Hamlin, Martin, Johnson favored at Loudon
In the words of the Black Eyed Peas: Let's get it started.
And just as has been the case in the previous five years of the Chase format, New Hampshire Motor Speedway will stage the crucial first race in the 10-race quest to crown 2009's Sprint Cup Champ.
While it's fair to say you can't win a championship at Loudon, you can certainly go a long way to losing one by putting yourself in an early hole with a terrible finish; a predicament
That aside, the 1.058 mile long flat track requires similar qualities to the previous weekend as drivers who perform well at both Sprint Cup tracks in Virginia -- Richmond and Martinsville -- tend to have success at NHMS. Running well at Phoenix is another indicator of potential success at a track that is all about rhythm and consistently hitting your marks, corner after corner.
This is the second race of the year for New Hampshire and a thirteenth straight year the venue has had two dates on the Cup schedule. So without further ado, let's take a look at the favorites, the sleepers and the long-shots...
After leading 299 of 400 laps at his home town track; Hamlin pulled his FedEx Camry into Victory Lane at Richmond International Raceway and wasted no time espousing his credentials for a run at a Championship. "They better watch us. I am telling you, this team is dangerous," said Hamlin who comes into the Chase with ten top ten runs in the last 12 races and two wins in the last six. Adding to the positive momentum is his record at Loudon (one win, two top fives, five top tens) where he has an impressive average finish of 8.3. Something of a flat track master, don't be surprised if Hamlin racks up back-to-back wins this weekend.
By the numbers: Hamlin has led 992 laps this season. Only Johnson (1252 laps) has led more.
If it's Chase time; it's Jimmie time. Don't be fooled by a couple of poor weeks, either, the 48 team is very much for real and still the car to beat. Running for a historic and unprecedented fourth straight title will keep the pressure stacked high but with an average finish of 9.9 in his 15 attempts at the New Hampshire track, there's no reason Johnson won't feel confident headed into the weekend. He's only finished outside the top 10 once in his last nine tries.
With a Chase berth secured, the pressure is off the 50-year-old as he tries, once more, for that elusive first Sprint Cup crown. Running a partial schedule in both 2007 and 2008, Loudon was one of the tracks Mark skipped so he has far fewer laps here in the new car than his immediate competitors. Of course, this won't make a huge difference as the consummate professional, lead by the illustrious
It's been a good couple weeks for Martin Truex Jr. with the announcement that
After racing for points all season long, the multi-faceted Colombian driver has achieved his first goal by making the Chase for the first time in three seasons. But those eager to write off his chances, citing his zero wins and only two top fives (Pocono and Indianapolis) on the season so far, would do well to re-consider. Here's what Mark Martin had to say on the subject at the Chase Media Day in New York on Thursday: "I'd be really surprised if Montoya can't make a charge for it [the Championship]. I've been watching him. I think there's more there." While Montoya's career stats at Loudon -- a highest place finish of 12th in 5 attempts -- are nothing to get excited about, he's shown steady improvement at the mile long flat track and look for that to continue this weekend.
Back in June,