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Wednesday, June 23, 2010
New Hampshire preview: Kings of flat track

By Mark Garrow

We're five races into the 15 that make up Segment 2 of the 2010 ESPN Stock Car Challenge in conjunction with, and it is tight at the top. Ranked first is lpethtal with 3,896 points, averaging a sparkling 779 points to open up the second segment. Seven points back is marieb34, eight down is skullheadjones869547 and a mere 16 points in back of the leader is beauhorn. In fact, only 36 points separate No. 10 from No. 1.

Overall, SPEEDYGUN6 is the top scorer 16 races into the Sprint Cup Series season. He's averaging 726 points a pop, which is outstanding. Just a single point back is walt69mopar and just 10 behind is srider151. bkeels9 is in fourth, 14 behind the leader, and just two behind him is The TOM INNATOR. It's amazing this deep into the season and the top-5 are divided by a measly 16 points.

As the "czar" of the Jayski Junkies league, "The Guru" had another strong week at Sonoma, scoring 792 points with Jimmie Johnson, Juan Pablo Montoya, Tony Stewart, Kevin Harvick and Marcos Ambrose. That gives me 3,682 for the opening five races of Segment 2, an average of 736 per event. In the season standings, I'm now tied for 17th in our league of 1,305 race fans with 11,373 points.

Up on top is b.keeley with 11,607, who's moved out to a 47-point lead over and is up 126 over third place S. Pendergrass.

Sonoma race day chat review

I dared to be great on race day at Sonoma, picking Marcos Ambrose to win, and we all know he should have instead of finishing sixth. The top seven drivers in my race day rankings finished in the top-10, four of those coming home in the top-5.

Although I didn't see him finishing as high as second, I did give people a good vibe on Robby Gordon and among the road racing specialists, I gave a big thumbs up to Jan Magnussen, who finished 12th. I warned people Denny Hamlin and Kyle Busch would be decent, but not worthy of being picked as they had been in last 10 weeks.

Note: Our race day chat from New Hampshire will go live at 10:15 ET Sunday morning. You can also get updated by following my "Twitters" at @GuruGarrow!

2010 flat track points

When you talk to drivers or crew chiefs, they'll tell you if they run well at Phoenix and Richmond, then they should be in good shape when they get to New Hampshire. With two runner-up finishes at those two tracks this year, Jeff Gordon, with 350, has scored the most points in those events. He's followed by Kyle Busch at 347. Phoenix winner Ryan Newman ranks third at 337 points with Montoya (310) and Johnson (309) rounding out the top-5. Six to 10 in points scored at those two races are Carl Edwards (306), Harvick (294), Matt Kenseth (279), Martin Truex Jr. (263) and Jeff Burton (253).

New Hampshire history

The last two years, the first race at New Hampshire has been rain-shortened with weather and fuel mileage messing with both. For instance, last June Joey Logano won the race but led only 10 yellow-flag laps before it was called. Still, five of the top 10 at Phoenix wound up top-10 in Loudon. If you go back to the last time the first New Hampshire race went the full distance, in 2007, again five of the top 10 at Phoenix came home top-10 and the two races shared 10 drivers that finished top-15 or better in both.

New Hampshire pre-race top 30 rankings

Note: The rankings are updated during the race day chats

1. Jeff Gordon
2. Kyle Busch
3. Jimmie Johnson
4. Denny Hamlin
5. Kevin Harvick
6. Juan Pablo Montoya
7. Ryan Newman
8. Jeff Burton
9. Kurt Busch
10. Carl Edwards
11. Marcos Ambrose
12. Mark Martin
13. Martin Truex Jr.
14. Matt Kenseth
15. Clint Bowyer
16. Brad Keselowski
17. David Reutimann
18. Tony Stewart
19. Joey Logano
20. AJ Allmendinger
21. Greg Biffle
22. Dale Earnhardt Jr.
23. Jamie McMurray
24. Kasey Kahne
25. Sam Hornish Jr.
26. Reed Sorenson
27. David Ragan
28. Paul Menard
29. Scott Speed
30. Regan Smith

New Hampshire Preview

"A" Drivers

As I mentioned earlier, Phoenix and Richmond may not look like the layout at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, but they are all kissing cousins. So when you look back at the two races already run at Phoenix and Richmond this year, one thing jumps out: Jeff Gordon could have and probably should have won both but didn't win either. Kyle Busch could have won both, too, and wound up winning only one. That's why I think Loudon could turn into a real dogfight between the two just as it did in the closing stages at Richmond.

Gordon is hungry to end his 45-race drought and is really frustrated by what happened at Phoenix and Richmond. The Dupont Chevy driver led both events late and lost both when he couldn't hold the lead on the final restart, settling for two solid second-place finishes.

With that in mind, I believe Gordon comes to Loudon this weekend a little more determined to grab a fourth victory at NHMS. Did I also mention that, in the past six starts on the one-mile track, Gordon has finished in second place three times? On the other hand, I have to admit the fact the former four-time champ made so many people mad last week makes me a little nervous. It has me wondering if a few of his fellow competitors might be looking to pass out a little payback Sunday.

If Gordon doesn't get wrecked, I figure his hands will be full with Busch dogging him just as did at Richmond before he blew by when the green flag waved five laps before the finish. Busch has been the bug and not the windshield during the past two weeks, but in the previous eight Sprint races, he recorded two wins, five top-5s and didn't finish worse than ninth. He also won this race at Loudon back in 2006. In 2009, came home seventh and fifth.

Johnson figures to come up big again this weekend as he tries to win at Loudon for a third time. He's been no worse than ninth in his last six races at New Hampshire, with four top-5s during that span, including a runner-up. He led 93 laps in this race a year ago. Not to mention, Johnson was really the man to beat at Phoenix, leading 113 laps only to have pit strategy doom him to a third-place finish.

Two others that I think could be solid "A" drivers at Loudon are Hamlin and Montoya. Hamlin, literally, hit a bump in the road at Sonoma, finishing 34th. But he won the two previous races including Pocono, which features a flat turn just like New Hampshire. He also won this race in 2007 and was the runner-up last fall.

Many describe Loudon as a road course with only left hand turns, which is why the place should be right down Montoya's alley. He was fifth and sixth in the races at Phoenix and Richmond earlier this year. Last fall at New Hampshire, the Columbian driver captured the pole and led 105 laps before finishing third.

The dark horse in this group could be Clint Bowyer, who won the fall race in Loudon back in 2007.

"B" Drivers

I know this is yet another rerun, but how can you not make Harvick your top guy among the "B" drivers? Sonoma was his 11th top-10 finish in the first 16 Sprint Cup races of the season, and his average finish on the year is 8.8. I know his recent stats at NHMS are pretty ugly, but he won there back in fall 2006. How many times this year has Harvick outperformed his previous stats at a particular track? Answer: Too many times to remember.

The tough part will be trying to figure out which other "B" driver to put with him. Given his fourth-place run at Richmond and the fact he's won four times at Loudon, Burton is the leader of this group heading into Sunday, but I really think Ambrose and Truex deserve some serious consideration.

Last week at Sonoma, Ambrose was an easy pick over Burton, which is not the case this week. Still, Ambrose did finish 11th at Phoenix and ninth at Richmond. Like Montoya, his road racing skills and the way he likes to attack the corners will come in handy in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301. Truex was better at Phoenix than his 17th-place finish would indicate and he rumbled home seventh at Richmond. Those were two ugly finishes Truex put on the scoreboard at Loudon last year, but he finished top-10 in both races in 2008.

The dark-horse among the "B" boys this week could be Keselowski. In this race a year ago, the Michigan driver was sixth across the finish line.