharp. But Burton’s been so good at New Hampshire, it would be hard to not pick him this week.
As for Dillon and Larson, Dillon has surged ahead in the Rookie of the Year race with his fifth-place finish at Daytona, while Larson, involved in an early wreck, finished 36th. So what about this week?
Hard to say. It will be the first Sprint Cup race at New Hampshire, for each rookie but this flat short track seems to be more of Larson’s style. In need of a win to make the Chase, expect his aggression to be high at a place that suits him. Dillon, meanwhile has been consistent is terms of hanging around in races, then pulling out a respectable finish, somewhere between 10th and 20th.
If you’re thinking about Danica Patrick here, after her eighth-place finish at Daytona, just remember that’s a completely different style of racing than what takes place at New Hampshire. She was 27th and 37th in her two New Hampshire races last year.
The top of the standings for the Frontstretch league on Yahoo! remained the same, with LeftTurnOnly in the lead with 4,953 points. The advantage, however, has been cut to less than 100 as NoBarNASCAR is second with 4,868. He’s followed by Mojothemonkey at 4,734, Ace Racin’ at 4,669 and JoPa’s at 4,610. The top mover of the week was Tom’s Crew, moving up eight spots into 11th place.
The top weekly score last week went to Ace Racin’, scoring 286 points with Brian Vickers in second, Danica Patrick in eighth, Dale Earnhardt, Jr. in 14th and Joey Logano in 17th.
About the author
Jeff is in his fifth year with Frontstretch and in his third year of writing the Hot and Not column after having been the fantasy writer in his first two seasons. After spending all of his post-collegiate career in sports and news at newspapers, he changed professions three years ago, but remains a faithful fan of NASCAR and other forms of racing allowing him to give us his unique take on NASCAR each week.
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