Race No. 2 of the 2011 Chase for the Sprint Cup brings us back to Loudon, New Hampshire. On April 12, 1934 the highest wind speed recorded at ground level was recorded at Mount Washington, NH. The wind speeds were three times as fast as those in most hurricanes.
[media-credit name=”nhms.com” align=”alignright” width=”254″][/media-credit]The 750 horsepower engines of the NASCAR Sprint Cup racecars will not reach speeds nearly as fast as those at Mount Washington in 1934, but they will be going as fast as the wind speeds of most hurricanes, Sunday Afternoon.
I didn’t fare extremely well with my Dark Horse pick after the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series’ first stop this season in New Hampshire, but I did manage to pick the Runner-up in the July race. I thought I had nailed my Dark Horse pick in the July race (even after submitting my picks before any on-track activities) after finding out Regan Smith would start in 11th for the Lenox Industrial Tools 301, but knew a Top-10 finish would be too good to be true.
My Winner Pick for the July race, Tony Stewart started outside pole and would finish exactly there. I had a 2nd and a 33rd place finish earlier this year, with Regan Smith giving me my first pick to finish outside the Top-30 cars.
Well, if you’re my winner pick, plan on finishing 22nd…
Two weeks ago, I picked Clint Bowyer to win the Wonderful Pistachios 400 at Richmond International Raceway; his result, a 22nd place finish.
Last week, I picked Kyle Busch to win the Geico 400 at Chicagoland Speedway; his result, a 22nd place finish.
I used up my mandatory once-a-month Kyle Busch pick last week only because it was the second-to-last race of the month, and I probably should have held out and picked the Las Vegas native this week. It was my mistake in thinking that the race at Chicagoland would not turn out to be another once of these fuel-mileage fiascos we see each race at these 1.5-mile cookie-cutter style racetracks.
As we all know, its checkers or wreckers for Kyle Busch each time he straps up his helmet to go racing. And that mentality really puts you at a huge disadvantage when you are trying to conserve fuel at the end of the race. Sometimes I feel like Rowdy’s right foot is made of lead, and he really cannot resist the temptation to jam his foot through the floorboards of his No. 18 M&M’s Toyota Camry. He reached the point position early in the race on Monday, but when the race shook out (as it has historically); it was the guy with the most mustard left in the bottle that took the checkered.
Kyle explained his day after the 400 mile stanza: “We had a good car today and kept fighting back all day long. But, once we hit that debris it made the car really loose and I was doing the best I can. I still hoped we could finish in the top-10. I saved as much fuel as I could but I guess it just wasn’t enough and we ran out with two to go. Just really disappointing day.”
As for my Dark Horse pick last week, he was one of the 7-Chevrolets that finished in the Top-10 on Monday.
Mark Martin’s 2011 NASCAR Sprint Cup season has been one filled with questions, disappointments, and very few triumphs. Martin’s starting spot in Monday’s race wasn’t anything to write home about either.
I had made my decision on Martin early in the week last week and was put to ease after the first practice session on Friday, after he posted the 3rd best speed of the practice session. I knew all along that winning one of the final 10 races this season would be quite an achievement for the 52-year old whose career seems to be coming to its final chapter.
Many frustrations have plagued Mark Martin’s final season at Hendrick Motorsports, which in the early stages of the race I thought would be the case yet-again for my Dark Horse pick. After starting 25th in the Geico 400, Martin battled through potential damage on the front spoiler on his No. 5 Chevrolet to eventually lay down lap times that were as fast as the race leaders.
With all the fast cars running out of gas at the end, Martin had enough fuel left in the tanks to pass the wounded on the apron and bring home a Top-10 Dark Horse pick for me. Martin finished one-spot better than teammate Jimmie Johnson in 9th place, certainly a respectable finish after qualifying so poorly.
New Hampshire Picks
As I watch the practice speeds roll across my phone today, I can’t help but to notice the fire power the Chevrolets seem to be packing this weekend at New Hampshire. Eight of the Top-10 drivers in practice today have been piloting Chevrolets; I’m going with Chevy for Sunday…
I’m really going out on a whim here this week and picking July’s race winner to take the checkered flag in Loudon, Sunday Afternoon (or Monday as it looks right now). He’s atop the leaderboard following Sprint Cup practice earlier today, and with that will do all he can to secure a favorable starting position for Sunday’s 3-hour nap window.
Ryan Newman won July’s Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway after starting from the pole. Since there is little-to-no passing opportunity at New Hampshire, starting up-front is key in a successful finish. No other driver has more poles than Newman at the 1-mile flat track in New England and he hasn’t finished outside the Top-8 in his past three trips to Loudon.
Newman loves racing at New Hampshire, and I would too if I had an average finish of 12.4 in 19 races. “New Hampshire has always been a good place for me. I’m not a hundred percent sure why. It’s the place of my first win, when I hadn’t won in a long while, 70 some races. I won again there. This past July we were able to qualify and finish 1-2 at Stewart-Haas. It’s a fun race; it’s a very finesse racetrack. You can’t overdrive the car there very much because it’s so flat”, said Newman just yesterday before he arrived at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
Ryan Newman seems to have a rocket ship of a car this weekend, watch for him to lead the pack for the majority of the 300 laps on Sunday (or Monday).
Dark Horse Pick
As I said last week, I will finish the season by picking a driver that sits outside The Chase for the Sprint Cup as my Dark Horse each week.
Unlike my Winner Pick, whom I have yet to pick this year, I’ve spoke about my Dark Horse pick 4 times this season, second only to Kyle Busch in number of picks this season. His results for me have been like his results at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, really good or really bad, nothing in the middle.
Clint Bowyer has given me two Top-5 picks this year, but the other two times I’ve picked him in my column, he has given me a 36th and a 22nd-place finish. Bowyer is coming off the disappointment of missing The Chase for the Sprint Cup just two weeks ago, and has rebounded nicely from such disappointment by netting a 7th place finish last week at Chicago.
Bowyer’s stats at New Hampshire Motor Speedway are just as I described, really good or really bad. He won this race just a year ago, but finished 17th at Loudon in July. He has visited Victory Lane in New England twice in his Sprint Cup career, finishing in the Top-10 a total of four times in eleven tries.
Bowyer also described enjoying his trips to New Hampshire earlier this week: “Flat tracks like New Hampshire Motor Speedway and Richmond International Raceway always fit my driving style. I love racing up there. It is a lot of fun. Nothing in particular, it just fits my driving style.”
I picked Clint Bowyer to win the race just two weeks ago at Richmond, and he let me down. He will rebound for me this weekend and stick his nose in the mix for the win.
That’s all for this week as I set my sights on the two most important football games this season, my West Virginia Mountaineers hosting the Tigers from Louisiana State University tomorrow night in primetime, and my hometown Buffalo Bills take on Tom Brady and the New England Patriots here in Buffalo on Sunday Afternoon.
Until next time…You Stay Classy NASCAR NATION!