Gather around, y'all, and let me tell you a tale of a pair of NASCAR legends as the sport heads to jolly New England this weekend. One of them is in dire need of a win; the other doesn't need the win, but it'd be the icing on the cake, and icing is delicious.
I'm talking about Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon, who have made themselves drivers to beat at New Hampshire. Each has won three times at the Magic Mile, just one behind Jeff Burton for the track record.
Their advanced stats also back up their performance. Since 2005, the two rank 1-2 in average position, fastest laps run and overall driver rating. Not to mention being 1-2 in overall green-flag speed (Gordon is first), along with speed early in runs, on restarts and in traffic (Stewart leads all three).
Stewart has the advantage in driver rating, including a couple of spectacular marks: 149.2 and 143.0, but both of those came back in 2005.
Stewart won the last Loudon race, with his teammate, Ryan Newman, taking the 2011 spring race, but Stewart's win was one of the least dominant of last season, leading just two laps and being the fastest car on the track for five laps, or 1.8 percent of the total green-flag laps.
Gordon, on the other hand, has been incredibly consistent at New Hampshire, but he doesn't simply need a quality run. If he's going to make the Chase, he needs a win. Judging by his performance this past fall at Loudon, he could get one.
Gordon is coming off arguably his best New Hampshire race since NASCAR began tracking loop data stats in 2005. He put up personal bests in driver rating and fastest laps run, and he led the field in those two categories, along with laps led and average position.
Plus, if Gordon wins, New Hampshire will be the 14th track where Gordon has won at least four times.
Looking for trouble
Every week, my fellow members in ESPN Stats & Information crunch the numbers and tell us what to watch for on the weekend. Here's what they found:
Daytona runner-up Jeff Burton is coming off his best finish of the season, but heads to a track where he has a win-or-spin history.
Burton has four victories at New Hampshire, but he also has been in the most wrecks of any active driver.
Kyle Busch is another past winner who has a dicey history there.
The Eliminator: New Hampshire
For those of you new to my little blog, I use a device called The Eliminator to predict a winner every week. It's pretty simple: Instead of telling you somebody will win, I'll point out why everybody else has to lose. The driver remaining, by process of elimination, will be the race winner.
And for those of you looking for more details, I'll post the step-by-step eliminations on my Twitter account (@MattWillisESPN).
1. The past seven New Hampshire winners had a top-20 finish in the previous Richmond race (26 drivers eliminated, 18 remaining).
2. The past five New Hampshire winners had a top-nine finish in the previous Phoenix race (12 eliminated, six remaining).
3. The past four New Hampshire winners had finished eighth or better in the previous race there (four eliminated, two remaining).
4. The past five New Hampshire winners were coming off a top-eight finish in the previous Sprint Cup race (one eliminated, one remaining).
Your winner: Brad Keselowski