Loudon II: Chase contenders preview

Chase Contenders Look to Start Strong at NHIS DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 12, 2006) -- New Hampshire International Speedway has built a reputation over the past two seasons as a track that can make or break a driver's chances for the NASCAR...

Chase Contenders Look to Start Strong at NHIS

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Sept. 12, 2006) -- New Hampshire International Speedway has built a reputation over the past two seasons as a track that can make or break a driver's chances for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series championship. The opening event to this year's Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup figures to be no different.

This weekend's event at New Hampshire International Speedway could have even more of an impact on this year's Chase contenders considering that five of the 10 have Driver Ratings that rank outside the top 10.

Denny Hamlin is the top-ranked Chase contender at New Hampshire with a Driver Rating of 107.8. Hamlin -- who only has raced at New Hampshire once in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series -- has been able to amass such a high Driver Rating because of his sixth-place finish and his ability to run near the front. He has completed 81.2% of his Laps in the Top 15.

Kyle Busch rates second-best with a Driver Rating of 107.7 at New Hampshire. Busch has an Average Finish of 10.7 at the 1.058-mile track and won the event there in July. He has completed 663 (73.0%) Laps in the Top 15 and has led a total of 107 (11.8%) laps at New Hampshire. Busch has the most points gained (432) at New Hampshire compared to other Chase drivers who have started three races there.

The other Chase contenders who rank in the top 10 of the Driver Rating category at New Hampshire are Jimmie Johnson, who ranks seventh (97.0), Jeff Burton, who ranks eighth (95.2) and Jeff Gordon, who ranks ninth (94.0).

Johnson has not led a lap at New Hampshire in his past three starts, but still should be considered a contender for the win this week. Johnson has the most Laps in the Top 15 of any Chase driver with 758 (83.5%) and has an Average Finish of 10th.

SPEED STATS: Where does speed matter at New Hampshire?

Tony Stewart is the driver who knows the fastest way around New Hampshire. Stewart has completed the Fastest Lap at New Hampshire a total of 159 times over the past two seasons. Ryan Newman is the second-fastest at getting around New Hampshire, but has only completed the Fastest Lap 74 times.

Stewart and Newman have nearly identical Speed Stats in all categories, including arguably the two most important categories -- Green Flag Speed and Speed in Traffic. One statistic does show a noticeable difference in the speeds of Stewart and Newman -- Fastest Drivers on the Frontstretch. Stewart ranks sixth in this category while Newman ranks 17th.

PASSING ZONES

The flat racing surface at New Hampshire International Speedway generates some of the best racing on the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup circuit. The frontstretch features the most passing followed by the backstretch. Here's the breakdown of the 4,749 green-flag passes that have taken place over the past two seasons at New Hampshire:

Passing Thoughts ...

Matt Kenseth has completed the most Green Flag Passes at New Hampshire with 187. Kenseth has been passed 150 times, giving him a Passing Differential of 37.

Jimmie Johnson and Brian Vickers lead the Quality Passes category with 93 passes coming over a car running in the top 15. Both drivers are averaging 31 Quality Passes each time they race at New Hampshire. Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth are the only Chase contenders with a positive Passing Differential at New Hampshire.

LOOP LOGIC

Others Drivers to Watch ... Who has a chance to be a spoiler this weekend? Loop Data reveals other notables:

Tony Stewart: Ranked first in Driver Rating 127.4. ... Has completed the Fastest Lap 159 times. ... 92% of his passes have been Quality Passes. ... Has led 47.7% of the laps completed at New Hampshire in the last two seasons. ... Has run 75.2% of his Laps in the Top 15.

Greg Biffle: Ranked fifth in Driver Rating 106.7. ... Has completed 87.3% of his Laps in the Top 15. ... Has an Average Finish of fourth.

"Dale Earnhardt Jr. had engine problems at New Hampshire in July (finishing 43rd), but this is still one of his better tracks. In 2005, he earned a pair of top-10 finishes (ninth and fifth) at New Hampshire with a combined Driver Rating of 100.3. Despite his troubles in 2006, he still had the Fastest Green Flag Speed (125.478 mph) and was the Fastest Driver Late in a Run (125.070 mph) for the past two years. He also has posted the fastest speeds coming off Turns 2 and 4, and is second quickest in Turns 1 and 2.

"The most likely spoiler at New Hampshire is Tony Stewart, who has the best Driver Rating among all drivers with a 127.4. Stewart's led the most laps over the past two years at New Hampshire (433) and has run the Fastest Lap 159 times (22.1% of the Green Flag Laps), also best among all drivers." -- Stefan Kretschmann, STATS LLC.

*All above figures include only drivers scheduled to participate in 2006.

Fast Facts

Driver Rating at New Hampshire
(Based on loop data since 2005)

NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series
1. Tony Stewart 127.4
2. Denny Hamlin 107.8
3. Kyle Busch 107.7
4. Ryan Newman 106.8
5. Greg Biffle 106.7
6. Reed Sorenson 106.1
7. Jimmie Johnson 97.0
8. Jeff Burton 95.2
9. Jeff Gordon 94.0
10. Brian Vickers 93.8

-credit: nascar

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Greg Biffle , Ryan Newman , Jimmie Johnson , Brian Vickers , Denny Hamlin , Reed Sorenson , Kyle Busch